It used to be right there, a picture of writing on a scroll, in the dining room of our friary in Victoria. “And the Lord gave me some brothers.” Some, indeed. Not just brothers. Some brothers. Many a dinner I ate, a brother among brothers, listening to their days’ trials, reflecting on this quote from the Testament of Saint Francis.
Lately, the sign was replaced by more ordinary artwork, but it lives on in my memory. Francis may not have had the ironic meaning in mind that this takes on in the English language, but he certainly knew the challenges of living with brothers. He wrote of Brother Fly, buzzing around him incessantly and disturbing his peace. Francis’s Letter to a Minister should be read by any friar who feels mistreated by his community. In Franciscan life, having brothers is the vocation, and we have to make sense of it.
The benefits are rather obvious. Just a few days ago, we were sitting together around the friary’s dinner table, celebrating Brother Dominic’s birthday and having a wonderful time. Some guests had joined us, and they, too, seemed to enjoy the opportunity of having dinner together with a band of brothers. The appeal of living in a fraternity is easy to see.
The challenges, however, are much more important. What we do with them is really what defines us. Religious life differs fundamentally from married life. Dominion has been given to those who marry and are given in marriage, and worldly power is meant to be in their hands, not ours. Their experience of the dependencies and mutual support in marriage and family life is what prepares them for their role of being stewards of life in the world.
Our life as Franciscan friars, as consecrated people, is not about what we accomplish in the world. It is meant to give witness that right here and now, living in relationship with God is a reality that can be lived, in the flesh, and not only as a lofty ambition. It is meant to show that in this relationship, happiness can be found.
And as in any relationship, we must grow in it. We have to know ourselves, we have to understand ourselves in order to enter more deeply into relationships. And who would know me better than my brothers? Who could be more honest and less concerned with protecting my feelings than my brothers? And who could teach me more about the many faults of human beings than daily life with brothers?
“The Lord gave me some brothers.” For Francis, this was the task given to him by God so that his exemplary understanding of the Gospel would remain an inspiration for Christians in future ages. For us friars, however, being given brothers is the way God teaches us about how to grow in our relationship with him.
There is one more thing, though. Brothers will also take you to the airport when you have to travel and pick you up there when you come back. I should not forget this, at it is really nice not having to take a taxi.