I spent this past week in Chicago with Bro. Al Rivera for Vocations Week at Marist High School. I always enjoy visiting my Marist Brothers in Chicago, especially since it became home to our two youngest brothers in the USA, Bros. Sam Amos and Luis Ramos. The time I spend with those two guys is truly special to me. We each love one another as brothers without the jealousy or dependence that can sometimes creep into other kinds of relationships. We are glad to be together while still enjoying our time apart. When I’m not visiting, I’m glad they have the support of each other in both community and at work. Although the same can be said generally of the family spirit among us Marist Brothers, or indeed among Marists as a whole, I do feel there is a particular energy among the three of us, even if it just comes down to our own way of being ridiculous.
I don’t imagine that many high school students today would start seriously considering a vocation to religious life simply based on a few interactions and presentations spread throughout a week. A more possible spark would be the testimony of joyful and compassionate presence given by the brothers they encounter regularly. Nonetheless, I feel that the happiness we showed in our being together, combined with the chance to explain the context of our joy, may have at least led some students and faculty members to see the value of this life option and be more open to pursuing pertinent learning experiences for themselves or supporting interested loved ones.
Many people ask what would lead anybody to consider religious life today given the way the world currently is (whatever an individual means by that). In contrast, I was recently at a talk by the well-known Jesuit author, James Martin, in which he said about the religious state, “It really is a beautiful life—I’m surprised more people don’t choose it.” If this seems like a sentimental way of flipping the script, it is also one that reflects my own personal experience.
I get to live together with other men of richly varying experiences, perspectives and talents but who share the same basic desires to serve those most in need. I have lived with both caring mentors and also younger members who I could help guide. I have been able to receive and offer support. I have also been challenged and found my brothers open to me challenging them. A disproportionate number of brothers I’ve lived with have been willing to share their vulnerabilities and have developed skills at resolving conflicts that inevitably arise among people. If I were ever in a specific community that was a strong mismatch for my needs and legitimate preferences, I could transfer to another house with a different group of guys without undoing my life or even damaging any relationships. Why wouldn’t somebody want a life like this?
Our style of living together, commitment to simple living, and lack of financial dependents, allow us to easily choose work based on the good it will do for people in need instead of the revenue it would generate. That is not a guaranteed path to a satisfying career, but it certainly does improve the odds. Even in my more challenging days of ministry, I knew that at least I was casting my lot with those in need and was making a difference in some way to somebody. Why wouldn’t somebody want a life like that?
Many people on the outside imagine the religious state to be rather confining. In trying to make God the center of my life though, by my vow of obedience I rebuke any claim that unjust authority or undue influence may have over me. While my own weakness prevents me at times from fully living this ideal, I nonetheless receive encouragement to only adhere to those suggestions and dictates that conceivably align with the common good. With my eyes and heart thus open, the winds of the Spirit could propel me anywhere in the world. Instead of constraint, I find a different and more expansive freedom than I could have otherwise imagined. Why wouldn’t somebody desire to live in this way?
Certainly, the religious state is not a life that is meant for everybody. It is rightly an alternative lifestyle rather than a mainstream option. Nonetheless, if we can recognize not only the value but also the attractiveness and romanticism of living this dramatic life choice radically well, we shouldn’t be surprised if more people end up wanting to join. After all, it is truly a beautiful life.
A beautiful life is not without pain, sorrow, and even incidental ugliness though it of course includes many beautiful days as well, hence this week’s choice of “ear candy”. The “brain food” provides several examples of people deliberately seeking intentional community living, even for secular purposes. Could a wider attraction to community living end up leading to an increased interest in religious life as well?
Ear Candy: “Beautiful Day” by U2
Brain Food: “Totally Together: Could Communal Living Suit You?” by Suzanne Bearne
Come back next Saturday for a new post!