A recent survey on British Social Attitudes shows that people are gradually becoming more selfish and individualistic, less well-meaning towards the unfortunate, less trusting, and less aware of any sense of community or of responsibility towards.This led me to consider two things which I think are related: the meaning of Christmas and the meaning of religious Brotherhood.
With regard to the first, how sad it is that two thousand years after Jesus, a society which once was described as Christian, can now be said to be a “damaged society” in need of “repair”. Somewhere along the line, the exciting good news of Jesus has been packaged – or is perceived – as being irrelevant, burdensome, and unrealistic. The exciting, liberating, but challenging, message of Jesus has been lost. Christianity has very often come to be seen as restricting our humanity and as a religion of silly rules and quaint, unintelligible, and boring rituals unrelated to life. What’s more, some of those who faithfully comply with religious practices and adhere to ‘orthodox’ teaching give the appearance of being anything but redeemed. Perhaps these ‘correct’ beliefs, ‘correct’ translations, and ‘correct’ practices have become their idols, their gods, displacing the true God of love and compassion. Perhaps others intuitively see how bankrupt this is, and how lacking in the Spirit.
In Galatians 5:22, St Paul has a wonderful list of the characteristics of those who truly are of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How is it that so many apparently religious people do not show these signs of the fruit of the Spirit? How is it that there are people who claim to be religious, but in fact display the “obvious results of self-indulgence” that Paul also talks about? These are: fornication, sexual irresponsibility, idolatry, feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and similar things.(Gal 5:19,20).
Clearly, Jesus wishes us to be people of the Spirit. At Christmas we celebrate his coming amongst us as a human, to lead us into a healthy and wholesome way of living as spirit-beings. Clearly also, even in the early days of the Christian community, things were not perfect. Obviously, St Paul found it necessary to write strong words to the Galatians warning them that while we are called to liberty, “we have to be careful lest the liberty provides an opening to self-indulgence”. (Gal 5:13).
This brings me to religious Brotherhood.
It seems to me that a core element of Brotherhood is in fact the deliberate and free choice to live under the guidance of the Spirit. Again, St Paul says to the Galatians: “If you are guided by the Spirit, you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit. The Spirit is totally against such a thing and it is precisely because the two are so opposed that you do not always carry out your good intentions.” (Gal 5:16,17).
Since the heading “Damaged Society Needs Repair” can be applied universally, religious Brotherhood, as a way of being a disciple of Jesus in a radical way, has the potential to model what it is to live a Spirit-led life.
We have a wonderful gift in our Brotherhood. And we have the demanding challenge that goes with it. This challenge is to be so guided by the Spirit, that our very lives show the excitingly liberating values and vision of Jesus.
The greatest tragedy that can befall religious life is that, instead of showing a radically alternative way of life, it mirrors the “damaged society” in the ways of “selfishness and individualism and lacking in any sense of community and responsibility for it”.
Let us not delude ourselves. We are more than capable of drifting away from our ideals as individuals, as communities, as Districts or Provinces and as Congregation. One of the disturbing things for me, in the past year, has been to see the effects, in various ways, of some lives being led in a way not directed by the Spirit, and to come across instances of some of the self-indulgent behaviours in St Paul’s list above. The encouraging thing has been that so many Brothers have used disturbing events, in their own lives or the lives of others, as a springboard for re-assessment of and re-commitment to our Brotherhood.
My hope and my prayer is that at this time of Christmas, we will all once again re-commit ourselves to the radical discipleship to which we are called. In the words again of St Paul: “Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit. We must stop being conceited, provocative and envious.” (Gal 5:25,26). Let us support each other in being faithful to our wonderful vocation as Brothers.
Christian Brother Richard Walsh
African Province Leader
published January 2012
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