SERVICE OF FRATERNITY AND RELIGIOUS LIFE
In a general way, the fundamental charism of religious life in the Church is to symbolize the Christian newness of fraternity. Of sorts it is the “test tube” of fraternity. Before offering some reflections on religious life and fraternity, I would like to say a few words on the Christian newness of fraternity.
I – Christian Newness
The question is this: what happens when the efforts of fraternal solidarity lived in the secular life and the society encounter the newness of the gospel? Well, it produces a radical upheaval. I underscore here three aspects of this metamorphosis.
Fraternity as a gift received, Fraternity as promise, Fraternity as creativity.
1. Fraternity as gift received.
When can we say that we pass from night to day, from darkness to light? Relying on biblical revelation, we can say: when I see a human being come towards me, I recognize in him a brother; this is a sure sign that I have passed from darkness to light, from death to life. St. John says “If you love your brother you have already passed from death to life.”
Fraternity is at the origin. This is the only way we can have access to humanity, to become human. Fraternity precedes us, it is consubstantial with God, who is a community of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (See Genesis 1:26-31) “Let us make man to our own image…God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”Among all the creatures, only men and women are created in the image of God. What do we mean by “image” of God”? … it is relationship, otherness, openness to the other. Thus fraternity is a primordial relationship within which the human being springs forth from the Word of God. What follows in Genesis, what destroys the human being, what breaks the original fraternity “in the image of God”, is the breaking of the foundational bond. (cf Cain and Abel) Then there is the admonition (Gen 2:16-18). God planted among our relationships the tree of whose fruit we are forbidden to eat. This admonition could be understood in this way “You will not eat the other”. The other is not consumable. A relationship is not an object of consumption. Fraternity is not for sale.
2. Fraternity : a promise
We are beings in the process of becoming. “To be in the resemblance of” is our vocation. That is why, I speak of promise. The gift is based on our becoming who we are.
Fraternity battling the forces of evil
Fraternity is the most precious gift to our humanity. That is why it is vulnerable and can be corrupted in the worst way. That is where we are at our best and it is where we are the most fragile. That is why fraternity is battling the forces of evil and death. The battleground is where life is the most fragile and the most threatened. Pierre Claverte, bishop of Oran who was assassinated, spoke of “fault lines in our society”. It is on these fault lines that Jesus totally compromised himself with the most marginalized in the society of his day. Thus the promise of fraternity is directed first of all to those who are the most exploited, dominated, oppressed, marginalized. And to all others who are committed to work with them. Where are we situated so that the promises of fraternity can take hold?
– serve the emergence of a new fraternity.
At the source of evangelical fraternity, there is a prophetic scandalous gesture : the washing of feet (John 13). Jesus takes the place and the role of the slave who did the most demeaning work. Peter is scandalized. The well thought-out representations of God are blown to pieces. Jesus breaks the circle of domination, of submission. The gesture of the slave breaks the logic of the hierarchical places in society. Jesus inaugurates the regime of the new fraternity between men by the inversion of roles, in taking the place of the slave, in situating himself alongside the person who is nothing. He totally overthrows the logic of the emergence of fraternity by a subversive practice. One must measure what that means in terms of commitment from the point of view of the logic of Christian fraternity.
– under the sign of otherness marked by the Cross
There is no fraternity if there is not a sense of profound equality. No fraternity without equality. No fraternity where in one way or another someone is put above the other. In Jesus, God became our equal (cf. Phil. 2). But when in Christianity we speak of equality we include the other. John 13 invites us to think of equal relationships in terms of otherness (and not only in terms of diversity or differences). Dialogue with The Other is bound to disturb us, to radically disorient us. In Christ there is paradox in the promise of fraternity. It includes the Cross which breaks the myth and illusions of fraternity. It introduces a dispute with the fraternity built up by humans.
3 – Fraternity, source of creativity.
In general, we can distinguish 3 models of “life together”.
– the model of cohesion
– the model of a common project
– the model of mutual acknowledgement
In the model of cohesion, the driving force of life together is the common origin and the sense of belonging to the same family which makes us brothers . (fraternity as gift)
In the model of a common project, it is the sharing of the same convictions and common tension to build a better future which makes us brothers (fraternity as promise, life project.)
In the model of mutual acknowledgement, the future is problematic, solidarities explode, belongingness is uncertain. Our identity as brothers comes through an encounter, a mutual recognition, and the battle for recognition.
The three models coexist in us and are necessary for life in society. And that is what we need to symbolize.
They resemble the three types of Church highlighted by Vatican II; ” Church, Body of Christ”, “Church People of God”, “Church Temple of the Spirit”.
II- Religious life in the christian newness of fraternity
I stated at the beginning of this conference : religious life is the test tube of fraternity, in its Christian newness. Test “tube” because it is always in the process of trying, of experimenting with types of fraternity which are on the one hand a resemblance of God and on the other hand are on the same wave length as our modern times.
1 – religious life symbolizing and identifying ways of living fraternity
The mode of life proper to religious life has the responsibility of being in itself something of the change that it would like for the world. It must be at the heart of the world a place where one can identify the living out of the beatitudes. There is a symbolical dimension in religious life in the sense that it symbolizes in its way of life all the attempts of fraternity which secular life is seeking. (cf. the example of the Visitation of Saint Stephen and the workers on strike… “you live what we are struggling for.”)
It symbolizes the three dimensions expressed in the preceding section : fraternity as a gift, fraternity as promise, fraternity as service lived in the secular life and by the People of God.
So two words to qualify the place of religious life in the service of fraternity : symbol, role of identification : it crystallizes a way of life for fraternities.
Considering this, I believe that we can take a fresh look at the meaning of religious vows in a systematic perspective. They can be understood and lived as a pole of vigilance for the protection of the person, a pole of vigilance for true fraternity, a way of life that incarnates the beatitudes.
– chastity in celibacy : an attitude of availability for those who endure love that is devalued and even destructive. It is an interiorized expression of compassion in solidarity with those who seeking authentic love either by their cries or by their silence.
– obedience : attitude of availability for those who endure unbearable domination in their work, oppression coming from ideologies, politics and religions. Attitude of closeness with those who resist and make of this resistance a type of obedience to life, human rights of equality, freedom and dignity.
– poverty : attitude of closeness to the poor of this world, a prophetic insurrection against the golden calves of today, against the barbarism and financial foolishness poisoning our societies.
2 – the republican trilogy : freedom – equality – fraternity lived in the Christian newness.
This trilogy is our secular way to incarnate fraternity. We situate the Christian newness in this cultural context.
First of all a note regarding semantics : we speak of freedom of the press, of the freedom of thought, of freedom of conscience, of religion, etc. We speak of the equality of sexes, equality of opportunities, of salaries. But we do not speak of fraternity of this or that. The three are not situated on the same plane.
If we look at the history of these last centuries and the big systems which have dominated the world and confronted each other : capitalism, and socialism of the East, we notice this: capitalism backed freedom : freedom to undertake, freedom of thought, freedom of the press, etc… But there was and still is an enormous deficit in equality. The socialism of the East backed the equality of all. But there was an enormous deficit in freedom.
In order that we have conditions of fraternity, we need both : freedom and equality go together and intersect. Even though freedom and equality are not a sufficient condition of fraternity they are nonetheless a necessary condition.
This could lead us to reflect on the implementation of <Diaconia – let us serve fraternity>, a remark that I made to Francois Soulage (president of Catholic Aid), <national director> of Diaconia.Can we really be at the service of fraternity if we are not with those who struggle for equality and freedom concretely in associations, syndicates, political movements?
There, too, religious life could find a renewed significance. There is a profound coherence between the republican trilogy : freedom – equality – fraternity, and the religious vows. They can symbolize, modestly of course, but with strength, the Christian newness to be lived at the heart of the secular world.
In our communities, through the vow of poverty, we are establishing a mode of life of equality and sharing of goods. Are we not of sorts taking a vow of equality?
In our communities, through the vow of obedience, we want to signify a way of life where there is no person dominating or being dominated, but brothers and sisters having made the free choice to depend on each other, and it is in giving to each other that we are truly free. Is this not a way of taking a vow of freedom?
In our communities, through the vow of chastity we are free of blood relationships, do we not want to explode the limits of human love? Is this not before all else taking the vow of universal fraternity?
I believe seen in this way the religious vows lived in common are an astounding actuality and significance in living the Christian newness in our secular society.
Just how far can the service of fraternity take us ….