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Today’s Religious Brother

The Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life recently released a new document focused on the role and vocation of religious brothers in the life of the Church. The document, entitled ‘Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church’, was presented at a press conference by the head of the Congregation, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, and its secretary, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo.
Untitled-1Childhood of Christ (with St. Joseph) by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656)
Lay religious men, or brothers as they’re commonly called, make up about a fifth of all male religious in the Catholic Church today. They are men who are not ordained to the priesthood but are normally consecrated to a life of service within the different orders, societies or congregations.

In his presentation Archbishop Carballo noted that the origin of this figure in the Church dates back to the centuries following Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan recognizing Christianity as an official religion. From this point on, he said, people began using the faith for their own interests, losing the fervor of the first Christian communities who often lived in fear of their lives.

From that time on, men seeking to maintain an authentic witness to Christ’s teachings consecrated themselves to a life of solitude, or later, to a life of community service.

Cardinal Braz de Aviz explained that the document addresses the identity of the religious brother in three ways:


firstly, as the mystery of a gift received from God; 

Read more: Today’s Religious Brother

With Jesus on the Journey

Untitled-1Shaum celebrates Andean New Year with Bolivian villagers on shores of Lake TiticacaApostles Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus said, "Come follow me." Shaun Crumb, who will become Maryknoll's newest priest on May 30, also traces his service vocation to a seaside setting — the fishing resort his parents owned on Lake Minnewaska in Glenwood, Minnesota, USA. There, he says, he, his two older sisters and younger brother were constantly on call to help respond to tourists' needs.


Serving Others


"Serving others was part of growing up," says Crumb. So was practicing his faith. Randy and Judie Crumb set the spiritual course for their children. "My parents invited us to come to church, but they weren't forceful. They led by example," recalls Crumb, now 36.


At Sacred Heart Church in Glenwood, where Crumb was an altar server, Father Eb (Eberhard) Schefers was also a spiritual guide. "He was a humble, loving guy," says Crumb of his former pastor. "He would come over to our house and have a beer with my dad. He was holy but not in a preachy way."


After attending local public schools. Crumb was accepted at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., where he majored in social work and minored in theology. "Benedictines, who live a monastic life, run St. John's. They would invite us students to join them for prayer," says Crumb. "They also place a strong emphasis on service." The tall, lanky Minnesotan participated in short-term mission experiences, mostly in needy U.S. areas. "Those trips opened my eyes to diversity as well as poverty and discrimination," he says.

Read more: With Jesus on the Journey

Vocations in a Multicultural Church

Untitled-1It is no secret that the ethnic composition of the United States is changing. Although English is the dominant language in the United States, the flow of immigrants from Latin America has now made the U.S. the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Since the Asian Immigration Act of 1965 opened up immigration possibilities for people from that region, the Asian population in the U.S. has grown as well. The 1990 census showed some seven million Asians and Pacific Islanders in the country. That number will likely more than triple by the middle of the next century.

These changes are reflected in the Catholic Church as well. Hispanic people now constitute about a third of America's 60 million Catholics. The percentage of persons of Asian descent who are Catholic is generally small (except for Filipinos). Yet they are making their presence felt in the church. A look at the 1999 Catholic Directory indicates that there are some 200 priests who bear the Vietnamese surnames of Nguyen, Pham, and Tran. A recent survey of seminarians has indicated that 25 percent were born outside the United States.

While there are no clear statistics yet for the numbers of these immigrants and descendants of immigrants in religious congregations today, we know that the numbers are growing. Vocation directors are on the front lines when it comes to shaping the ethnic and racial nature of religious orders in the future. A vocation director may be the first contact that Hispanic or Asian prospective candidates may have. What should vocation directors know about ethnic and cultural issues? How should they interact with such prospective candidates? How might they help their congregations prepare to welcome such candidates? (Because they represent the large and fast growing ethnic groups in the U.S. church, this article addresses Hispanics and Asians. However, many of the principles slated here might also be applied to working with other minority groups.)

Read more: Vocations in a Multicultural Church

Uniting Together in Joy

Untitled-1The life cycle of religious congregations has always been a cyclical process of birth, maturity, dedication and then either death or renewal. For many congregations, when their membership dwindles, there is a possibility of merging or uniting with another more numerous community. Such is the recent case with several French religious congregations of women.

A History of Caring –

Four Religious Communities of Women

In 1992 there was a national meeting of French Religious Orders of Women in which discussions were held about instructing small Congregations to help and support each other in solidarity and unity. At that time our fast-growing community, the Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette, began discussions with the Soeurs de Jesus Rédempteur et Marie Mediatrice and two other Congregations to establish a support structure for religious life. Our community was certainly more numerous but we were open to possibilities concerning those with very few members.

Read more: Uniting Together in Joy

A Vocation Culture

Untitled-1Having been a Vocation Director for the first three years of my priesthood, and, after over forty years of ministry, I certainly welcomed the conclusion of the recent CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) study completed in September of 2012. It was commissioned by the USCCB and was entitled, “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics.”

Its conclusion stated: “Although many speak of priest shortages and steep declines in the number of men and women religious, the survey reveals that there is no shortage of individuals who seriously consider these vocations among never-married Catholics in the United States. Three percent of men say they have “very seriously” considered becoming a priest or religious brother and two percent of women indicate they have “very seriously” considered becoming a religious sister. This is equivalent to 350,000 never-married men and more than 250,000 never-married women.

“Shepherding more of these individuals on the path to seeking a vocation would likely require a combination of greater outreach from the Church, encouragement from others, assistance in obtaining educational prerequisites, and dealing with other issues such as student loan debt and citizenship status.”

As an active and interested priest, I know the dictum that “Every Christian is a Vocation Director” and that every person within the church should be open to a call to religious life (or priesthood) as some of their possible ways to serve God. Yet this is easier said than done.

Read more: A Vocation Culture

Questions and Answers about Priesthood and Religious Life

Questions and Answers about Priesthood and Religious Life

(Diocesan Priest, Religious 0rder Priests, Sisters and Brothers)

In 1846 Mary, the Mother of God appeared to two young children in the small village of La Salette in the French Alps.  She was wearing a unique crucifix and her message was one of Reconciliation.

She Said...

"Make this known to all my people"

Read more: Questions and Answers about Priesthood and Religious Life

Vocation Answers From the Scriptures:

“I’m not holy enough”:

• Isaiah 6: 1-8: (A vision of God in the temple)

"Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am," I said, "send me!

• Luke 5:1-11: (Jesus calls the first disciples)
Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.


“I’m afraid I will fail”:

• Exodus 14: 10-31 (crossing the Red Sea)

Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians.

• Luke 15: 11-32 (the parable of the Merciful Father)

This brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

Read more: Vocation Answers From the Scriptures:

Celibacy…To Love as Christ Loves

In an informal survey of high school seniors and college students I conducted this year, I asked what they felt were the two greatest fears a young man must overcome if he is to consider priesthood today. Two-thirds of the students identified celibacy as one of the fears. The other fears, including fear of being unworthy, fear of unhappiness, fear of parents’ responses, and fear of friends’ responses were all far behind.

Using this information we are trying to develop responses that might help young people understand the nature of celibacy. I realize we cannot immediately change the whole culture towards a positive appreciation of priestly celibacy, but I think we can change some hearts of young men who feel the call to consider a life of priestly service. The following thoughts are offered to give a renewed understanding of celibacy from understanding priesthood as sacrament.

Think for a moment about your first reaction to the word “celibacy”. For many people celibacy simply means not being married, not having sex, and not having children. When viewed in this way, a logical question is, “Why would anyone in their right mind choose that for themselves?” Good question. But celibacy cannot be defined merely by a series of negations (no spouse, no children, no sex) anymore than love can be defined only by negation (not hating, not stealing, not abusive). Love is much, much richer than that, and so is celibacy!


Read more: Celibacy…To Love as Christ Loves

Vocation of the Business Person

Ghana's first Catholic Cardinal,
Peter Appiah Turkson
On March 30, 2012, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, presented Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection, at the XXIV UNIAPAC World Congress in Lyon, France. 
Speaking to 2000 Christian businesspeople, Cardinal Turkson noted the common malady that afflicts many, particularly businesspeople: a tendency to separate one's faith from one's work. This leads to the modern affliction of a divided life. Citing the desire of the Church to help businesspeople live out their professional lives fruitfully for the common good, the Cardinal evoked the Church's social doctrine, with its desire to implement its principles in the concrete.
The 30-page reflection had its beginning at an international seminar of business leaders and scholars in Rome, 24-26 February 2011, entitled, "Caritas in Veritate: The Logic of Gift and the Meaning of Business". In the light of the lively exchanges, participants resolved to write a handbook or guide for business men and women and business educators, to address the important role of vocation for the business leader in today's global economy and the contribution of the Church's social principles for the modern corporation.

Read more: Vocation of the Business Person

More Vocation Myths

Untitled-1.jpgI thought I might discuss a few more myths about vocations to religious life that I have run across in my experience as Vocation Director for the La Salette Missionaries. A professional study has listed several myths that are very interesting.

Myth #1: There are fewer religious communities.
Fact: The rise and diminishment of religious institutes has always been part of the continuum of religious life. Once a need is met, unless a community adapts its founding charism to addressing the changing needs in the Church, it is not uncommon for the community to end.

Many congregations today that share a same charism are either consolidating or merging into new religious institutes. One little known fact is that since the end of Vatican II in 1965, approximately 175 newer religious communities have been founded in the United States alone. Some were only short-lived, but others are canonically recognized as religious institutes by the Church today.

Read more: More Vocation Myths

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