Together Yet Alone, Alone Yet Together

Together Yet Alone, Alone Yet Together – Br. Michael Perras, ofm

Together yet alone, alone yet together. This phrase never caught my attention until midway through this past year of pandemic living. The challenge of being together in community all the time and trying to live as a fraternity can indeed have its challenges and graces. Each of us comes to the table with different perspectives and limited encounters with the world. We hear the same news over and over again and try to share it as if it’s breaking news. We bring our prayers, although they may be flat we raise up our words together. Yet we are alone in this togetherness, aren’t we? When our togetherness becomes an obstacle for honest conversations or continual conversion of the heart, we may feel alone even though we are surrounded by others. This was true before the pandemic and not just for religious communities but for so many people. Stuck in this togetherness and yet not truly seen or heard. So many in the world can feel like just a number or a statistic. I would like to think that we in religious communities don’t feel like a statistic however we can feel alone although we are together in community. What can we do about that? How can we mend this gentle tear in the fabric of our communities? I think this is where the advantage of alone yet together can come into play.

Alone yet together is the space we need to be able to see with new eyes, approach the common table with fresh stories and truly hear what is being said within us and outside of us. Alone yet together provides the sacred ground for our souls to breathe and delight. For it is here that the soul is given space to be and explore alone yet knows the support of togetherness. The together doesn’t become suffocating, rather it creates space, holds space and encourages the beauty that will arise in the struggles of this grace filled aloneness. Our society has caused us to fear being alone on any level but especially alone yet together. This fear escalates in us and causes us to doubt, to question our contributions and to constantly compare. This can impact us as religious too as it could blind us from our mission and being centered in God. 

This pandemic has not been easy for any of us. We have faced challenges and set-backs, we have stumbled along and have tried to rise up again and again. Hope has been our constant companion even if it has felt miniscule or unnoticed, it has never left us because our hope is in Jesus Christ. If you are feeling the need for some fresh air to breathe into your lungs but are uncertain how to make this happen may I suggest a retreat. A retreat is the grace-filled moments of alone yet together where your soul can soar, your vision can become clear and your hope can be restored again. Ideally in person retreats can foster body – mind – heart and soul, but even a virtual retreat can be this needed gift. I found this to be the grace I encountered last summer in the midst of the pandemic with the 55ish and Under Summer Retreat. I was awakened to deep truths; I was able to sit with story and was able to hear with opened ears the story of others. I was also able to laugh, pray and celebrate the gift of being alone yet together and together yet alone in a deeper way with other religious sisters, brothers and priests. 

This retreat opportunity is being made available to you again this summer. We all need to take “time away” so we can hear the voice of Jesus again or maybe hear his message of hope more clearly. A summer retreat is a perfect gift for anyone but maybe even more so for youngish religious in this ever changing and challenging world. Why don’t you join us this summer? Invite a religious sister, brother or priest to come along with you for this together yet alone, alone yet together time of grace.

An Invitation Towards Hope

Virtual Retreat for Religious 55ish and Under who minister or are associated through their community to the Church in Canada. 

August 8-14, 2021

Retreat Leader: Sr. Mary Rowell, csj

– bioethicist – spiritual companion – facilitator – ecological leader – educator –

Cost: $150

Registration Deadline: June 1, 2021

The Fullness of Being Brother: Religious Brothers Day 2021

The Fullness of Being Brother: Religious Brothers Day 2021                   – Br. Michael, ofm

A common question asked to a religious brother is: Why didn’t you go all the way?

To which a Brother will often respond with: Pardon me?

To which the questioner expands:

Why didn’t you become a priest? Why did you stop at Brother?

To which a Brother will respond with all kindness:

This is not a stepping stone to priesthood or a lesser than vocation.

I didn’t stop at Brother; this is the fullness to which I am called. 

To which the questioner will stare blankly or change the subject:

How about those rosary beads? 

These questions really do get directed to us Religious Brothers or so as I’m also learning to other members of the fraternity. It can easily leave a Brother feeling frustrated or misunderstood. I like to take it with a grain of salt and as an opportunity to celebrate the vocation of being a Religious Brother. 

Life as a Religious Brother is indeed a full life. I have never been made to feel lesser than or that my vocation is not as worthy as that of my Brothers who are priests. I may not have the same functions as a priest but that does not mean that I don’t contribute to the life of the church, fraternity or society. I have other opportunities that priests do not have and can contribute to the life of the church not simply in a sacramental way.

The fullness of my life as a religious Brother comes with ever changing roles and responsibilities. Some days I may be in full service to my fraternity, other days I may be serving the greater community and still on other days I may be journeying with an individual. Whether I’m cleaning the toilets (which is not a favorite task) or preparing the chapel I try to serve with a joy-filled heart. Whether I’m preparing a retreat or presenting one I approach it with an awareness of who I am in relationship with those on the retreat. Whether I’m companioning someone in spiritual direction or praying with an individual the dignity of that person is my focus.

The fullness of my life includes the privilege of praying for so many people and also creating space to listen for God’s voice not only in my life but what God is calling us to do here and now. My prayer life is woven into the relationships I have with so many people whether that is family and friends, or those I journey with on retreats or through spiritual direction or those who simply stop me and ask for prayers for themselves or loved ones. 

As you can see the fullness of life as Religious Brother comes with variety. This would be true for any Religious Brother you meet. Our charisms and ministries impact the way we serve the church and the world, but at the heart of any Religious Brother is a heart of fraternity, service and hospitality. Every religious male or female, ordained or not claim these characteristics which is worthy and good and they should. I would like to think you can see them specifically exhibited and lived out with a fullness in the life of a Religious Brother. I believe it is what makes us approachable and relatable to so many people from all walks of life.

When I began my studies in Spiritual Direction, once the fascination of me wearing a habit wore off, it was the fact that I understood the stories and welcomed my colleagues from all walks of life. This is the reality of my vocation as Brother something real as fraternity, service and hospitality was not exclusive rather it was inclusive. Brother is not just a title; it is an embodiment of who I am and how I live my life. It is an embodiment of what a Brother is as one who strengthens connections between people and of being a companion, of being present and serving others. As a Brother, the value of relationships is so important for they foster a fraternity beyond the walls of our friaries bringing fraternity to the community, to creation and the whole world. Hopefully a compassionate, strengthening and healing bond of God among us.

I am I called to be a priest? The answer is no. Do I have some skills that I could use as a priest? You bet. Many people do (both men and women), but we do not all become ordained priests. In discernment I listen and pay attention to what is stirring in me. This was true when I began my journey to the Friars and continued through my formation years to my Solemn Vows and continues today. In the listening, in the quiet, in the sitting with God the word Brother continues to surface. I believe I continue to learn new ways of being a Brother for our fraternity, ministry and for our world. A world in desperate need of Brothers and Sisters who will listen and will encourage others to also build a more fraternal world.

To go back to that question:

Why didn’t you go all the way?

I respond with:

I did go all the way and every time I put on my habit, it’s not about being acknowledged or standing out, it is about humbly living out my vocation as Brother. Each time I put on my habit I am reminded that I put on Christ. I am also reminded that Christ is a brother to all and calls me to do the same in the specific vocation of Religious Brother.

And it’s not how about those Rosary beads? It’s do you know where I hide my rosary beads? haha!

May 1 is St. Joseph the Worker Feast Day and Religious Brothers Day. St. Joseph serves as a witness of working for the kingdom of God in hidden and even unknown ways. In this year dedicated to St. Joseph, I humbly ask for your continued prayers for Religious Brothers from all walks of life.

Much peace and all good!

Top photo credit: Emily Morter