The following reflection is part of our “Jesuit 101” series, celebrating the Ignatian Year. This piece helps us to better understand the vocation of Jesuit Brothers. To learn more, check out our explainer article: “Jesuit 101: Jesuit Brothers.”
When I became a Jesuit, I had no idea whether I wanted to be a brother or a priest. I knew I wanted to be a Jesuit but little else beyond that. I spent a lot of time daydreaming about both options, never quite feeling completely confident about either. When I took my vows in 2015, I still wasn’t sure.
Now, on the verge of starting my theology studies, I stand confirmed in my desire to be a Jesuit brother. How did I get here? What made me commit to this way of life and select brotherhood instead of priesthood?
For me, it all comes back to my desires as a Jesuit. I joined the Jesuits because I felt called to this life of following Jesus. After I made the Spiritual Exercises as a novice, I noticed just how naturally and easily Jesus accompanied others in their lives, meeting them where they were at a given moment and inviting them to share in the very life of God. This often required a conversion or change. Sometimes, that change came slowly, like with the apostles, and sometimes not at all.
By the end of that retreat, my desire for being a Jesuit had changed from a nebulous desire to do good to a clear call to serve the people of God as Jesus did. Since then, I’ve wanted to accompany others and walk with them, much as I noticed Christ had done with people in his earthly ministry and as he did with me during that first retreat. I wanted a way to make that the crux of whatever ministry I took on as a Jesuit.
As I continued my Jesuit formation, that thought was always in the back of my mind. How can I best accompany the people I’m with? In time, particularly towards the end of the stage of formation called regency, I thought about the dynamics associated with priests as opposed to brothers. My high school was run by Dominican sisters, and I always found them more approachable than my parish priest or the Jesuit priests I encountered as an undergraduate. I’ve always had an immense respect for these sisters, but I realized they also sometimes felt more relatable than the priests in my life. Why is that?
Perhaps some of that comes from the titles we use. Priests are always “Father,” calling to mind a certain power dynamic. And yet the women religious were always “Sister” to us. I believe that the Church calls us to consider religious sisters and brothers as older siblings, people we should honor for their commitment to Christ but not people on a different level altogether. This is not to say one group is better than another but that a priest has a certain kind of responsibility that comes from his ordination which a religious sister or brother does not.
As I realized this affinity I had for religious brothers and sisters, I then started thinking about how I could accompany my family and friends who are out of touch with Christianity (if not faith in general). There are so many people who are skeptical of religion and perhaps even hostile to the authority religions claim, especially Christianity. As a religious brother, I believe I can more easily start a conversation with them or develop a relationship with them. I wouldn’t be part of the hierarchy and I would have exactly as much institutional power as laypeople do.
My desire to accompany has always been marked by a mutual relationship with the other person, respecting them as an equal, and I feel I can better do that as a brother rather than as a priest .
A former colleague of mine, one who does not always take a friendly stance towards religion, affirmed this for me when she told me that because of my style of accompaniment, she could not be someone hostile to Christianity. A current colleague once asked me why I decided to be a brother and not become a priest, seeing the potential for good that came with sacramental ministry. I asked him if he felt we’d have the same type of in-depth conversations we so often did about his life, work, and hopes for the future if I were a priest, and he admitted that it would have been a lot more difficult.
In the course of my Jesuit formation, I’ve discovered my particular role as a brother is to be someone who reaches out to people who are on the fringes of our faith or may not feel comfortable with religion in general. My job, like that of all Christians, is to show others the loving face of Christ. But, at least for me, that’s easier as a brother, and I wouldn’t trade the role for anything.