National Religious Brother’s Day
A Word of Thanks for the Religious Brothers of our Congregation
On May 1, many countries of the world observe International Workers’ Day. This labor day holiday was also chosen by Pope Pius XII to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The National Religious Vocation Conference of the United States recently established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker as Religious Brothers Day, a day to thank and celebrate those among us who experience their baptismal call to discipleship as a call to be lived out in a particular religious community through the profession of religious vows and in the light of its special spirit or charism. (Here I refer to those whose permanent call is to the lay state as Religious Brothers and not to those who might be called “brother” before ordination.)
From the beginning, Blessed Louis Brisson established our congregation as a reflection of the church and society. He foresaw a communion of lay and ordained members united in their religious identity and in their work. While he respected the sacramental distinction between the Religious Brother and the Religious Cleric, he did not find what he called the “true idea of the congregation” in a strict separation of special tasks between the two.
In his chapter of 1 February 1893, for example, no sooner does he acknowledge the two ranks of Oblates than he spends the rest of the chapter describing how all Oblates are called to enter society such as it is and by every means possible: “Not only by instruction and by preaching, but also by business, industry and labor. They must be not only teachers and preachers, but workers also in every milieu and in all conditions.”
Six years later, in the chapter of 7 June 1899, addressing himself to the Oblate Brothers, he states: “Let all their work and exercises unite them with God.” Yet, in his explication of what he calls the complete idea of St. Francis de Sales’ union with God, he asks everyone to meditate “for the next two weeks” on the concept that their work is a means of uniting themselves with God. St. Francis de Sales addresses himself, Father Brisson states, not to an objective goal of work but to the subject of the worker himself. The worker is called to union with God. This idea is reflected, consequently, in Constitution 41 on the Oblate Brothers, recalling the allocution he made five days later: “the more you will be saints, the greater will be your influence on souls.”
Let us be grateful then to our confreres who have made perpetual profession as Oblate Brothers. Why? Because their vocation, well lived, keeps the rest of us honest! Their vocation, lived among us in our mixed religious, clerical institute, prevents Oblate clerics from mistaking their life and identity for that of any other priest. Their lived vocation keeps Oblate clerics faithful to the true spirit of the congregation. Their vocation, prophetically expressed, provides the antidote to any form of clericalism that might otherwise overtake us.
In 2015, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life published the document, “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church.” This text reminds us that, within the universal context of the history of salvation, “there is nothing greater than baptismal consecration” (§14). The Religious Brother, “living his lay state through a special consecration, is witness to the value of the common priesthood received in Baptism and Confirmation…His religious consecration is in itself an exercise in the fullness of the priesthood of all the baptized (§16). Finally, in the following excerpt, which cites Evangelii Gaudium §273, we come to the same conclusion as our founder, Blessed Louis Brisson, did over a century ago: “It is, therefore, not a question of task but of identity, ‘I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.’ The minister is the whole person of the Brother: consecrated, member of a community, identified with the mission. All of him assumes the privilege and responsibility of representing the Church to the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep” (§28).
So, let us celebrate our Brothers and thank them individually. I wish to extend my most profound respect and thanks to all of you, our Oblate Brothers, 34 of you by my count, 8% of the congregation, for your unique witness to religious life lived at its core. Challenge us and inspire us! I ask every apostolic unit of the congregation to pray that more men will accept the call to become an Oblate Brother and to do everything within its power to promote the vocation of the Religious Brother among us. I believe that without the presence of Oblate Brothers we may not only lose our way, we may cease to incarnate the “true idea of the congregation” given to us by the Founder.
And so, together, we pray the prayer composed for Religious Brothers Day:
God of mercy and compassion, thank you for the extraordinary life, witness, and ministry of Religious Brothers in our Church.
In your wisdom, you have called these ordinary men to generously serve, pray, and share your healing love with others.
As we prepare for our annual Religious Brothers Day, deepen our appreciation for the vocation of Religious Brothers, their congregational charisms, and their commitment to vowed community life.
Strengthened by our baptismal call to holiness, inspire us to invite men to consider religious life as a Religious Brother.
Grant all Religious Brothers the grace and perseverance they need to proclaim your Holy Word for the life of our Church and our world. Amen.