From the Province Leader
As you know, since 2003, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) in the United States has been engaged with Praesidium, Inc. to assist religious orders of men in North America in ensuring that our communities and ministries are providing a safe environment for the young people in our care. Our Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America Province was first accredited by Praesidium in 2007, with re-accreditations in both 2010 and 2013. At present, we are in the midst of what is now a five-year audit of our Province child protection and ethics policies.
Our Province, like many other orders of religious men, was deeply affected by the child sexual abuse crisis in our Church. In some instances, we failed to protect those in our care and broke the sacred trust between our Brothers and the young people we serve. All of us are well aware that this led to a liquidation in Canada and a bankruptcy in the United States that has had a profound financial and human impact on our Province. These events gave us cause to step back and take a long and hard look at who we are as Christian Brothers in the Twenty-First Century.
Parallel to these significant events, we’ve experienced declining numbers with few new vocations to our Brotherhood in North America. The average age of our 173 Brothers in North America is 74.1 years.
For the past four years, as part of our responsibility for on-going education around topics that touch upon our commitment to living lives of integrity, I have been writing a series of pastoral letters to encourage us in the daily living out of our Brotherhood. These letters have focused on the following topics:
- The Protection of Children
- The Chapter Call to Build Joyful Communities Characterized by Intimacy, Gentleness, Compassion and Love
- Beyond the Year of Mercy
- Our Individual, Communal and Province Responsibilities Concerning Our Praesidium Re-Accreditation.
This communication, which I’ve entitled: From Grieving to Hope, will serve as the fifth pastoral letter in this series leading up to our re-accreditation. It focuses on moving beyond our grief so that we can embrace a hope-filled future for our Brotherhood in North America.
In Spirituality and Health, Sr. Joan Chittister wrote:
Community calls for open mind and open heart…to be a place where the truth of the oneness of human community shatters all barriers, refuses all prejudice, welcomes all strangers, listens to all voices. We must ask what God wants for the world, rather than simply what we want. We need the wisdom of humility now. We need the quality of life that makes it possible to see beyond itself, to value the other, to touch the world gently and peacefully and make the whole world better as we move ahead.
At our Community Leadership Gathering this past November in Jacksonville, FL, the PLT engaged the services of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jerry McGlone, to lead us in a process of identifying the obstacles that might keep us from creating life-giving communities. For those who attended, the PLT and our local Community Leaders and Contact Persons, it was a powerful experience of intimate and transparent Brotherhood. Fr. Jerry helped us to realize that it is important for each of us individually as human beings and for all of us collectively as Christian Brothers to grieve our losses.
Drs. Norma Milanovich and Shirley McCune, in The Light Will Set You Free, tell us that:
Harboring old grievances and resentments is a sure way of creating negative energies which will produce negative outcomes. Knowing how to heal old wounds in positive ways and moving into the Light is an important lesson in the mastery of our behaviors.
Thus, I begin this letter by addressing some of the factors involved in the major losses that we have experienced in recent years due to: liquidation, bankruptcy, aging, death, declining numbers, few new vocations, and the failure to adequately protect those in our care. These realities in our lives have indeed led to loss and its inherent side effects.
At the start of our restructured Province twelve and a half years ago, we numbered 300 Brothers in North America. Today, we number 173. As such, we have had to close some communities and leave or close some of our treasured ministries. Because of this, we have been engaged in a period of grieving our losses, of saying good-bye and of acknowledging the death not only of many of our fellow Brothers, but also of some of our communities and ministries as we have known them.
In Friends of Silence, we read:
Our spirits, too, need lifting – need to emerge, become unbound, push up toward the light. We need to nurture a sense of wonder for if we stay buried in gloom we chance missing opportunities for awakening and for gratitude. Sometimes we find ourselves so immersed in worry for what might be lost, undone, unraveled that we fail to understand and appreciate what is here right now in front of us. To live with an open heart, to live with a sense of awe, doesn’t mean we are blind to suffering or pain or fear, only that we also see the blessings all around us – the sacred gifts of life, love and beauty.
Brothers, when done right, grieving is a healthy human response to loss. Some questions to ponder:
- Have we grieved appropriately?
- Have we acknowledged the need to let go of a past that served us well because we served it well?
- Have we read the signs of the times in today’s Church and in today’s world that may be calling us to new directions?
- Have we fully embraced Our Way into the Future, as articulated in the eight calls from the 2014 Congregation Chapter in Nairobi?
- Do we recognize the blessings of our shared Brotherhood?
Brothers, the Paschal Mystery is the basis of our faith. It teaches us that Jesus lived a life of service to God and others – that Jesus entered into a painful passion with great suffering that led to his death, but that did not end there because he ultimately was raised out of his pain and suffering - his deep grieving, as witnessed in the Garden of Gethsemane – to a new life with his Father in heaven and with the Holy Spirit who breathed new life and new hope into the people of God.
In her address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States this past August, Sr. Mary Pellegrino reminded us that:
A prophetic community remembers that the resurrection took place in the midst of a community in grief. It came as a bold disruption to a former narrative of death. Our own grief is a gateway to grace, not only for ourselves, but for our world. The grace that will come from embracing this paschal narrative of communion, will be costly but it will not diminish us. It will take our best energy and will not consume us. It will open us to the vitality that lies deep at the heart of communion with God, with one another and with the wider world. It will help us speak new languages, and apprehend new images and tell new stories. It will remake us. And while our grief is remaking us, we will remake the world.
My Brothers, we are living this Paschal Mystery. We have had much to grieve because we have experienced pain and suffering in our individual lives and in the life of our Province. Still, Jesus’ resurrection teaches us that if we are willing to embrace this pain and suffering, new life and new hope await us.
We have learned that the sacrifices we’ve made as a result of our losses have made us stronger in many ways. We have learned to embrace the Gospel value of living simply – new life and new hope await us.
We have learned that the value of reaching out to the poor and marginalized in service through: advocacy, community engagement, education and compassionate presence, has strengthened our Brotherhood and fortified our mission – new life and new hope await us.
We have learned that in our darkest hours, our God has embraced us by holding us in the palm of His hand and by leading us over the threshold of despair and grief – new life and new hope await us.
We have learned that, as Blessed Edmund implored us, if we are intent on prayer, all will turn to our good – new life and new hope await us.
We have learned that Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, stands by us in interceding on our behalf with her Son – new life and new hope await us.
We have faced our sinful past with openness, honesty and transparency – new life and new hope await us.
In fact, new life and new hope are upon us, Brothers. We are learning to be kinder and gentler with one another in community; we are learning new ways of being Brother to one another and to those we serve; we are learning to be more collaborative with our lay colleagues in serving our ministries; we are learning to better care for the most vulnerable in our midst; we are learning to better care for our good Earth; we are learning to be more contemplative in our spiritual quest for God. Yes, we are learning that new life and new hope is ours for the taking if we but remain faithful to seeking God’s will in our lives and in the life of the Province.
My Brothers, I invite each of you to grieve your personal losses and to grieve with one another our communal losses so that we can let go of the obstacles that stand in our way of embracing the new life and the new hope that our loving God constantly holds before us. Let us challenge one another to live joyfully…to live gently…to live compassionately…to live intimately…and to live lovingly. If we embrace this way of living, of being - we will be the better for it, and maybe, just maybe, we will begin to attract others to our Brotherhood. New life and new hope are upon us.
Let me conclude with the words of Pythia Peay in Soul Sisters:
Though it may seem as though faith is absent more often than it is present, it is possible to strengthen this quality through silence and meditation. Like the sun and the stars, faith is a natural part of our soul life – we have only to learn to put our trust in this intuitive sense to begin to feel its healing effects. Faith is the fountain of spiritual discipline… an inner sense that allows us to bear with patience our doubts and despair, as well as the dry, depressing passages of life, knowing that somehow, some way, we are being led in the right direction.
Brothers, let us have faith! New life and new hope are upon us!
Bro. Kevin Griffith,