Fraternity in formation
Chris Brolly SJ is studying Philosophy at Centre Sèvres in Paris and belongs to a community of 35 Jesuits there. He shares his experience of being part of a large mixed community and a member of a “fraternity group”.
It’s fantastic to be among such a large group of Jesuits who come from all over the world (we have twelve different nationalities in our house!). There are 25 scholastics (those, like me, who are doing their ‘first studies’ having completed the novitiate stage of formation) and ten priests, the ‘formed’ Jesuits who are ‘on mission’ across Paris and in our community itself.
Thanks to this diverse make-up, there is always a lively atmosphere in our community, with many different people engaged in many different activities. Nevertheless, we find ourselves united by the rhythm of our shared religious life: the daily Mass and evening prayers, as well as our shared meals that follow our times of communal worship.
One great thing about this community life is that we find ourselves placed in ‘fraternity groups’. Once every two weeks we come together in groups of six. During our meetings we each share in a spirit of fraternal honesty, trust and sincerity, what is going on in our lives, what are the challenges that face us, what are the sources of joy and how have we noticed God at work in our lives. From time to time our discussions focus on a shared theme. For example, the week before some of the group took First Vows, we shared on the theme of the religious vows. Each of us spoke on one of the vows (poverty, chastity or obedience) in particular and shared his experiences in living out this vow and what it means to him. I found this experience really deep and nourishing, even more so because our fraternity group is made up of companions of varied nationalities and different stages of formation and experience.
“Lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called”. (Ephesians 4: 1-6)
There is another aspect of our fraternity groups that is worth sharing. During the year we take the time to spend three weekends together outside of Paris. Recently, our fraternity visited the city of Rheims. We visited the famous cathedral and saw the hundreds of statues that adorn it’s stunning walls. We visited the tomb of St Remi in the Basilica named after him. And I must also admit that we did not leave the region before having had a guided tour of the champagne cellars! There we saw the chalk mines dug by the Gallo-Romans over 1500 years ago as well as the ancient passages made by Benedictine monks, which are over four kilometers in length and today contain more than two million bottles of champagne.
During our travels across the region I was struck by the numerous military cemeteries along the side of the roads. It was a sobering reminder of the way in which modern wars have marked the landscape and the population of this region. I was also touched by the monastic-influenced architecture of the various churches – the enormous gothic vaults and the dazzling stained glass windows, each telling it’s own story.
The highlight of the weekend for me was, once more, a moment of sharing between our fraternity group. We celebrated the Mass of St Simon and St Jude together in a small, intimate chapel, under a stained-glass window which contained several notable French saints. It was a great microcosm of the beauty, richness and communion that we had experienced together during the weekend, and during all of our meetings as a fraternity. Men of diverse generations and nationalities, walking a shared way, motivated by faith and love of Jesus Christ: a witness to the Gospel that has brought us together.
“The fraternity of Jesus Christ establishes a union of hearts and minds… What could be more admirable, more beautiful, more marvellous than to see men coming from various nations and different countries truly assimilated… The differences that exist between us have their source in nature; but grace, virtue and spiritual gifts remove our differences completely, making us all similar to each other, making us into one single man…” (St. Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ)
Read more from Chris Brollly's blog In Formation