Rediscovering the Importance of Brotherhood through Jesus’ Life
“Brother” is the name traditionally given to the male lay religious in the Church since the beginning of consecrated life. The title does not belong to them exclusively, of course, but it represents a significant way of being in the ecclesial community in which he is the prophetic memory of Jesus-Brother, who told his followers: “And you are all brothers” (Mt23:8)
It is important to know that Jesus was a layman calling people to be brothers and sisters. He himself represents the big brother for all of us. His brotherhood is a gift from God to the world and to the church: “Jesus Christ first of all became brother, shared our flesh and blood and was in solidarity with the sufferings of his brothers and sisters,” “The word became flesh and abides among us”( Jn 1.)
The vocation of the brother has its origins in Jesus, fount of all vocations. This particular vocation comes from a man who never was engaged as a member of the priesthood of Israel. His ministry was a ministry developed in a secular way; his consecrated life comes through his faith in God.
In the gospels, Jesus presents his mission more as a task of humanization, than of creating a religion with sacred duties. It is common to see Jesus doing things outside of the temple as a simple layman. Most of the time we see him in the fields, mountains, desert places, and on the borders of the cities, healing, eating and talking with those who are the most abandoned of those societies. In all of these tasks he is alleviating the suffering of the people; he is humanizing God in his society. Jesus is the face of God, united and fused with the human. This is the same mission that the brothers shared with Jesus because Jesus’ example of brotherhood teaches us so.
As Christians, we are not followers of a religious leader. We follow a lay Prophet. Jesus was a layman. He was not a priest, nor was he an official of religion, or anything like that. At this point, it is important to remember the quote in the book of the Hebrews where it says concerning Jesus’ priesthood: “Now he of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, of which no member ever officiated at the altar” (7, 13-14).
Brothers shared the same Mission and brotherhood of Jesus
“Rooting his life deeply in God, the Brother consecrates all creation, recognizing the presence of God and the Spirit’s action in creation, in cultures and in daily events,” (IMRB).
The vocation of the brothers in our congregation must be a sign of God’s presence in secular realities. As brothers we are assuming ecclesial ministries with all our Oblate Brothers who live in the community and with other members of the congregation and also with believers who participate with our charism.
“Thus he seeks and points to God in the secular realities of culture, science, human health, the workplace, and the care of the weak and disadvantaged. Similarly, he seeks and points to the human being, man and woman, ‘whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will’, convinced that “the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed” (IMRB).
All of us are clear that this process of humanization begun when God decided to be in solidarity with the human race. The Incarnation of the Lord expresses the desire of God to make this world more human, understandable and a world of brothers and sisters. ”The Oblate brothers participate in the missionary work of building up the church everywhere especially in those areas where the Word is first being proclaimed” (R7).
The Brothers in today’s Congregation
One of the most dangerous mistakes the Church has made has been to identify faith with religion and with the sacred. Often, for bishops, clerics and laity, having faith is the same as being religious, with a religiosity that has its center in the sacred, that is, separated from the profane and the secular.
We have clericalized it all, and the brothers are under this clericalization today. This is the problem that we need to face. I recognize that the Congregation is clerical because it is part of the church, and the church is clerical, but, since we have brothers among us, the Congregation has created a particular distinction in the way we can live our vocation – as a Congregation called to humanize the world.
It is clear that the brothers are religious, because they take vows of religion. “We are a clerical Congregation of pontifical right. We come together in apostolic communities of priests and brothers, united to God by the vows of religion” (CC 1).
By the vocation of the brothers the congregation has another face, a face of brothers and sisters, and it is less clerical. For me, it is really important to rescue this distinction from the general idea that we are a just clerical congregation. (Example: Look at the OMI Lacombe website, where it says nothing about brothers.)
The brothers today should be “a living memorial of Jesus’ way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren.” In particular, the Brother can be engaged in many actions in favor of the poor, because of his lay condition. With this he can make visible in the Church the face of our brother Christ, “firstborn among many brothers”(Rom8:29), creator of a new Brotherhood which he established with his teaching and with his life.
Our Constitutions and Rules speak about our mission as Oblates of Mary Immaculate: it is to evangelized the poor, it means to humanize people. Our preface says, as Oblates: “ we must lead men to act like human beings, first of all, then like Christians and finally, we must help them to become saints.” The task of the church is to humanize the world; this is its principal mission on this secular earth.
– “Jesus Christ first of all became brother, shared our flesh and blood and was in solidarity with the sufferings of his brothers and sisters”;
– the vocations of the brothers for the Congregation is a gift received through the brotherhood of Jesus; second, as a communion of a gift shared with all; and, third as a mission for today’s world, not tomorrow’s. This prophetic dimension lead Jesus to proclaim the Good News in actual contexts – we need prophets today, not tomorrow. The ability (of the brother) to deeply read the signs of the times, to understand in them God’s call to work according to His plan, to discover the presence of God in people, especially among the poor, is all the result of cultivating contemplation, which helps us to see things and people as God sees them;
– Brothers live their vocation in today’s world in different ways. It is important to give them a proper study of the ecclesiology of communion. This will help the brother to relate to people who follow the various forms of vocations in which Church life consists;
– Every era and congregation needs its prophets. I have already referred to various prophetic services that Brothers offer to society through the congregation and the Church today, in order to contribute to a greater humanization of society and to respond to the search for spirituality. Here we note some others that the present moment of great social change requires, and that constitute a challenge for the Brothers in our congregation:
The prophecy of justice and peace and integrity of the creation.
The prophecy with the youth (this task it is urgent: to work in youth ministry is the best opportunity that the brothers have today to be in touch with the next generation.)
The prophecy with migrants, elderly, and women and mentally ill, etc.
The prophecy in the Universities, schools, and popular organizations.
Thus, brothers have not only a mission and a vocation towards themselves in becoming better, more spiritualized and patient beings but also towards humanity. We have a mission with our brothers and sisters outside the congregation to share this brotherhood feeling with the world, accomplishing the prophecy of unity, of charity and of love.
By Leonardo Rego, OMI