Profile of The BrotherDavid Gibson cfc To attempt to create an identikit of the person most suited to embark on the journey to religious life is both challenging and maybe even presumptuous. Sometimes, when we paint a picture of the ‘ideal’ Brother we can either sell ourselves short by painting a rather bland image or exaggerate so much that what we describe only exists in the most pious of spiritual hagiography. On the other hand, it may be useful to highlight some aspects of what it takes to fully engage with the vision of religious life. So, at the risk of falling into either trap, I will endeavour to reflect on some qualities that are important for someone wanting to commit to religious life.
Searching for GodThe person ideally suited to embark on the journey is first and foremost a searcher. He is fired up with a passion for the God quest, open to the voice of the Spirit that fills his whole being. It may, however, be more realistic to say that he desires to be passionate about the God quest. He may even desire to desire! Often we experience the real gap between the ideal and the reality, and still essential to religious life is a basic commitment to nourish that part of a Brother’s life that is open to the Spirit. Commitment to the search for God involves spending quality time in prayer (personal and communal) and study of the spiritual path, daily focusing on a growing awareness of the presence of God in himself, others and the whole of creation. Without this commitment to a regular regime of spiritual practices, the danger lurks that eventually the Brother will experience a real lack of vibrancy in living the life of the Brother. So, the regular practice of prayer and meditation becomes essential for nourishing and further developing his spiritual muscle. When the idea of spirituality raises its head, a myriad theologies come to the surface. Can we say that one spirituality takes precedence over another? Are Tridentine prayer practices as valid as the latest developments in contemporary spirituality? I think that the answer to these questions needs some exploration. As the communities of the cluster begin to come together and live and pray together, it becomes somewhat problematic if the individual spiritualities are so at odds with each other, that prayer become an occasion of tension and even a liturgical battleground. Somehow the people on the path to religious life need a common approach. Many Brothers have embraced a cosmic spirituality, and are open to a new consciousness of the Ground of our Being, aware of the in-breaking of God in many aspects of life. Their image of God has evolved to the extent that they have outgrown a more traditional doctrinal approach to God. So, at the outset it will be important for the person to be open to some differences in others approach to God, while recognising at the same time that contemporary spirituality plays an important part of in the spiritual search.
The Human LevelAt a human level, Brothers entering the new communities need to be conscious of their own vulnerability, willing to share the not yet dimensions of their lives.[^Brown, B. (2012) Daring Greatly. How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.
London: Penguin.] They readily acknowledge the stage they are at on the journey of life, humbly embracing those aspects of their development that still require attention. An important practice in the new communities is a practice called ‘check-in’ where on a weekly basis (or at least regularly) Brothers come together to share their experience of the week.[^ Gibson, D. (2016) Check-in with Your Soul. An Invitation to Journey Deeply. Dublin: Cluain Mhuire/Createspace.] This practice has proved to be an invaluable opportunity for Brothers to grow in intimacy with one another, creating a community spirit that is gentle, compassionate, intimate and loving. The regular ‘check-ins create a climate of increasing trust where Brothers are prepared to share at a deep level their hopes and fears, their triumphs and struggles. The move from privacy to participation, from individualism to inclusivity becomes an important dimension of life in community that will be characterised by cohesiveness and vibrancy.
CommunityThis Brother is first and foremost a community man, willing to engage in a real way with the community in which he lives. He places priority on a life-giving presence among his Brothers, making community the locus of his life. This does not mean that he neglects his friends outside the community, but he makes community his privileged place of engagement.
ConflictLife in community can create moments of conflict. The movement from pseudo-community, through chaos and emptiness to real community is not an easy journey.[^ Peck, S.M. (1990) The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. London: Random Press (Arrow).] Conflicts will arise, and the challenge for the Brothers in these new communities is to work assiduously to clarify misunderstandings and heal resentments, refusing to allow differences to mar the quality of community life. Jean Vanier in his book Community and Growth acknowledges the fact that communities will encounter difficulties and conflicts.[^ Vanier, J. (1989) Community and Growth. New York: Darton, Longman and Todd.] What he suggests is that communities avail of the services of a facilitator who can take a more objective view of the community dynamics. The communities in the clusters are encouraged to avail of such a service and to strike with the iron is cold instead of waiting until things get out of hand. Above all, the Brother is a man of generosity and self-giving, committing himself to give 100% to his Brothers, and to the work of creating unity and fraternity. He is prepared to put the community before his own desires, and believes that only with this type of generosity can community grow and develop.
Man on a MissionThe person who enters religious life has a love for those who have been made poor by the societal structures of inequality and injustice. He seeks to be with people made poor and see life through their eyes. His ministry involves a process of community engagement where he seeks to partner the poor in finding ways to overcome the crippling effects of injustice. His presence among the poor serves to galvanise the local people to overcome barriers to growth and development. His daily contact with people made poor transforms his mind and heart to view with the eyes of Jesus and Edmund those who have no bread (Mk 8:3).
As a result of his contact with the poor, the Brother is conscious of his lifestyle, willing to live simply in solidarity with the people of the local area. He is open to do with less, so as to place himself within the community he serves. Like Jesus who had nowhere to lay his head, the Brother is prepared to move (Lk. 9:58) where he is asked to go, and where the needs are greatest.