Guest Post: "Why Be Just a Brother" by Br. Pat Douglas, SJ

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Note: We are very pleased to have these words of Br. Pat Douglas, SJ.  He is a member of the St. Francis Mission in St. Francis, South Dakota. St. Francis is a ministry of the of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) among the 20,000 Lakota people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota. The Mission is a not for profit organization founding in 1886, whose mission is to serve the spiritual, educational, and physical needs of Lakota Catholics and those who are un- churched on the reservation.

We have many programs ongoing at the mission – schools, recovery, religious education, a radio station and a museum.

“Why would you just be a Brother?” This is the most common response I get when people learn about my vocation. This comment hurts to hear because “just” denotes some kind of lesser than or lacking. This question however seems to reflect many people’s thoughts on vocation in the Catholic faith. There seems to be a mentality that if one wants to serve God it can only be done through the Priesthood. One’s vocation does not denote his/her service to God but one’s desire does. For if I feel called to serve God and I accept that call, the importance lies in the accepting, not in the vocation. The vocation in which I am called to is how I serve God, and can be done as married, lay, religious etc. If God is the focus of one’s life it can never be a “just” or lacking in any way.

As I prayed and thought about this desire to serve God, I found myself called to a vowed life, though not through marriage. I began speaking with the Jesuits and going on discernment retreats. It was through this I felt confirmed in my desire to serve God, and realized it would be as a Jesuit.

I am often asked why not a Jesuit Priest, why a Brother? It is hard to put into words because it is difficult to articulate movements in one’s heart. It is similar to why I do not serve God through the married vocation, it simply is not in me. Most people will respond, “How do you know?” I guess one never fully knows and that is where faith comes in, but I do know what makes my heart happy and my soul sing and that is being a Brother. As a Brother I serve God in my prayer, work and in community life. The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience free me to help make this happen. Though a priest or a married man might have some things in common with a Brother, they also have priorities specific to their vocation, such as sacramental ministry or children. Without this additional priority the Brother is free to focus all his energy on his prayer, work and community life.

The decision for me to become a Brother came to me later in life. I was in my late 20's and had been working as a social worker with at risk youth and violent perpetrators. It was work I loved and felt God had given me skills and grace to do it, however, I had to keep God separate from my work. As a Jesuit Brother I am able to bring my love of God into my work, and dedicate all my work to God. In addition I have been encouraged to get more education in counseling to use those skills to serve God's people. Currently I am on the Rosebud reservation counseling and mentoring young men who are incarcerated, and I am able to do this fully as a Jesuit Brother and as a counselor. The work can be difficult at times, and this is where my devotion to prayer and being in community with other Jesuits helps to sustain me.

To be a Brother is like any vocation, it is a way to serve God. The Jesuit Brother takes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and serves God in prayer, work and community life. Similar to other vocations it comes equipped with joys and struggles specific to this way of life and is a way some are called to serve God. For me, serving God as a Jesuit Brother provides me with a life in which I can live a simple, prayer centered life with others who can support and challenge me in this way of living for God. I also feel I can use the talents God has given me in my work to glorify God and serve God’s people.

Br. Pat Douglas, SJ

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