Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Monk, Priest, Friar, Brother...what's the difference?

We are asked this question a lot and now Brother Richard Hendrick provides a nice reflection on the vocations of Monk, Priest, Friar and Brother.

Over the years, and particularly recently, many people have asked me what the difference is between the terms above... Sometimes it can even cause confusion to those who are discerning a vocation... "You're a brother but you say Mass???" Hopefully the following will help!

Priest: a Priest receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders (instituted by Christ Himself at the Last Supper) by which he is ordained to offer the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist or Mass, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession, and also to minister the Word of God to the people. He takes a Vow of Obedience to his Bishop or Religious Superior if he belongs to an Order, and a promise of Celibacy if he has not already taken the Vow of Chastity. (This is in the Roman Rite... Married diocesan clergy are allowed under certain conditions in the Eastern Rites and in exceptional circumstances in the Western Rite). The Priest is called to be an Alter Christus, another Christ, in that as he steps into the celebration of the Sacraments Christ chooses him to become present through him to the world in those sacred actions.
This is nothing to do with his own personal holiness or worthiness but is a grace conferred at the moment of Ordination when the Bishop lays hands on his head and prays the prayer of consecration.

A monk (from the Greek Monachos root meaning solitary or alone) is a member of a Monastic religious Order such as the Benedictines, Cistercians, or Carthusians to name a few. This is the oldest form of Religious or Consecrated life for Men. It may be lived in a solitary or community form. He takes perpetual vows, sometimes called Solemn Vows, by which he professes the Evangelical Counsels of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience, (often under the form of "conversion of life"), and to this may be added other vows such as Stability, (that vows him to a particular monastery), or even of Silence.
He follows a Rule of Life that establishes the conditions of day to day life enabling the monk to dedicate himself to prayer. He may be ordained as a priest or not. His life is dedicated to Prayer first and then to manual work and study and sometimes works of charity too. The Superior is known as an Abbot or Prior. Traditionally to meet a Monk you go to them! Their spirituality is often based on the scriptural descriptions of the gathering of the first disciples in the Acts of the Apostles...

The Mendicant (begging) Orders of Friars are a development/reform of the monastic orders that took place in the 1200's beginning with St. Francis of Assisi. The Friars also take Solemn and Perpetual Vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience and follow a Rule of Life. The Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, Servite, Trinitarian and Augustinian Orders (and many others) belong to this group. The Friars are bound to the Order but not to particular communities and travel to preach and to be present to the needs of the people. They find a balance between contemplative and active life with the various groups finding their own level of balance depending on their tradition and the teaching of their founders. Like their Monastic forefathers they may be ordained or not. The important thing is Profession of Vows first and Ordination is seen as a secondary Vocation within the primary Vocation of Friar. The word Friar is an old English word simply meaning brother. They may be referred to as Father if they are ordained but in the Capuchin Franciscan tradition, returning to the primitive tradition of St. Francis and the first Friars, the only official title is Brother and all of the Brothers are equal based on Profession of Vows and not on Ordination. As we Capuchins often say, "All of the Fathers are Brothers, but only some of the Brothers are Fathers!" Got it?
St. Francis also rejected any title that implied power over someone and asked that the superiors would be called Guardians rather than Abbot or Prior.... A reminder that they were servants of the fraternity and were there to guard the "places" of the Friars so that they would be free for the work of prayer and ministry.

Religious Brothers: Brothers such as the Christian Brothers, De La Salle or Presentation Brothers are part of a movement of Religious Congregations of men and women that began in the late 1700's. They are dedicated to specific apostolate such as teaching, nursing, missionary work etc. They may take either simple or temporary vows renewed every few years or perpetual vows taken once, often with promises related to their apostolate. They would be classed as active or missional rather than contemplative in character though often have a very deep spirituality of work. In the male congregations ordination would not be usual though some practice ordination for the sake of the community, ie a brother may be ordained for sacramental ministry to the brothers themselves...

While the above descriptions give clear boundaries to the various institutions it should be understood that on an individual level there can be blurring in the way an individual group or order understand themselves; however the above are the basic major categories of male religious life in the Roman Catholic Church...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Solitude, Stillness and Silence...

How many times have you looked at your phone today? No idea? Me neither. This is most likely because we check and recheck it so often that are no longer aware of how often we do it. It's become a habit maybe even an addiction and we're not alone in this.

Recently I've started thinking a lot about solitude, stillness and silence and how to find these in the midst of all the noise and distraction of modern life. Yes, even Friars are not immune to all of that. Today we are often connected to the point of distraction, disconnection and even isolation. Yet, at our very core we crave something else.

As humans we are on a life-long quest to find meaning and to find ourselves. We search, struggle and succeed in various ways. We form bonds with others, we learn from mistakes and we create so as to make our mark. We do. In all of this doing we can loose sight of our ability to just be; who we are, right now. Being with who we are can be a frightening place at times and a place we don't like to visit too often and so we keep ourselves distracted with work, tv, sports, phones, laptops...the list goes on. None of us are immune. It's a symptom of the modern world and it may also be something that's making us deeply unhappy and even unwell.

I work in a secondary school and a good amount of my time is spent teaching students the benefits of meditation. As we begin, I invite them to begin to allow stillness and silence emerge and often they look at me with a mix of puzzlement and fear. Stillness and silence can be scary and so I assure them that nobody has every been injured or harmed by a meditative stillness or silence! I often go on to explain to them that silence is different from being quiet. When we're told to be quiet we have to stop doing something that we are doing and oftentimes this forcing down of our self-expression sparks an internal noise masked by our external quietness. Of course, removing noise or an obvious distraction is a necessary first step on the road to silence however it's not the entire journey. Silence is different because silence is always present. As we begin to still ourselves and allow the internal and external noise to settle, silence emerges.

Silence and stillness may seem like an unaffordable luxury at times, yet it is quite the opposite. We need it. Our minds need it as do our souls. We need it to allow our mind process all the information we pick up every second of the day. We need it to allow our soul express its inner most longings. We need it because its an essential part of who we are. Silence and stillness are valuable commodities in today's always-switched-on-world. Yes, we need to create space but in order for us to do that, in a sustainable way, we need to recognise our deep longing for them.

Saint Francis of Assisi knew the importance of solitude, stillness and silence. He often took himself off to isolated places high in the hills to find it. Even for St Francis it was often hard to find. Even when he couldn't go to these places, Francis often covered his face with his hands or pulled his hood over his head to create a small place of solitude wherein he could allow silence emerge. He knew what was essential. He knew that silence and stillness in a place of solitude allowed him to refocus and reorientate himself so as to better respond to the needs of the brothers and those he ministered to. And it was in these places of solitude, stillness and silence that he communicate with God on a very deep and personal level. God, like silence is always present. Our job is to create the space necessary to allow His Presence emerge.

Factoring times of solitude, stillness and silence into our daily routine will benefit our well-being, relationships, ability to connect with others at a deeper level, our sleep, blood pressure, stress levels, appetite, world view and so much more. And the amazing thing is, it's already there. All we have to do, is not do...for a while. Try it. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Set the World Alight. An Easter Reflection

The Easter Vigil is without doubt one of the most poignant and symbolic events in the entire liturgical calendar. It has everything really; fire, candles, water, darkness, light. The readings tell us the story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of salvation. We are invited into this story because it’s our story.  The elements of fire and water contrast each other alongside darkness and light. It is a truly a feast for both our physical and spiritual senses.

The Vigil begins in darkness. The Easter fire, lit and blessed outside, becomes a light that embraces us all as it moves purposefully from candle to candle. It becomes for each of us a personal gift, a torch to light our way in whatever way we need it to. It illuminates, warms and enlightens as one candle lights another, passing on the message of hope that this great night brings.

The incredible thing is that this is happening all over the world! I’d love to see a Google Earth image that showed it, as slowly candle by candle, church by church, town by town, country by country, continent by continent the light of Easter is passed on from person to person. Incredible. That’s the power of the message of the resurrection. It has the power to illumine the entire world but for that to happen it requires us to do three things:

Firstly, it requires us to hold the message of Easter hope as something deeply sacred and valuable.

Secondly, it requires us to receive this message in such a way as to allow it to enflame our hearts, ignite our imaginations and enlighten our minds.

And finally, it requires us to pass the flame on to others; slowly, gently and compassionately so that they may receive it, value it and begin to share it.

This sacred night is a night like no other. By the time we have reached it, we have journeyed together for 40 days; reflecting, praying, trusting and stumbling along the way. We’ve encountered challenges and opportunities, joys and sorrows, compassion and pain and yet we’ve made it to this most sacred of nights.  We’ve made it to the point whereby we’ve been able to gather in safety and peace to receive this torch of hope. The challenge now is to take this torch, this light of hope and peace, and bring it into the darker places we encounter in ourselves and in the world.

Today our world is often a dark and terrifying place. Every news report testifies to this as we hear of more and more violence hatred often manifest through disregard for life, peace and our common home, the Earth. This a dynamic that can get us down. We can feel overwhelmed by it all and powerless in the face of it. This can be a lonely place to be. However, as Christians we are called to be people of hope and children of the resurrection. In truth, we are never really powerless because Christ’s resurrection has shown us that the violence, hatred and death, all too prevalent in the world, will not have the final say. Jesus has passed through all of that and has risen transformed and glorious so that we may have live in the light of hope, peace and joy.

The great spiritual writer and teacher, Ron Rolheiser OMI, remarks that in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection and post resurrection we hear of people either being told to go to Galilee or Jerusalem to meet Jesus. Apart from being geographical locationsGalilee and Jerusalem are also places of deep symbolic value in the Gospels. Galilee was the fertile place and the place of plenty. It was the place of preaching, teaching and miracles, the place where Jesus called his disciples and gathered his followers. Jerusalem on the other hand was the place of ridicule, accusation, condemnation, hatred, violence and death.

In many ways the core message of this night is that wherever we are right now be it a place of plenty or a place of darkness; Christ is there, waiting for us to meet him. Our invitation this Easter is to go, do not be afraid and, if we do, we will meet him there.

Brother Martin
(Easter Vigil Mass, Rochestown Cork, 2017)

Saturday, 17 December 2016

God has a name! Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent 
'God has a name!'

Well we’re almost there! The fourth Advent candle has been lit, our crib is up and your preparations are well under way, I’m sure. This week, we’re probably going to make a whole series of ‘O Exclamations…’: O, I forgot to order the turkey; O, I forget to send a card to this person or O, I forgot to invite that person! That’s inevitable as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. However, this week the liturgy of the Church offers us an opportunity to enter into a different set of ‘O exclamations’ or ‘O antiphons’, as they are called. 

Each evening, we Friars gather in our chapel, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, for an hour of meditation and prayer, we pray the Divine Office: the Prayer of the Church. Each evening, included in that prayer is Mary’s great exclamation, the Magnificat…through which Mary proclaims the greatness of God for having chosen her to be the one to bring forth Christ into the World. The God-human dynamic moves to a whole new level in Jesus Christ, to a very personal and intimate level. St Francis, St Clare and St Bonaventure all attest to the fact that it is Jesus to makes all things make sense. It is in, through and with Him whom who all things were created and hold their being that we can come to know God, ourselves, others and all of creation in a new and refreshing way.

An antiphon is said before and after this and in the final days before Christmas these antiphons become a series of ‘O exclamations’ that speak of our wonder, our joy and our anticipation as we count down the days to the great feast of Christmas; the time when we enter into the great Mystery of God becoming human. The last of these, recited on the 23rd of December is ‘O Emmanuel…you are Our Kind and Saviour…O Come, and save us’ … but save us from what? Well, from ourselves really. What do I mean? Let me explain...

When we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating the fact that God took on human form and dwells with us. In today’s Gospel, we hear the angel reassuring Joseph and giving Joseph the name to call the child that is to be born ‘he is to be called Jesus because he will save people from their sins’. I’m sure we have head this line from scripture many times before however, if we pause for a moment we can begin to realise just how earth shattering that sentence actually is…His name will be Jesus…For the first time, God has given us his name!

When Moses approached the burning bush and said to God ‘the people are asking who you are, what should I tell them? God responded ‘tell them, I am who am’…in other words, my name is unpronounceable to you. You see, when we know somebody’s name…we can call him or her by it whenever we like, in a way, we have a certain control over them. God has given us His name and invites us to call Him by it whenever we like. In other words, he invites us into relationship with him in a way never seen before. In the OT the covenant was the relationship but in the Incarnation, what we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus is the relationship.

Christ comes to us in love to save us from the fear and anxiety caused by thinking that we are on our own and somehow disassociated from God, we are not. God is with us, that’s the Good News! He saves us from ourselves because we, as human beings, become afraid. Bishop Robert Barron in his excellent series on Virtue and Vices says that ‘fear is at the root of all sinfulness’ because when we live out of a place of fear we become bent over by pride, envy, greed and all of the other big vices.

What is God’s message of salvation in all of this? Well maybe we can listen to the angel, the messenger of God who in today’s Gospel, in fact ALL angels in all of scripture, always greet those they encounter with the words … do not be afraid. We can expand this message a little by saying ‘ do not be afraid…I am with you…I know you…I love you and you are mine. Come to me…come follow me…I am the living water…and I have come so that you can have life to its fullest.’

God has a name…it is Emmanuel…God with us. It is Jesus…it is Mercy…It is Wisdom…it is Joy, Peace, Love and much more.  It is a name we know. As St Paul tells us, ‘we have the Spirit within us’ and so we can call on the name of Jesus and not only that but we have been ‘justified in the name of Jesus’ (1Cor6). To be justified means that things are in their right place, that we are in right-relationship and therefore that we are saved in Jesus. Our response, is to live as saved people and to bring this good news to others by virtue of how we live our lives.

The Saviour who is with us has come to lead us from darkness into light, from a place of fear to a place of hope-filled trust. He comes gently, humbly and constantly into a dark corner, of a small town, in a nondescript part of the world, into the care of two refugees who have nothing and nowhere. Paradoxically, it is they, Mary and Joseph, who are dependant upon him.

The crib teaches us the true meaning of humility as the antidote to pride, of true hospitality as the antidote to envy and true giving as the antidote to greed.

This is what Christmas is all about…this is what we are preparing for and this is why the Church cries out these O antiphons this week…O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O King, O Key of the Nations, O Rising Sun, O Emmanuel.

So maybe this week, as we make our final practical preparations for Christmas, we can also allow some time and space to prepare our hearts, minds and souls to welcome, once more, the Light of the nations, the Hope of all Peoples, The Joy of the World, The Word made Flesh, the one who has a name, and that name is Jesus. Amen.

Brother Martin Bennett OFM Cap.
Vocations Promoter of the Irish Capuchin Franciscans.