Marist Comprehensive Academy, Uturu

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Statue of St. Marcellin Champagnat

The founder of the Marist Brothers

Saint Marcellin...

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VOCATION TO CONSECRATED BROTHERHOOD

Introduction

Vocation is a divine call in the sense that it is God who takes the initiative to call us. It is at the same time human in the sense that it comes to a specific person. The basic call of God is to everyone: the call to holiness. Within this common vocation of all Christians, there are specific vocations-the consecrated life lived in joyful celibacy. Many Christians respond to Gods call by dedicating themselves to his service and the welfare of humankind in the Religious Life. It is their intention in this way to follow Christ more closely in the Spirit of the evangelica counsels, so that the grace of baptism may bear more fruits in them. This response to the divine call is an answer of love to the love that Christ has shown us so sublimely.

Every human person is enthusiastic about a full life, one open to unlimited possibilities. Discernment gradually leads us to the realization that we must make choices. Every human implies renunciation, limitation and dying. For a Christian, dying is the indispensable prelude to a more fruitful life (Jn 12:24). It is a passage to Christ, the fullness of life

 

BROTHERHOOD IN THE CHURCH

The brother’s vocation is not always understood even by those closest to us. This booklet seeks to clarify some of the issues regarding the vocation of the Brother. Brotherhood in the Catholic Church is an association of religious who live in a celibate and community life to work in a specific field of the apostolate. As celibates, they are more available to others. As religious they are the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Christ himself for the people around them, showing the way of the Gospel. Religious are thus one of the greatest resource of evangelization of Africa. They are called to play a prophetic role in the church by witnessing to the Gospel. Religious life is a way of following Jesus, imitating his life of poverty, chastity, obedience. They live the three evangelical counsels and a life in community.

 

WHO IS A BROTHER

The question frequently asked is what work a brother does. What is a Brother, according to Brother Sean D. Sammon, Superior General of the matter. For him, << being a Brother is what Brotherhood is all about>>. Brotherhood is not about what the Brothers do but it is about who they are. He says << as religious Brothers, they are called to live fully and radically the Gospel plan as the object of their live>>.

<< Brotherhood, more than anything else is a particular way of being in the world. It has much more to do with who they are-men of prayer, mission and communion, than what they do>>. This way brothers are called to be brothers in the same way Jesus was. The Brother is a consecrated person who shares in the mission of the holy Roman Catholic Church.

A Brother is a man who has heard the Lord’s calling, just like Saul who was told to Ananias. <<: God has chosen you>> (Acts 22: 14). In performing diligently his duties, a Brother is expected to render an important service to the church. Christian education is a part of the mission of the Brother, which is the mission of the Church. The Brother is distinguished from the laity by his consecration, participation in a particular community and his participation in a particular ministry.

A Brother is a man who, in making the vows of religion, surrenders the whole of himself in one single gift. By the vows of Chastity, a Brother renounces marriage with all the joys of family life and puts all his love and affection at the service of God and the Church. This was the idea of St. Paul when he said, ,, an unmarried man concerns himself with the Lord’s work because he is trying to please God…so, the man who marries does well, but the one does not marry does even better>> (1 Cor. 7 : 32-38). By the vow of Poverty, he gives up the right to own property and is therefore free to share his time, talents and goods with the people. And by the vow of obedience, a Brother accepts to work with a team under the guidance of his superiors. He surrenders himself entirely to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

A Brother is a man who is bold enough to break the tradition of many civilizations where a single or childless life was considered a punishment or bad luck. We read, however, in the bible that Jeremiah was told by the Lord not marry or have children for a special reason (Jer 16:2). So, when a Brother renounces marriage, his choice is a sign of his love for Christ in preference to a wife and children. He does not marry in preference for a higher good-the love of Christ. As for a wife, he might feel like Fr. P. Connor, O.P. who once said << I had always been attracted to women, even after I vowed myself to religious life, but I was still more attracted to Christ, and this decision has shaped my life>> As for children, a teaching Brother has more << children>> than any father or a family.

Finally, a Brother is a man who is answering St. Paul’s appeal when he said, ‘Offer your body, as a living sacrifice to God, consecrated to his service and pleasing o him>> (Rom 12:1). He lives a life of holiness, a life of God’s presence among his people. << The charity practiced by a religious is highly esteemed, since it serves the pastoral work of the Church>>. However, the Church’s esteem for celibacy does not, in any way, downgrade the value of marriage says Vatican II.

 

 

WHO ARE THE MARIST BROTHERS

The founder of the Marist Brothers, St Marcellin Champagnat, was a French Priest and only 28 years old, when he felt sorry for the neglected and ignorant children he saw around him. When he noticed this, he asked two young men to help him teach religion, reading writing and prayer to a group of children. This feeling finally led him to find the congregation of the Marist Brothers for the Christian Education of the young.

On January 2nd, 1817, he led the two young men to live in community and so founded the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary, otherwise called the Marist Brothers of the schools ( Freatress Maristae a Scholis), FMS for short. They are called Marist because they try to imitate Mary, to make her known and to spread her devotion. They are called, they live all together as children of the same family.

Fr. Champagnat spent a very busy life building and organizing his communities of Brothers and opening schools. When he died at the very early age of 51, he had already 78 houses and about 280 Brothers who taught over 7,200 children. The membership of the Marist Brothers at the moment number about 8,000 spread over the five continent of the world, in 81 countries. In Africa alone, there are about 500 Marist Brothers working in 19 different countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. Etc.

The first Marist Brothers to reach Africa were from France and landed in Cape Town (South Africa) in 1867. The other foundations then followed: Algeria 1891, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Madagascar 1911, Morocco 1915, Zimbabwe 1939, Malawi 1946, Mozambique 1948, Nigeria 1949, Angola and Zambia 1954, Central African Republic 1958, Cameroun 1965, Cote D’Ivoire 1969, Ghana 1983, Kenya 1985, Liberia 1986, Chad 1993, and Equatorial Guinea… More are yet to be founded. Are you responding positively to this message? The way of the Marist Brothers is one of prayer and community life. They also study, teach at all levels and do pastoral work. The scope of their apostolate is mainly Christian Education of Youth. Their chief characteristic is a tender and filial love of Mary and their motto is << All to Jesus through Mary, all to Mary for Jesus>>.

Surely, the Marist Brothers are doing something beautiful >> in the Church, and Fr. Champagnat, their founder, would be very happy to see their work expanding everywhere. But, as he usede3 to say, << The foundation of the Institute and its progress are the work of God and not ours. It is Mary’s protection that we owe this blessing and our success>>. Moreover, there is still much work to do in the field of apostolate and education. The needs are great. Young man, would you be ready to help?

 

HOW CAN YOU JOIN THE MARIST BROTHERS

Obviously, you cannot join the Marist Brothers as you join a crowd in the street. First of all, you need to know them before you can apply for admission. In most congregations or communities of Brothers, the main conditions of acceptance are the same: a baptized and confirmed Catholic, with some signags of vocation, sound judgment, good health, talent for studies, a big heart and great courage to accept the challenge of a new way of life and finally a willingness to do God’s will.

Of course, an important condition for becoming a Brother is to be trained, as you would for any other career or profession. As an example, of a Brother’s training programme, I will give you the one proposed by the Marist District of West Africa. Apart from the above mentioned, you need to have some academic requirements: 5 credits at SSCE, including English and Mathematics, O’Levels, A ‘Levels, HND, and Teachers certificate A, other Degrees etc.

THE MARIST TRAINING PROGRAMME

This programme is divided into four stages:-

Aspiracy: While still at the secondary school or post-secondary institution or working, young men who are touched and feel called to the consecrated state-to dedicate their entire life to the Lord, are followed up and given elementary information in the different ways of responding to God’s call. This is a preparatory stage or a time of searching. The purpose of this stage is to help the candidate to know himself better, to accept himself, to transcend himself and to be converted to the Gospels (FG 132).

 

Postulancy : This second stage follows when these candidates, having finished their courses- SSCE, Teachers’ Certificate A, HND, Diplomas and Degrees are given an opportunity to search for or discern their choice of life. The postulate seeks more specific information about the nature, aims and requirements of the Novitiate. This phase of the training is undertaken in the West Africa country of Cameroun and lasts for a period of one year.

 

NOVITIATE : The third stage will start when the postulants, having finished their one – year stay in the postulancy, will be given a few weeks to visit their families and then will join the internation Novitiate of the Marist Brothers in Kumasi, Ghana. The Novitiate is the initial step to Religious Life, the beginning of a journey and a special occasion of saying <<yes>> to God as a response to his calling. At this stage the young men are called Novices. The length of the Novitiate period will prepare young men to choose freely their commitment to God in Brotherhood and will allow the Brothers, on their part, to confirm their choice. During this stage there will be time for silence, prayer, meditation, study, regular interviews with the master of Novices, training in the way of prayer and community life as well as in some apostolic, pastoral and manual work. The Novices are introduced, among other things, to pedagogy and catechetics. The study will include Scripture, Liturgy and pastoral work, to mention but a few. The study of the Scripture will show them the way to the living God, liturgy- the way to the living church, pastoral work- the way to the living kingdom of Christ wherever they will spend their life. In addition to the regular curriculum, allowance is made for games, hobbies and some practical subjects like music, carpentry, typing/computer, etc. at the end of the Novitiate, the young men will be received as Marist brothers, in a special ceremony in the presence of parents, relatives and friends, by making the religious profession and taking the vows of Chastity, Poverty and obedience that will be renewed annually and finally be made permanent.

 

SCHOLASTICATE :  The last stage of the training programme will start when the new brothers will be given the opportunity to further their religious, scholastic or academic studies, according to the needs and the requirements of their religious community. This period will last at least four years at Nairobi, Kenya. At the end of the four year- study in Nairobi, the candidate is awarded degree in Education with Religious Science from the Urbaniana University in Rome. Two of the three years after the scholastic experience, the brother is qualified to apply for the final vows to be a life member of the congregation.

 

WHAT ABOUT YOU? BE A MARIST TODAY:

As a young man, you should be concerned about your future. Have you even thought about why you were created? Your purpose in life? Your purpose as a Christian? My friend, have you ever thought of becoming a Religious- a Marist brother? It is a fact that you can be happy wherever God calls you, but the big questions are: where does God want you to be? How do you know? You would probably repeat the words of prophet Jeremiah, << Lord, I know that no one is the master of his own life >> ( Jer 10:20). Then what should you do?

In case you are of two minds, let us say that in life you both see yourself as your own possession and decide to look after yourself and do what you want, or you commit yourself to Christ at the service of the Church to help spread the Gospel. When you choose the second option then bear in mind that you will have to spend the rest of your life in there. It is a choice.

I hope that you know the proverb, << a bird in the hand is worth two in the air>>. /bush. Commenting on it a Karl Rahner wrote, << there is a reason for letting go the one in the hand if you believe in the two in the air/bush>>. What it means is that it is wise to give up joys and pleasures of this world for the sake of the kingdom. This passage could be compared to the one in the gospel referring to a man who, having found a hidden treasure in the field, went and sold all he owned and bought it. To many people, a celibate life will appear meaningless or a waste of time but, if you have faith, hope and love, you will realize that this way of life can give a meaning to your life and bring you happiness because of the good you do others. My friend, just remember what Christ himself promised Peter who asked him what he would get for following him. The Lord answered, I tell you that anyone who leaves home or brothers, or sisters or mother or father or children or friends for my sake and for the gospel, will receive much more: a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and friends… and in the age to come he will receive eternal life>> (Mark 10 : 29-30). You might know well what the angel told Daniel in a vision; << those who have taught many people to do what is right will shine like stars forever. (Dan 12:3). Very great promises indeed! Over to you, dear friend, the ball is in your court.

 

CONCLUSION:

Vocation is a gift freely offered to you. You free to accept or reject. It is god who initiates the call and we have the possibility to accept or refuse. Pope Paul VI in 1967 left the following message to the youth of Africa, ‘We turn to you, the hope of the future. Africa needs you; give yourself with enthusiasm to study and work. Be prepared and be glad to become ministers of learning by passing on to your brothers and sisters, as teachers in school, the gift which has been given to you>>. Pope Paul II in his vocation Sunday message in 1982 also reminded young people that vocation is a call to life; to receive and to give in love. He added that << the Church is born to live and to give life, and that in order to do so, the church receives every gift. Thus, the consecrated Religious exists to receive and give life in love.

My friend, like St Paul, you might<< be called by the will of god to be an apostle of Christ>> (1Cor 1:1). In that case, listen to the advice of the Psalmist, << if today you hear the voice of god, harden not your heart>> (Ps. 94:8). If called, would you refuse like Jonah did who, when asked to go on mission to Nineveh, set out in the opposite direction in order to run away from the Lord>> (Jonah 1:3)? Or would you be a would-be follower like the man of the Gospel who, when asked by Christ to follow him answered, ‘Sir, I will follow you but first let me go and say good-bye to my family>> (Lk 9:61). Or again you may find some excuses like Gideon did who, when called, answered the Lord, << who? Me? I am the least of my family>> (Judges 6:15). My only hope is that you may be in the position to answer like disciple Ananias did, who, when asked to go Straight Street, answered, << Here I am lord >> (Acts 9:11). Or Samuel who responded and said << speak, lord your servant is listening >> (1Sm 3:1-10). Hear what Isaiah said when he invited- << whom shall I send? Who will go for us? >><< Here I am, send me>> (Isaiah 6:8).

The call to follow Christ implies DYING in order to bear FRUIT. << Whoever remain in me, with ma in him, bears fruit in plenty >> (JN 15:5). This call is fundamentally a call to life, but also a call to leave someone and something (cf Lk 5:11). That is how the call must be lived, beginning with the stages of vocational discernment.

DYING to self is the basic requirements for following Jesus : << Anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it>> (Lk 9:24). This death takes place when the <<I>> ceases to be the center of its own universe and when God becomes the center (Gal 2:20). The period of the novitiate marks the beginning of the process of conversion. << Little by Little, Christ becomes the Lord of our lives, making it possible for us to bear fruit, fruit that will last>>

(Constitutions 166).

SUBMITTED BY

REV. BR. BEN AGUMA, fms

MCA

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Marist Comprehensive Academy, Uturu.
Abia State, Nigeria
Postal: PMB 1920 Achara, Uturu, Abia State
Phone: 09097179543, 07060635680, 08037661554, 08084323665
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