Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Although this blog was created as a way of supporting our priests, we wanted to share the following article on what it means to be a religious brother.  It was written by Brother John Samaha, a Marianist.

                THE VOCATION OF A  BROTHER

                    Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.  

     What is a Brother?  Have you ever met a Brother?  Do you know any Brothers?  What do Brothers do in the Church?  These and similar questions are frequently voiced.  Such thoughts indicate a serious lack of understanding of the Brother’s vocation.

     Recalling that St. Paul envisioned the totality of all the faithful in the living image of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are reminded that different persons, each created for a particular purpose, comprise the Church, just as the human body consists of a variety of parts to perform different functions.  This helps us to comprehend the role of the religious state and the Brother’s vocation within the Church.

     When we celebrate Liturgy we are doing the work of the People of God.  The Fathers of the Church, both East and West, taught us that liturgy is nothing less than the ongoing saving work of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, still present and operative among us now through the Holy Spirit.  The great Latin Father, Pope St. Leo the Great, in the fifth century explained it in this way: “What was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into sacraments.”  In other words, what Jesus did historically during his earthly life, he continues to do sacramentally through the liturgical mysteries he celebrates in and with his Church.  Remember that sacraments” in the language of the Fathers refers to the mysteries of the  whole, visible, ministry of the Church, not just the seven sacraments in the popular, technical sense of the term.  This reminds us that Jesus is working in us and through us.   In effect, each of us is a sacrament of Christ.

     The New Testament Scriptures call all followers of Jesus “disciples.”  And so we are.  From time to time the question is raised, “What’s in a name?”  The name “disciple,” or the name “religious, or the title of address, “Brother,” is a symbol of the reality.  These names capture the essence of our being.

     The First Letter of John offers a criterion of faithfulness.  He admonishes us to demonstrate our belief in Jesus Christ in action by loving and serving as he commanded.

     This understanding is the foundation for the dynamic metaphor of the vine and the branches tended by the vine grower presented in the Gospel of John.   This figure of a living organism is used to indicate our union with the Redeemer in the Mystical Body of Christ.  The wide ranging variety of clergy, religious, and laity comprise the many and diverse organs functioning in union with the  head to form the Whole Christ, St. Augustine’s apt description of the Church.  Though many, we are one in Christ, each of us filling a God-given, specific purpose in the living organism of human society.

     In this context, what can be said of the religious Brother’s vocation?  Of all the vocations to religious life, the Brother’s vocation is the least understood.  The generality of human society, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, usually catch the idea of what a priest is and what a religious Sister is.  But what a Brother is remains a puzzle to most, especially if they have never known a Brother.  Many think Brothers have failed the test for the priesthood, or have gone only “half-way;” that they washed out of some seminary.  Puzzlement and confusion are common regarding the Brother’s vocation.  One teacher described a Brother as a male nun.  Frequently such people, when speaking of religious vocations, mention priests and Sisters and unwittingly omit any mention of Brothers.  This happens because they do not correctly understand the religious state of life; they do not understand Brothers.  Brothers are much fewer in number, are less visible.   Recall that founders of some great religious orders were Brothers and not priests; for example, St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi.  

     When discussing the three states of life, the meaning of marriage and the single life are easily evident.  But to understand religious life as a state of life and a way of life is more challenging, and many lack close contact or conversation with religious.  Some erroneously think all priests are religious.  But the priesthood and the diaconate are offices belonging to Holy Orders, a function of service.   The call of a Brother is to a way of life, not to an office or service.  Like Sisters and Brothers, some priests embrace the religious state and enter a way of life based on a particular spirituality.

     But all Brothers enter the religious state to accept a distinctive way of life in a Church-approved congregation.  All religious -- Sisters, Brothers, and priests -- dedicate themselves to a way of life characterized by the evangelical vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience lived in community.  The vows, common life, and community life are the hallmarks of the religious state.  The works of charity they perform are secondary to being dedicated persons of prayer and sacrifice.  The essence of religious life is being someone consecrated to God, not doing a particular work.  Being is more important than doing.  It is necessary to see the Brother’s vocation as a call to being totally Christ-centered in a particular way of life in the religious state.  This is the distinctive place of the Brother in the life of the Mystical Body of Christ.  Our call from God is to a special way of life, not to a special work.

     It is important to value the religious state as Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Marianists, observed: religious life is to the Church as Christianity is to civilization.

     Religious triads like the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family are common in Christian life.  If we liken the priestly and religious vocations to the Holy Family, we Brothers can say, “We are Joseph.”

     For all of us -- lay, religious, and cleric -- Jesus calls us to share his life and to collaborate with him.  He invites us not to imitate his life or to reproduce his life, but to participate in his life.

     We Brothers thank God for the gift of our vocation.  We ask God to make us proclaimers of his Gospel by our holiness of life.

     We continue to wonder who will take our places.  We need to be resolute in explaining more clearly the way of life we have entered, and more active in inviting the young to consider God’s call to serve in the religious state.

     Let us all--- religious and lay branches of the true vine -- glorify God by bearing much fruit as his disciples.  Heeding the counsel of St. Francis of Assisi, let us always and everywhere preach the Gospel, using words if necessary.