Personal Testimony - Becoming a Brother

This is a version of a page that already exists on my web site, where I give a personal testimony about my vocation as a De La Mennais Brother. It was adapted and partly re-written for Vocations Sunday on the 4th Sunday of Easter for use in vocations resources.

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My vocational journey began when I was in my mid-teens, as a feeling that God was asking me to give my life to him in some way. I didn’t know how at that point; whether it would lead me to the priesthood or the religious life. Through personal prayer and a variety of experiences and encounters over the next few years, I began to feel God pointing me towards life as a teaching Brother and, in particular, towards the Brothers who ran my school (the De La Mennais Brothers).

I simply had to say “Yes” to him and trust that he would guide me on the path ahead, because I had no idea where this was going to lead me.

On pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella with my good friend, Bro. Henri Rivoalen in 1999.

I seemed to have instinctively known, however, that responding to God with a “Yes” would lead me on the path to the greatest possible joy and contentment in my life. And my cup certainly overflowed in this respect during my life as a Brother. I cannot imagine any other way of life that would make me happier this time. Also, I can honestly say that since about the age of 17 and my “Yes” to God, I have never doubted the fact that God has called (and is still calling) me to be a De La Mennais Brother.

In Lourdes with the HCPT when I was 17. Next to me is Brother Gregory Casey, an English De La Mennais Brother who was based in Southampton but who spent 9 months every year for 21 years in Lourdes, working for all the English-speaking pilgrims (eg. making sure they had English Masses, getting them involved in the Blessed Sacrament Procession, Rosary on the Basilica steps, etc...). Known by Bishops and priests from all over the world through his work in Lourdes, the man was a legend. A very humble, down-to-earth, football loving saint of a man with a tremendous devotion to Mary.

However, it was only gradually, over the next few years, that my initial “Yes” transformed itself into a personal relationship with God. Experiences such as a pilgrimage to Lourdes were important landmarks for me. I gradually became more sensitive to his presence in my life to the point of being able to say that I felt and still feel God's love for me and for the whole of humanity very strongly and in a variety of ways: through my prayer life both with my community and in my personal prayer, through encounters with other people and long-standing friendships, through the joys of making and listening to music and through the beauty of God's creation.

I also experience God's love through a better knowledge and understanding of the Bible, especially of the life of Jesus Christ and of his invitation to all of us to willingly accept God's love as His adopted sons and daughters - a love that manifests itself most clearly in Jesus, his Son, dying for love of you and me. 

I was not sensitive to this love when I decided to take the plunge and respond to God’s call to become a Brother, but I definitely felt an invitation inside of me to enter into a relationship with God. One that I felt I should not say no to, even though I did not know where it would lead me. I now know that the invitation was not to a closed relationship with God through life as a Brother. Following the model of his trinitarian relationship with Jesus his Son, from which comes the outpouring of the Spirit (the expression of their mutual love), it was rather an invitation to open my heart out to God’s people and share with them his wonderful, limitless, infinitely generous love. All Christians are sent into the world to be God's ambassadors in this way, to help other people come closer to God through letting his love radiate from us to all. As a Teaching Brother, I am called to fulfil that role especially in schools and in working with young people in general.

English and French Brothers together in Liverpool.

At present I am school Chaplain and teacher in a large boys’ Catholic comprehensive in Liverpool (my subjects being Film Studies, Music and R.E. I also conduct the school orchestra and lead the staff/pupil worship band). I thoroughly enjoy working with the young. Even though my lay colleagues are wonderful teachers and tremendously dedicated, I feel very strongly that together with my fellow Brothers I have something different and special to offer the school community in part simply by the fact of being a Brother in its midst. I know that the training I have received and the years spent living in community following a daily prayer routine (including daily Mass) have made me a better person and one who is much more confident in the expression of his own faith.

Colleagues and parents say to us that the school would not be the same without us, though they maybe struggle to put their finger on exactly how. It is perhaps in part because we are a sign of God’s Kingdom here on earth through the radical nature of our commitment to him, expressed through the 3 vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Hopefully, by who we are and what we stand for, we show to young people the truth of what they learn in their R.E. lessons and contribute to “making Jesus Christ better known and loved”, this being the aim of our work as De La Mennais Brothers. But in actual fact, all we can do is sow seeds that through the grace of God may one day bear fruit and in most cases without us knowing.

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