In consecrating themselves to God in religious life, the primary object of the brothers is the glory of God, their sanctification and the salvation of souls. Throughout their life, all their actions are offered to God by Our Lord, especially at the holy altar during Mass.
The specific purpose of the SSPX’s brothers is to come to the aid of the priests in their ministry, whether by performing practical tasks or by participating more directly in the apostolate in places of worship, schools or the missions. They pronounce religious vows that unite them more closely to the Divine Master.
To understand the step taken by young men who knock at the novitiate’s door as postulants to the brotherhood, it is necessary to understand correctly the two inseparable aspects of any ascent toward God. If man were good by nature, it would be enough for us to develop what is best in ourselves in order to attain perfection. Alas, even after baptism we have wicked tendencies within us. The old man that St. Paul talks about fights against the aspiration of the new man. Thus, in order to ascend toward God, it is not enough to turn toward Him with all our heart, it is necessary first to detach ourselves from everything that might hinder our union with Him. All spiritual life therefore includes an ascetical phase and a mystical phase. In other words: no union with God without renunciation first.
Having grasped this truth, the postulant generously sets out on the path of the evangelical counsels. This path is different from the path of the commandments. In order to please God, we must all keep God’s commandments, we must all love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves, for the love of God. But in order to observe the commandments more easily, in order to reach God more quickly, there is a shorter, more direct and surer way than the one taken by people who live in the world.
This way does not lead a man away from the path of the commandments, but rather gives him more reliable means of keeping them. In order to love God above all else, it is necessary to avoid any disorderly attachment to creatures.
Now, naturally, we easily tend to become unduly attached to the goods of this world, we have the temptation to let ourselves go down the slippery slope of pleasures, above all we have a tendency to become attached to our way of seeing and our way of acting. Therefore, in order to nip all these temptations in the bud, the brothers take the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The three vows have their source in Sacred Scripture. In the Gospel, Our Lord invites the rich young man to follow Him on the path of poverty. He tells him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come follow me” (Mt. 10:16-21). Another time He invited generous souls to follow Him on the path of obedience: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24-28). Finally, on another occasion, Our Lord speaks about “those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”, an allusion to the vow of perfect chastity (Mt. 19:12). Thus the threefold renunciation of the brothers has its foundation in the Gospels. But already in the Old Testament one episode prefigured this invitation from God to follow Him on the path of the three vows. This is the passage from Genesis where God appeared to Abraham and told him: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house.”
When God draws souls to Himself, He asks them to detach themselves from certain goods. But this renunciation is only the negative part of their commitment. The brothers’ commitment is first of all positive. For them it is a matter of consecrating themselves to God. And since their consecration is total, they belong entirely to God. From the moment of their first vows, they really become consecrated souls. Just as a chalice is a consecrated object, their whole being is consecrated to God. Consequently, all the actions that they perform, even the most insignificant, acquire a religious value. This is the beauty and grandeur of their vocation. Whether the brother is cook, gardener, secretary or teacher is a secondary matter in relation to his religious vocation. What defines the vocation of a brother is the total, complete, entire gift of his person to God.
With respect to their vows, far from being inferior to the priests, the brothers are a light, a point of reference, a model for them. No doubt priests by their commitment to celibacy implicitly take a vow of chastity, they have to have the spirit of poverty and practice the virtue of obedience, but their commitment in this regard is less extensive than that of brothers. Priests have their own car, they often have a computer, they have books that belong to them personally. And, alas, they can become attached to all these possessions. That is why it is very beneficial for priests to have nearby brothers who by their life recall the ideal of evangelical perfection.
By their example, brothers help to preserve the spirit of religion. Archbishop Lefebvre was a religious, and although he chose that the SSPX should be a society of common life without vows, this was not to turn priests away from the religious spirit but solely because of the practical difficulties that vows of poverty and obedience would have caused for subordinates. They would have spent all their time requesting permissions for the needs of their apostolate.
Brothers therefore have a very beautiful vocation, a thoroughly positive vocation. Like any vocation, it is defined in relation to God and not in relation to man. Certainly the brothers live day by day in very close dependence on their superior by virtue of their vow of obedience, but this vow has its reason for being only in God. Far from being primarily manual laborers, brothers, just like priests, are men of God.
In insisting on the religious aspect of a brother, I am not forgetting the professional realm. The brothers who flourish the most almost always do some work with their hands. The fact that they can use them within the framework of religious life is very enriching for them. And so let us seek as much as possible to cultivate or to develop the talents of our brothers for their equilibrium and for the good of our houses.
One of the consequences of the brothers’ hidden life in God is their apostolic influence. Despite the self-effacing life that they lead, brothers are true apostles. Their sublime interior offering transforms them little by little into God and draws down many blessings upon souls. For some a more direct apostolate is added to these interior acts. Indeed, although some brothers are assigned mainly to relieve the priests of some material tasks (stewardship, gardening, cooking, building maintenance, office work), it is altogether in keeping with their vocation to teach catechism, direct a choir or to devote their efforts to the schools.
This is a grace for the Society, because the brothers have an irreplaceable role in working with children; they edify them by their example and have the very beautiful mission of bringing them closer to the priest. The more numerous they are, the more profound will be the work accomplished among the children.
The SSPX brother is a religious. Therefore he has all the duties of a consecrated religious, but all the privileges too!
One of the difficulties to overcome is the lack of initiative in many young people. Some have the requisite qualities but do not dare to knock at the novitiate’s door out of false humility. Either they feel unworthy of the vocation, or else they wonder whether they could ever persevere for their whole life on that path. This attitude of mistrust of self is good, but in order for it to be beneficial it has to be combined with great trust in God. Mistrust of self and trust in God are the two wings of perfection. We are weak, but God is strong. We are unreliable, but God is faithful. He will never abandon us first and will always be ready to take lead us back to Him if we make a false step.
Formation helps young men to better themselves with the grace of God. Perfect holiness is not required for someone entering the novitiate. The year of postulancy, which ends with the conferral of the habit, and the novitiate year, which concludes with the first vows, are there to help young men develop what is best in themselves.
During this time they practice religious life according to the three vows and divide their day between prayer, coursework and manual activities, without neglecting moments of relaxation. This helps them to acquire a good spiritual foundation but also a certain practical sense. At the conclusion of the novitiate, the young professed brother continues his formation for another year before being sent to a priory, a school or a mission.
The vocation is defined by the gift of self. Someone is called if he has the profound desire to serve God and the docility to allow himself to be formed. Another requirement is a minimum of natural gifts and sufficient health. In order to see more clearly whether you are called, the best thing is to confide in a priest and to stay for a short time at the novitiate. A visit to the novitiate is often decisive in dispelling certain illusions or, on the contrary, in confirming a vocation.
(Translated from Fideliter, no. 152, March-April 2003)
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