This past week, I joined 12 other relatively young Marist Brothers for a workshop on the “Formation of Masculine Affectivity in Young Religious” held at an area headquarters of ours in Mexico City. Apart from myself, the participants included one Venezuelan, one Ecuadoran, three Colombians and seven Mexicans, ranging in age from 25 to 41. Five of these brothers were already known to me thanks to previous international gatherings of young brothers.
It is always a blessing for us to come together as brothers, but one gift that this particular experience presented me was the opportunity to consider anew what it means to be “brother” in the ecclesial, Marist, state-of-life sense. Although the Vatican in recent years offered an excellent document regarding this topic, I thought I would offer my own explanation according to some of my current thinking.
A brother is a disciple who seeks to follow Christ’s model of humble service. A brother generally prefers to accompany rather than lead. Although by no means immune to human failings, a brother tries to prioritize the legitimate needs of others, even at personal cost to himself. Brothers have many different talents and many different vulnerabilities, and they seek to use both of these to build a greater communion among God’s people. Brothers are generally hard workers, but we try to recognize that who and how we are for others is often even more important than the good work we do. The vows we take strengthen our resolve to live these values.
For a Marist Brother to be psychologically and spiritually healthy as a man means that he must be sufficiently comfortable in his masculinity that he can also embrace his femininity. We remember the words of Frere Laurent favorably comparing the love that our founder had for us to the love a mother has for her children. Marists, whether brothers or lay, men or women, look to Mary as our ultimate model of nurturing strength: Her strength to say yes to God’s mysterious will, her strength to attend to the needs of those around her, her strength to stand faithfully and courageously beneath the cross despite feelings of powerlessness, and her strength to gather community around her in the midst of uncertainty. The strength to love. Like her, we are called to birth Christ into this world—to make incarnate God’s love for each of us. In words borrowed from the Marist Fathers, we are to think, feel, judge, and act as Mary. And despite the various feminine qualities we embody, we remain men, many of whom are gruff at times, have a crass sense of humor, and/or enjoy manual labor.
Our apostolate of attending to the needs of vulnerable youth is both important and inspiring, but we are human beings long before we are human “doings”. We cannot be brothers without people to be brother to. That includes both those who we serve through our work, as well as the brothers and other Marists that we encounter in community. We give the brotherhood that we receive. We share that which has been shared with us. After all, although charity was never meant to end at home, it does need to begin there.
I cannot pretend to have expressed an entire identity or life choice in a few paltry words, especially considering the diversity of ways in which each individual gives it expression. To my brothers reading this though, I hope you recognize yourselves in my meager effort. To other readers, thank you for helping us to be brother.
The “ear candy” and “brain food” this week are both meant to somehow reflect on the identity of a Marist Brother. What Is a Man is not my favorite Four Tops song by any measure, nor do I celebrate every lyric, but it does present one vision of masculinity worth considering. Meanwhile, the “brain food” has much more to do with our mission: It portrays a desperate situation and the children who suffer through the faults of adults who brought them there and others who refuse to remove them. This should remind us all of those that Marists of Champagnat are meant to serve.
Ear Candy: “What Is a Man” by The Four Tops
Brain Food: “’I’m Going to be Honest, This Baby Is Going to Die’” by Azadeh Moaveni
Come back next Saturday for a new post!