Beeing a brother: the Brothers of the Order mainly work in social care institutions such as hospitals or schools and usually forego the option of priesthood. Caring for people is what they attach prime importance to.
Qualified for Leading
As trained experts in their respective fields of work, they are qualified for leading positions within and outside the Order, and the work in Europe they do is highly respected by society.
But still, the Alexian Brothers are a minority among religious communities, and there are several reasons for this. For one, the tasks they engage in are primarily performed by the state or by other, private organisations nowadays. Also, working in care institutions has mainly been regarded as a woman's job since the 17th century, when men turned towards the more technical and commercial occupations that emerged in the course of industrialisation. And finally, those who wish to live a spiritual life in today's modern times sometimes decide to join a community with a contemplative focus rather than one that is committed to social care. The fact that men also have the option of becoming a priest is another disadvantage regarding the choice to be an Alexian Brother. Whilst priesthood offers the same social prestige, it seems to promise more freedom and scope within ecclesiastic work.
So what might a man's motivations for joining a congregation of Alexianer Brothers be? There are three motivations that we would like to emphasise here: commitment to the Gospel, a deepening and broadening of one's spiritual experience, and working for the salvation of people.
Commitment to the Gospel
In addition to attending to people in a competent and skilled manner, work in care institutions also requires taking care of people's souls, by listening to them, empathising with them, and talking about God to them. This applies equally to hospitals and schools, and, often enough, even to counselling and pastoral care itself.
Consequently, the Alexianer Brothers do not regard their ministry merely as a form of social work, healthcare service, educational guidance, or psychological counselling. Their ministry takes on a spiritual dimension: through the work they do, Christ brings his loving and healing presence to people. And in contrast to many voluntary helpers and the valuable work they do, the members of an Order are free to concentrate fully on their mission. Other than in state-run institutions, Brothers are also free to support those who fall through the institutional social security network and cannot even be reached through welfare organisations.
A rich spiritual experience
Together with the members of other Orders, the Alexianer Brothers constitute a realm of their own within the Church. What is common to them all is that they follow the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. In terms of clerical hierarchy, however, the Alexianer Brothers are not considered clergy (such as priests or deacons), but laity. That is why the Brothers - despite their different way of life - have always naturally worked hand in hand with other laypersons and all good-willed people, especially in the large institutions they run today. By placing an emphasis on spirituality in their own lives, the Alexianer Brothers, as laymen, open up opportunities and paths leading to a "lay spirituality" that is rooted in the Bible.
One of Jesus Christ's best-known words is his promise "for where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst" (Mt 18:20). In the community of Brothers, this fundamental presence of Christ among men and in society comes alive. Another of Jesus Christ's central words is "to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Mt 25:40). The Christian motivation of the Brothers' ministry reminds us that charity is one of the fundamental ways of encountering Christ, and equal to experiencing Christ through worship. Also, the Church is convinced that Jesus speaks to all those who read and meditate over the Holy Scriptures as the Brothers do regularly.
But you can also experience God in places that are bustling with life, not only through the remoteness of contemplative meditation or by celebrating the sacraments. By no means does this abrogate or diminish the importance of worship or the sacraments - instead, it adds to them, gives them grounding. Mother Theresa from Calcutta said: "In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ is present in the bread. In our work, we find Jesus in flesh and blood. It is the same Jesus Christ". As laymen, the Brothers can inspire and strengthen awareness and receptiveness for this down-to-earth way of encountering God.
Working for the salvation of people
In a document issued by the Association of General Superiors of Lay Religious Institutes, it is said that "salvation is not a matter of the clergy. It is a matter of the Church." For men who wish to dedicate themselves fully to Gospel work and find personal fulfilment in this, priesthood is not the only option. They can apply themselves fully to working with people in a social, educational or pastoral context, without the need to take on all the responsibilities and pressures associated with priesthood. Every encounter between people can gain depth and have a healing effect if it takes place in the spirit of Christ.
The Brothers' way of life and their ministry show that working for the salvation of people is a task for the whole Church. The Brothers do not just take care of others' physical or social well-being, but take their ministry as a way of caring for the whole person, the salvation of body and soul.
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