Brother Herve writes to the Brothers - Living together the challenge of fraternity

Herve and JosemariHerve and Josemari
2020: a year marked by the continuing health crisis.... A source of anxiety, but also of new solidarity. 2020: a year also marked by Pope Francis' encyclical on "fraternity and social friendship". By sending us his greetings, Herve, our prior, gives us a beautiful reflection on the fraternity still to be built.
Dear brothers,
Last year on the same date, when I wished you a Happy Christmas and New Year, I finished my letter like this : « May Jesus be our light to illuminate all the micro-signs of tenderness and loyalty - the dawn of the Kingdom, throughout this new year of 2020 that is on its way! » Well, we have not bee n short of signs this year, which are likely to stand out in the collective memory, I believe, of the whole of humanity!

The Covid 19 crisis has indeed succeeded in upsetting all plans, our own obviously, which has led to me writing to you again, when I had thought that I would now be free from my general service to the Fraternity, but also as regards our little planet, in every country: this little virus, no matter how microscopic it is, is revolutionizing our way of looking at health, economic and social issues. Looking at things from the right angle still makes it possible to see, in many ways, despite the terrible direct and collateral damage « the dawn of the Kingdom »!

In fact, we became aware of how connected we all are, the whole of humanity, in solidarity with one another, and of how the caring acts of some could positively affect the well-being of others! There has been a rediscovery of the human values of brotherhood and solidarity between us, through quite trivial measures, like wearing a mask, but also through many gestures of support, offering help, distributing food, to those who could not go out because of lockdown or because they were affected financially by the economic crisis.

And, perhaps more profoundly, there is the fact that we have realised, through the crisis experienced, in particular, by many elderly people, who were forced to isolate for many months - only to die from it anyway, how first and foremost we were relational beings, as Levinas had already highlighted! Federico Carasquilla, who in an article, seeks to interpret the pandemic in the light of faith.
« The essence of our being as humans and what gives us authentic happiness is our relationship with others. Our essence as human beings is not to be rational (Aristotle), but to be relational (Levinas) » We have « discovered in a brutal way that we cannot be ourselves, without others.»
While this may, perhaps, offend some in their philosophical assumptions, I think, that it is a growing awareness of a pearl of the Kingdom!... I think we all agree that our learning about relationships and emotions develops throughout our lives: it is not always obvious and there is no shortage of conflicts in our relationships! Pope Francis has a warm expression: « You have to know how to caress conflicts» ! I think it means that we must know how to approach conflicts with each other with total frankness but in a respectful and gentle manner: blessed are the gentle, the merciful and the peacemakers!

In any case, the Kingdom of God is not far away, when this crisis invites us to look at the world as a possible project of « universal brotherhood » ! A nod to Charles de Foucauld, by the way, since we will soon celebrate his canonisation! It is a project of universal brotherhood:
« where authentically human values are lived, without violence, or dictatorships, and built from the poorest, the most vulnerable » (Sobrino, quoted by Carrasquilla)
It is the Plan that God wanted to save us, taking on our human condition, as a mere « Nazarene » among the most humble, the forgotten of this world! We never cease to wonder at this mystery of Nazareth just as God wanted it, to join with us and liberate us taking on the condition of the least of our brothers and sisters ! Charles de Foucauld had sensed it and Carrasquilla quotes him in his own way:
"Jesus was born as the very poorest, because everyone would be able to find Him there: He was born in a manger and the shepherds,, the poorest people at the time, were the first to go and see Him. If He had been born in a palace the Magi could have gone in but not the shepherds. And He died on a cross, in the worst place where one could die, in the worst situation so that everyone can receive, in this most painful and degrading situation, a consoling and liberating word."

"It is on this path, with Jesus, that we seek to go forward, aware that this is how the Kingdom of God grows, a small mustard seed sown by a beggar of love, like a seed of hope promised to be the refuge of humble sparrows ! Oh, it takes time, patience and a lot of perseverance - together with hope and confidence, for it to grow, day and night, despite the weeds that try to suffocate it, this Kingdom of God in the hearts of all people and on this Earth where all relationships are called to be « humanised », meaning transformed into the image and likeness of God!"
And may we realise that this slow maturing is not achieved through the will of the powerful, the people on high, as an imposition, but that it is realised among the most humble and with them, led by the Holy Spirit who renews all creation:
«Creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed:"
With frustration imposed upon it, it keeps hope, because it too will be freed from the slavery of corruption, to share in the freedom and glory of God's children. We are well aware that the whole of creation has until now been groaning with labour pains. It is not the only one: we too, who have the first shoots of the Spirit, we are groaning inside, waiting for our adoption, for our bodies to be set free. For in this hope we have been saved... Having this hope for what we can not see, we are able to wait patiently for it. The Spirit helps us in our weakness... » (Rm. 8, 19-26).

Speaking of « weakness », I believe that the Fraternity has its fair share with all its frailties! We could be discouraged by our numbers, which continue to go down, our ageing, our difficulties in living together, in understanding each other, in communicating between brothers from different cultures, in welcoming our diversity as true wealth, we men of such little Faith!

And yet, when I read the obituaries of the brothers who have left us, I am struck and amazed by what wonderful lives they have experienced, living very simply among the most humble, with no big song and dance, but loving tenderly and walking humbly with Jesus and with those whose fate they learnt to share. We should read them again, giving thanks to the Lord for all our brothers who tied up their destinies with the most humble among us because of Jesus, in the confident hope of being saved together by Him, because a simple human life is a place where we encounter the Lord. How many times has Mary's Magnificat come to my lips and into my heart, when I have discovered a little bit of our brothers' secrets, expressed by their friends and neighbours! Pearls of the Kingdom developing among and with the most humble in this world!

When it comes down to it, the question to be answered regarding this seed which grows both day and night is, as Pagola says, Japanese cherryJapanese cherry
« what do we want to harvest? The result of our efforts or the fruit of God's actions? A Kingdom built by us, or the salvation of God, accepted in a confident and responsible manner ? »
So let us live, by confidently letting go! If Jesus can be seen, through what he experienced in this Galilee of nations, as the prophet of the Good News of the Kingdom of God, we who seek to humbly follow Him, often groping our way along with our frailties and those of this world, are called to be witnesses, full of hope in this Good News of the Kingdom, the « Kingdom of Jesus of Nazareth», as our brother Enrique from Cuba said, through what we live among and with the most humble of this world! This is what brings us joy and wonder, like Mary discovering how God's Salvation comes to take seed and rise in the hearts of the humble!

Jesus often describes this Good News of the Kingdom as a banquet, where the most humble are invited from all crossroads, to join the feast with joy, and where the new wine flows in abundance for everyone: I like this image complementary to the previous one, because the joy in the Kingdom comes from everyone gathering around the Bridegroom, with the richness of their diversity.

Everyone, therefore, has their part to play this joy at being together, brothers and sisters reunited, symbols of God's tenderness for us all!

It is amazing to have one's eyes open and attentive enough to see this "holiness in our next door neighbours" as our Pope Francis said, the seed and already a pearl of the Kingdom of God! It is wonderful to be called by Jesus, and to live with Him alongside the humblest on Earth, in the same conditions as them- as far as possible, because it is through them that the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are revealed and that it grows: living this Good News of being together as brothers and sisters welcoming each other in confidence, compassion, and benevolence.

Truly as Pierre wrote in his newsletter from June, the Fraternity experienced together is a treasure!
«The pandemic has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. And the virus, while it does not distinguish between people, has found, in its devastating path, great inequalities and discrimination. And it has exacerbated them! (But) the preferential option for the poor, this ethical-social need that comes from God's love (cf. Laudato si', 158) is at the heart of the Good News of the Kingdom, and inspires us to conceive of and design an economy where people and especially the poorest are at the centre.»
red dogwood in full flowerred dogwood in full flowerPerhaps one of the positive consequences of this virus is that it has forced us to take a step back from everything we were experiencing, and take a more attentive, deeply contemplative look, at what is at the centre of our lives: Jesus with all those to whom He is bound as brothers and sisters, and in whom He recognised Himself; this double passion for God, the Life long Friend, and for humanity, to recapture the desire that drove and unified Charles de Foucauld's life. As Maurice Zundel said - and this echoes Etty Hillesum's insight:
« It is in humanity, within humanity, that God needs, that God is hungry, that He is thirsty, that He is naked, ill, disabled, dying and, if we dare say it, that God is a sinner! It is in this humanity that God is « made sin », as St. Paul said, it is in this humanity that He calls us, in this humanity that He needs us »
It is in this poor humanity that the Kingdom of God grows!... Allow me to quote a passage from our brother Rodrigo in Cuba :
« We are called to take care of ourselves, but don't forget that what is really important, is to take care with our attitudes and our reactions, to always bear in mind what is essential: to be more human and fraternal, because what good would it do to be free of the pandemic if we have lost our compassion, the spirit of service and sharing?»
Following the catastrophic explosion in Beirut in August, a Lebanese immigrant in France, wrote:
« I advocate for a better world, a world where we love each other, a world where we respect and help each other, a world that seems to me to be a long way off, impossible even...I originally come from a peasant family in Lebanon (Hamat) and I can remember houses without a door, but only a curtain! I realised 15 years later, that it was to give bread to those that didn't have any ».
This testimony reminded me of a conversation between the brothers in Foumban, while preparing for the Chapter in Bangalore (2008) where we reflected on « our religious life in the world today » ; Edouard said at the time: our life here in Ndjindare (the neighbourhood in Foumban where we live), among the people, has meaning because our door is always open: it is an important sign of our presence here, intended to be a way of sharing with the Muslims in the neighbourhood.

What we are experiencing as a result of Covid 19, has in fact, led us to look at our reality differently and perhaps envision new paths: let us not be afraid to express them when reflecting in preparation for our Chapter, since we have been given time to do so:
« This is the right time to encourage a new imagination of what is possible, with the realism that only the Gospel can provide us. The Spirit who does not allow Himself to be closed or exploited by fixed or outdated methods, proposes that we join His movement, capable of 'making all things new' (Rev21:5).»
The latest encyclical from Francis « Fratelli tutti » that I invite you to read and meditate upon, offers us the opportunity to reflect on our ways of being brothers among ourselves, and with all those with whom we journey towards the Kingdom, beginning with the most humble.
"Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable. This also means finding ways to include those on the peripheries of life. For they have another way of looking at things; they see aspects of reality that are invisible to the centres of power." (Fratelli tutti, N° 215)
In this living together, " every now and then, miraculously, a kind person appears and is willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled. Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue. Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges." (Fratelli tutti N°224)

winterwinter Yes, more than ever now, our vocation requires us, in today's helpless world, to live together the daily challenge of fraternity.
Next year 2021 will see the canonisation of Charles de Foucauld and, because of this small far reaching virus, our Chapter as well, postponed by 9 months! I hope that this extra, unexpected preparation time, will help us to re-examine our lives and the questions we ask ourselves in the same way that Mary did during the 9 months that she carried this mysterious child, as He developed in the secret of her being: her complete confidence in agreeing to God's will for her, her eagerness to go meet others, her wonderment and her act of grace to the Lord who renews all things starting from the most humble, her readiness to accept the unexpected from God and the needs of those to whom she became close.
« If the music of the Gospel ceases to resonate in our very being, we will lose the joy born of compassion, the tender love born of trust, the capacity for reconciliation that has its source in our knowledge that we have been forgiven and sent forth. If the music of the Gospel ceases to sound in our homes, our public squares, our workplaces, our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman». (Fratelli tutti N° 277).
To each and everyone, that the celebration of the coming of Jesus among us, may help us to perceive the extraordinary side of this birth in the ordinariness of life, leading us into this joyful novelty of the Kingdom of God, which sprouts and grows, both day and night! The Banquet of the Kingdom is offered to everyone, beginning with the farthest away, according to Charles de Foucauld's insight demonstrated by his life among those who he considered the most remote in his time, the Tuareg from the Sahara. With all those who are hungry and thirsty for meaning in their lives, with the One who is the source of all Life and who wanted to be our brother, coming to share our destinies by walking on our paths, together, with them, may we be hopeful witnesses to the Kingdom of God for everyone, already in our midst, because we are « all brothers »!
A child has been born for us! A son is given to us! Emmanuel, The Source of life and Prince of Peace for us all!