Difference between vocations to priesthood and religious brotherhood

Good evening.

I posted a few days ago (here: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=873290) regarding a the response I received to an inquiry I put forward about priesthood to a certain society of secular priests. They stated that I had missed their age mark by a few years, but am welcome to consider entering as a “clerical oblate,” which appears to be like a coadjutor brother. As I’m a little unsure as to what this entails, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to write them again to find out more information.

Nonetheless, I won’t really have enough information until I hear back from them, and so I am preparing letters to several other institutes regarding the priesthood. Considering that I’m very traditionally inclined and thus feel very strongly about pursuing the priesthood through a more traditional institute, however, my options are somewhat limited. As I’m in my 30s, my options are becoming more limited.

So after meditating on this for a while, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to remain open to the vocation of a brother. There’s one big issue in all of this, though: in all of my thought about the consecrated life in the past, I had always been thinking more of the calling as a consecrated priest, and had always been drawn more to those institutes that were more clerical. To be frank, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a brother who is not also a priest or a seminarian, not even at the Benedictine abbey where I retreat. Brothers seem somewhat rare nowadays.

There’s a little more I could reflect on here, but I think I’ll ask my question first, and then reflect more when commenting on your replies. So:

What are the personal qualities of a good brother? and how do these differ from the qualities of a good priest?

Thanks for reading.

This site may be a starting place for you as you think about this vocation:

Blessings as you discern…

Some of the qualities of a good brother are discussed in ‘Christ the Ideal of the Monk’ by Bl. Dom Columba Marmion. Here is a link if you’re interested:


In answer to your first question, it seems that a good brother is one who desires intimate union with Jesus. He must seek perfection; he must seek God alone in all things. He obeys the Abbot or Prior as He would Christ, and He labours in silence for God and for souls.

… I just realised the time! I have to sign off.

My prayers are with you for your vocation.

Thank you both, but looking through this information, I’m left with more questions than answers.

So I guess then that I’ll rephrase my question and provide a little more context. First of all, the question: what are desirable qualities, characteristics, and personality traits in a brother that are NOT desirable qualities, characteristics, and personality traits in a priest? Likewise, what are desirable qualities, characteristics, and personality traits in a priest that are NOT desirable qualities, characteristics, and personality traits in a brother? In short, what are the determinative factors between these two types of men? It’s a blunt question to which I doubt that there is a universally correct answer, but it’s surely grist for thought. As much of my thinking results from my bouncing ideas off of others and then seeing how I react to their responses, I’d be happy to have any opinions.

Now, in the above, I understand that the differences between consecrated men in the same institute or type of institute, whether clerics or not, would likely be more modest than the differences between consecrated men in different types of institutes, e.g., a missionary brother would likely be more similar to a missionary priest than he would to a Trappist monk. But I think it best to leave these categories aside. So let’s presume that that we’re drawing our contrast between a priest and a brother in the same institute.

The society that I’m looking at is very devoted to the traditional liturgy and accordingly is mostly a society of priests who serve parishes. The letter I received from their vice-provincial states that the role of an oblate is “service of the Liturgy at the altar and in the Divine Office, basic studies in Latin and Chant, as well as… the necessary work of the apostolate such as teaching catechism, caring for the sacristy and priory, office administration, etc.”

This in mind, I’m going to change tone a little. We’ve all read of Christ’s visit to the house of Mary and Martha and of their two contrasting personalities. The one has always been seen as a symbol of the contemplative life, the other as a symbol of the active life. Certainly, when reading this, we all want to be more like Mary than like Martha. Whenever I meditate on this scene, I always find myself thinking of Velázquez’s great canvas on the subject (here, if you don’t know what I’m talking about: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/Christ_in_the_house_of_Marthe_and_Marry_V%C3%A9lazquez.jpg). Like any great work of art, this can be read on a number of different levels. The biblical figures are relegated to the background; whether through a window, reflected in a mirror, or in a painting within a painting, we don’t know. Our attention is drawn to the distraught young cook and the elderly servant whispering in her ear. Her eye catches ours, and we see ourselves now in her; we are the cook here. But is she looking at the scene with Christ and the two sisters, reflected in the mirror, longing for a more contemplative life, with the elderly woman counseling her to accept her place in life and resume her laborious work? Or is she distraught with the drudgery of her work, and thus the elderly woman gestures to the painting on the wall, reminding her to think about the Lord?

I don’t have an answer to this, but I can only say that whatever is supposedly going through that young woman’s mind has gone through mine a lot, and I’m sure it shall continually throughout my life, no matter where I find myself. Life after the Fall is laborious by its very nature, yet we are called to be thoughtful. I’ve ordered my secular life deliberately that I might have a lot of opportunity to be alone, think, read, write, pray, and so forth. I’ve left better-paying jobs in order to be better able to do that–and to share the fruits of that as a teacher and tutor.

When I am active, thus, it tends to be in sharing the fruits of my contemplation. Without contemplation, it’s just mere busy-ness to me. So many priests I know are, unfortunately, merely busy. I’ve had parish priests tell me that they rarely have a chance to meditate or to read, and end up ad-libbing their homilies. I’ve seen zealous young priests turn into jaded functionaries over time, affecting all of those over whose souls they have cure. Aside from liturgical considerations, that’s one of the reasons that I considered that working with an institute or society would be more appropriate; working with other priests would allow the work to be shared and thus allow more time for the intellectual and spiritual development that must animate their apostolate.

I know that I need more information from this society to answer this question appropriately, but where would the oblate or brother fit into this? Free from the obligations of administrating the sacraments, does he then have the opportunity, perhaps even more opportunity than the priests, to sit at the feet of Our Lord and to learn from Him, like Mary, in order better to be a blessing to those he instructs, those he befriends, those who come to him for counsel? Or is his life one of humdrum labour and worry about temporal things, like Martha, in order that only the priests might have that opportunity?

As I truly feel a strong draw to this institute’s objective, those last questions are important as to whether I should continue to consider it or not. I’m writing them asking for more information, but I’m also writing at the same time to other similar institutions that might offer the priesthood. I’m open, though, to whichever direction the Lord might lead me.

Anyhow, as always, your comments are greatly appreciated. The responses that you give to my questions do much more good than perhaps you realize. Thank you to all who care.

Le Barde Gaulois

You seem to have a very open heart, so thanks be to God.

(I will avoid unecessary analysis, involving tedious counter-examples etc.). Generally speaking, I don’t believe that there are desirable qualities in a brother that would not also be desirable in a priest, and vice versa; though that is not to say that there are not different degrees of need and desirability. Knowledge and communication skills, for example, are essential to the priest. These things are still desirable in a religious brother (to the extent that a particular Order requires them), but perhaps they are superfluous. A contemplative, for instance, may never need to use their great writing and oratory skills.

In terms of virtue - again, I believe that there are different degrees of desirability. A priest must have great discretion. Perhaps a brother has a greater relative need of other virtues.

God’s will is the ultimate determining factor in whether or not a man should become a priest or brother (as I’m sure you’re aware). Both St. John Vianney and St. Joseph Cupertino were quite simple men, yet Providence made it clear that they were both called to the priesthood. You are obviously willing to do what God desires of you, and God will furnish you with the graces you need to fulfill your vocation. With that in mind, I wouldn’t spend too much time reflecting on what qualities you do possess; instead, I would follow the words of St. Augustine: “Love and do what you will.” In this context, I mean that if you occupy your thoughts on loving God, you can be sure that He will take care of your needs; He will enlighten you, guide you and answer your questions better than anyone else possibly can - perhaps through a human intermediary. The intercession of the aforementioned Saints might help you.

‘The Soul of the Apostolate’ does away with the idea that a very active priest cannot also be contemplative; but perhaps he will have less time for this. If someone is naturally prayerful and contemplative, perhaps they are better suited to the vocation of a brother. I definitely believe that the brotherhood is more conducive, on the whole, to the vocation of Mary (as opposed to Martha). I won’t cite the reasons but they are evident in some of the Traditional Benedictine Orders, which are very contemplative.

I hope that helps in some way.

Take care and God bless.

**“You must think only of loving Me! I will think of everything else, even to the smallest details!” **(Our Lord to Servant of God, Sr. Consolata Betrone)

Not to belabour the point or to deny the primacy of divine grace in so bold a consideration, but I would then ask, just for the sake of elucidation, what might be more of those qualities and virtues needed to greater or lesser degrees in each vocation? Don’t worry about being tedious; I’m an academic. What most find tedious, I find delightful. (And no, I’m really not being sarcastic there.)

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