Edition 16: October 2004 Holy Spirit Province

Br Bernard White's perspective on vocations

Br Bernard White was invited recently to give a talk on Vocations in the Manning Parish for National Vocations Awareness Week. His reflection covers both his personal commitment and has useful reflections on the challenges the Church is facing in the area of attracting vocations today...

"The importance of attracting new membership to Religious life is not about survival of the Christian Brothers or any other Order, but rather the future of our present and future ministries which reach out to those in our world who are the poorest of the poor."

By way of introduction to myself, I have been a Christian Brother for almost twenty one years. In that time I have predominantly been involved in residential care in four of our schools, as well as some time in Peru and in Dominica in the West Indies. Currently I work in Campus Ministry at Clontarf Aboriginal College where I work with young Aboriginal people, currently the most at risk group of youth in Australia.

I'm one of those lucky guys who have two jobs. I'm also the Vocation Coordinator for the Christian Brothers in Western Australia, a role which takes me into our Edmund Rice schools as well as other Catholic schools when called upon.

   Religious life since Vatican II...         

For those of us who have been around for the past forty years of so, since Vatican II, we have seen enormous change in the church. Some commentators would say that the church has become profoundly disoriented since then. Religious Life as we once knew it is almost non-existent today. Schools and hospitals, and a wide range of other ministries, stacked to the gunnels with Nuns and Brothers is a thing of the past. Times have changed and religious are constantly seeking to respond to the signs of our times.

The downside of this is that Religious has become far less visible. I wonder do you know how many Religious Orders are represented in this parish. Do you know how many communities of Religious exist in this parish? There are three. The Josephites - the ones Mary MacKillop founded, and they have one community. The Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition also have two communities here. And the Christian Brothers have four communities in the Manning Parish.

What is Religious Life to me?         

Let me say at the start without any hesitation that religious life is a great gift from God to me. It is an invitation from God to me to live my life to the fullest. My decision to accept this invitation and to continue living religious life is the greatest decision I have made in my life. I have grown to see and experience that life as a Brother is how I am called to be the best person God calls me to be.

Religious Vows         

The challenge which Religious face each day is to be prophetic as Jesus was. We are meant to be seen and heard, and we try to follow the example of Jesus who was poor, chaste and obedient.

So often in the past our vows were seen as a form of asceticism. Obedience meant denial of our will and following the direction of the Superior. Poverty was doing without things, simplicity and common life. Chastity meant we were not allowed to marry and remained celibate. In some ways, these descriptions have some truth in them, but they only reveal a small portion of the wonderful gift our vows are to us.

Like Jesus we seek, through a vow of poverty, to live simply to help us identify with the poor of our day. It is a way of standing against the materialism, consumerism and self-interest in which the greed of wealth gives rise to poverty and equality.

Jesus was chaste in order to give the love of his heart in compassionate concern to the poor and needy. While I choose not to biologically father children, I still have fatherly energy and, in a different way, can be a fatherly presence and influence on the youth I work with.

Jesus was obedient to his father, because the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, sending him to the blind, the lame, the poor, and the oppressed. For me, my vow of obedience is about listening for and responding to the voice of God's Spirit in my prayer, in me, in others and in creation.

Shift in Ministry for Christian Brothers         

Since the Second Vatican Council in the mid sixties, all religious congregations have been challenged to respond to the signs of our times and keep moving to the margins. We know we cannot simply carry on doing what we have always done. The Christian Brothers came to Western Australia just over a century ago to respond to a need. By and large we can say "Mission Accomplished". We are letting go and moving from where we are wanted to where we are needed.

I am reminded of the number of times Jesus went into a village, taught, healed and performed miracles. Often the people wanted him to stay and were sometimes tempted to take him by force. But always he moved on. He had done what he had come to do and knew there were other villages, other people, who were thirsting for the good news of God's kingdom.

That is very much the same for us. We have to let go and move on. We have established schools which are in great shape and can move forward without us. We still work with aboriginal people here in Clontarf and also in the Kimberley and other parts of Australia, and in recent years have reached out to migrants and refugees through the Edmund Rice Centre at Mirrabooka. We now have a presence in East Timor and Burma and are currently exploring options in the Philippines. Our presence in Africa and India is growing at a rate we haven't seen in decades, as well as Papua New Guinea and South America.

Responsibility for all         

Religious Brothers and Sisters exist to bring the good news of Jesus to the poor. If we are fair dinkum about our faith, fair dinkum about the values of Jesus - to bring the good news to the poor - then we have to be fair dinkum about promoting and supporting religious life.

Earlier this year I was very fortunate to attend an international conference on vocations in the United States. One of the lasting things I picked up there is this - "While the promotion of Religious vocations is the task of some, it is the responsibility of all".

One of the landmark documents which came out of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, said this loud and clear for those who wanted to hear it. "By baptism all members of the Church share in its life and mission and are committed to evangelising and celebrating in collaboration and partnership".

It is so important that in our families, with our children and grandchildren, in our schools and parishes, that we have a "Culture of Vocation". One of the things I have come to see is that the tide is beginning to turn. We have been through a very turbulent forty years in our Church, and some very good things have come from the pain. Across Australia and around the world, there exist some very clear signs that young people are fed up with the values of the world they inherited from us and are embarking on a genuine search for meaning, a meaning which the world, and sadly the Church at times, does not give them. It is showing that for some, Religious life as a Brother or Sister, is where they find the meaning they are looking for. We live in very exciting times.

What can you do?         

First and foremost, we all have to PRAY. That's essential. Pray that God will invite young people to the life of a Religious Brother of Sister. Pray that young people will be courageous and respond to the call.

However, it's important for all of us that we don't settle into our comfort zone and leave it at saying a few prayers. For me, when I pray for something, I must also be prepared to get off my seat and do whatever I can to bring that about. So while praying for vocations is good - doing something about it is the challenge of our faith.

Children and Grandchildren         

When you are with your children and grandchildren, it is important to make them aware of the needy and the poor of our world, of their world. Tin that context they can be made aware of the ways Religious Brothers and Sisters respond to their needs.

Some people fear the thought of their child joining a religious order, fearing an unfilled life and no grandchildren. Ultimately, it is the right of every person to choose their path in life. Ideally our children will be very well informed about the poor, about the choices they have in life and will be supported which ever choice they make.

Be informed - be very informed         

I don't know how many of you listen to ABC News Radio. This year they have celebrated ten years of this service and conducted a competition to get a slogan. The one which they chose was, "BE INFORMED — BE VERY INFORMED". I invite you to do the same.

Be aware of the issues of the poor of our world, our country, our state and your own neighbourhood. Be well informed of how Religious Brothers and Sisters respond to these changing needs. If your notion of Religious life is pre Vatican II and shaped by what the media presents to you, then challenge yourself to be better informed.

Visiblility of Religious         

I mentioned earlier that Religious Brothers and Sisters are meant to be seen and heard.

In the seeing stakes we don't score too highly these days, significantly because we don't wear habits and veils and all they other trappings of the past. Our visibility is a real challenge to us, particularly for those who are shy and humble and just want to be in the background bring the good news to those who need it.

If you genuinely want to know more about us, tap me on the shoulder and ask me. Invite yourself around for a coffee, or better still, invite me around for one. Let's get some conversation going and once again nurture our church with Religious Brothers and Sisters.

Out in the foyer is a display of the three Religious Orders present in this parish. Amongst the pamphlets is this yellow one, inviting young men to join me, a Marist Brother and a Franciscan Brother for a reflection day at Warnbro. Do you know someone you could pass it on to?

Short-changing the poor         

The importance of attracting new membership to Religious life is not about survival of the Christian Brothers or any other Order, but rather the future of our present and future ministries which reach out to those in our world who are the poorest of the poor. If the issues of poor in our world are close to our heart, then the promotion of and invitation to others to join Religious Life will have a high priority in our faith life.

Our complacency would short change the poor and ourselves.

In closing I invite you to recall Jesus' own words about his enthusiasm for the Good News

"I have come to cast fire on the earth
and how I wish it were already ablaze".

If the fire of Religious Life goes out, too many people will die of the cold!

Br Bernard White cfc


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