Each Brother is an open letter from Christ-a message written, not with ink but in the Spirit of the living God, with a faithful human heart to carry it!
Brothers are lay religious, who profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They commit themselves to a life of ministry and prayer within the community.
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My name is Brother Jim Hamilton, and I am a member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Presently, I am the Vocation Director for the Eastern American Province of the Christian Brothers. My responsibilities involve going from school to school, diocese to diocese, spreading the word about "vocation" and about the specific call to brotherhood as a Christian Brother.
Our congregation has an interesting history. We were founded by Blessed Edmund Rice, a wealthy businessman in southern Ireland. Edmund was born in 1762, but it was not until 1802 that he officially founded the congregation. In those previous 40 years, Edmund assumed the responsibilities and ownership of his uncle's merchant business in the port city of Waterford. Edmund, despite persecution against Catholics in Ireland, was able to receive an education and was able to develop his business skills as well as his personal wealth. He married, and his wife had a baby daughter. Edmund's life was going very well until his wife died in a tragic accident, leaving Edmund a widower at a young age. He was left with many unanswered questions about his life, and he spent much time reflecting and praying about his future. Edmund Rice was always involved in the various charities of Waterford, and he always believed in the power of education. These beliefs led him to abandon his life as a wealthy businessman and to embrace a life of full-time service to the poor.
Other men soon joined him, and the Christian Brothers began to spread out to the point where today there are over 2,000 Christian Brothers in over twenty-seven countries, bringing the Gospel of Christ to the world through evangelizing communities and the mission of education. We Christian Brothers are vowed laymen who live in community and serve the others in the traditions of Jesus and Edmund Rice. We pronounce the vows of poverty (simplicity), chastity, and obedience. In the vow of poverty, we live simple lives in community as we try to be poor in "spirit" and in fact. By our vow of chaste celibacy, we promise to love all equally, and we celebrate our family through our brotherhood to each other and to others to whom we minister. Our vow of obedience calls us to be open to God's Spirit in our lives and to be attentive to the needs of the Church regarding where and how we serve. Our vows do not constrict us, but they help us to grow and develop spiritually and personally.
Brothers are not ordained ministers as priests and deacons are. The vocation of brotherhood is very different from that of an ordained minister in the Church. Whereas ordained ministers are called to minister to the Sacramental nature of the Church in the spirit and traditions of Jesus, brothers are called to evangelize through our vowed lives in community and through our mission of Christian education, especially for the poor.
My own personal story dates back to when I was a freshman in Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, New York. It was here that I met brothers for the first time, and I was immediately impressed by their love for life and for their care and concern for us students. Although we did not see their communal prayer life firsthand, we certainly did witness the results of their communal living and community prayer, as evidenced, day in and day out, in their spiritual nature. They were men of tremendous faith, who thoroughly enjoyed serving others for the sake of the Kingdom. I felt that I wanted to be a part of that, and, when one of the brothers asked me to think about joining the congregation, I said "yes."
At the time, my feeling was that I could never match up to my "heroes", but that I would at least give it a try and see if the life of brotherhood was for me. That was in 1978, and I have never regretted my decision to enter the Christian Brothers. I would not be telling the truth if I said that I never had any doubts or challenges. I believe that these challenges are a part of any life, and they are really opportunities for growth and commitment. It has been a blessed life, and I have really enjoyed my life in community and my life ministering in Catholic schools as a Religious Education and Spanish teacher and as a coach and moderator - I wouldn't trade it for anything!
But, how do people know if God is calling them? I believe that it is not a matter of if we are called, for all of us are called by God to serve others and to bring the Gospel of Jesus to today's world through our own thoughts, actions, and words. The challenging part is to determine how God wants us to live out our vocations. It would be very easy if we, like Saul, were knocked to the ground and were spoken to directly by God. This is not the experience of most persons, but God does speak to us!
I like to tell the story of Blessed Edmund Rice and other Saints because their story is our story. God does speak to us through the persons and events of our own lives, just as He has spoken to the people of Scripture and to the people of the Church for the past two thousand years. Listen to God speaking to you in your own heart! Listen to God speaking to you through prayer and the sacraments! God is calling - how are you going to serve? Listen, and God will show you the way. And do not be afraid, for God is with us and will never give us anything in our lives that we can't handle.
In conclusion, I use the brief prayer adopted by Edmund Rice to conclude all of the Brothers' prayers and activities: "Live Jesus in our hearts - forever!"
Contact:Br. Peter L. O'Loughlin, CFC