As I read through these vocation threads, I can’t help feeling a bit concerned about the lack of enthusiasm or encouragement given to men to consider becoming religious brothers. One of my favorite Franciscans is my own confrere, Fr. Benedict Groeschel. He and I came out of the same religious tradition, the Capuchin Franciscans. Therefore, we share the same love and concern for the call to be brothers. It’s a very powerful Franciscan theme, since we were founded as an order of brothers, with only a few priests who actually came already ordained. The original priests came from different diocese and some, such as Anthony of Padua, came from other religious orders that were known for being clerical orders. However, Anthony left the Augustinians attracted by Francis’.
Francis was never a priest. There are theories that he may have been ordained a deacon later in life, probably three-years before his death. He founded our family in 1209. At least that’s the year in which the first rule was approved. Obviously the brothers existed before 1209. We know that the first brothers who came were laymen, not priests. There was at least one priest who joined them prior to the approval of the first rule in 1209. However, if Francis were actually ordained a deacon, it was not until 1223, 14-years after the order had been founded. By that time it was well established as an order of brothers. Those men, such as Anthony, who came already ordained surrendered every claim to special treatment or special place in the community. They were not allowed to distinguish themselves from their brothers, even relinquishing the title, Father. So that Francis became the only Father.
Fast forward to the 21st century. In several interviews that I have seen on Fr.Groeschel’s show with different people, including Archbishop Dolan and Fr. Richard Ho Lung, there was a very strong mention of the need for brothers in the life of the Church. Archbishop Dolan made an interesting comment. He said that he always makes it a point to mention the brothers when speaking about vocations. He referred to the brothers as “the forgotten vocation by the laity”. Fr. Richard also made a strong case for the brothers. When asked about his community he was emphatic that they were a community of brothers. In fact, they are so strict about this that they ordain only 1/10. They deliberately keep the number of priests down in order to present their religious family as a family of brothers. They refer to their ordained men as “priest-brothers”. Fr. Benedict then added how in the Franciscan family we try to diminish, as much as possible the differences between the ordained and the non-ordained by referring to the ordained as “clerical-friars” or simply, “the clerics” The Archbishop made it a point to remind the audience that the brothers had taken a greater hit than the priests and the need for brothers was actually even more critical than the need for priests, because of the dwindling numbers. Obviously, we need both. However, the Church does not want the brothers to disappear.
In Vita Consacrata, Pope John Paul again speaks about the necessity of the brothers for the life of the Church. He makes several important points.
*]According to the traditional doctrine of the Church, the consecrated life by its nature is neither lay nor clerical.
*]Consequently, both for the individual and for the Church, it is a value in itself, apart from the sacred ministry.
*]Following the teaching of the Second Vatican Council,the Synod expressed great esteem for the kind of consecrated life in which religious brothers provide valuable services of various kinds, inside or outside the community, participating in this way in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and bearing witness to it with charity in everyday life.
*] In fact, although they perform many works in common with the lay faithful, these men do so insofar as they are consecrated, and thereby express the spirit of total self-giving to Christ and the Church, in accordance with their specific charism.For this reason the Synod Fathers, in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion with the secular state of the lay faithful,proposed the term Religious Institutes of Brothers.
*]This proposal is significant, especially when we consider that the term “brother” suggests a rich spirituality. "These Religious are called to be brothers of Christ, deeply united with him, ?the firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom 8:29); brothers to one another, in mutual love and working together in the Church in the same service of what is good; brothers to everyone, in their witness to Christ’s love for all,
*] In these Religious Institutes of Brothers nothing prevents certain members from receiving Holy Orders for the priestly service of the religious community, provided that this is approved by the General Chapter.However, the Second Vatican Council does not give any explicit encouragement for this, precisely because it wishes Institutes of Brothers to remain faithful to their vocation and mission.
*] Some Religious Institutes, which in the founder’s original design were envisaged as a brotherhood in which all the members, priests and those who were not priests, were considered equal among themselves, in these Institutes all the Religious would be recognized as having equal rights and obligations[/LIST]
The question is, what happens on these vocation forums when the life of the brothers is not promoted equally, even though the Church and the religious orders believe it to be essential to the life of the Church and see these men as equal to priests in the duties and rights and as very distinct from the laity? Should we not promote this way of life?
Br. JR, OSF