By Timothy O’Brien, SJ
Growing up, there were only two kids in my immediate family: my sister and myself. Since I did not have a brother to call my own, one Jesuit custom immediately grabbed my attention upon entering the Jesuits in 2008: We refer to each other in notes and e-mails, as well as in conversation, as “brothers.”
Early in my Jesuit life, I confess that this practice struck me as bizarre, artificial even. I hesitated before referring to other Jesuits at my brothers, and the word felt clumsy in my mouth. Sure, we were “fellow Jesuits,” and even “Friends in the Lord” (as Ignatius once referred to himself and his early companions). But brothers?
The Gospels of Mark and Matthew both contain a similar scene: Jesus’ relatives come looking for him while he is engaged with his disciples. The announcement that his “mother and brothers” want to see him prompts one of Jesus’ richest rhetorical questions: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” His answer, in both texts, is the same: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
After almost a decade as a Jesuit, and with the hope of many more years to come, I have come to believe that “brother” really is the word that best captures the richness of relationship and companionship I have found in the Society of Jesus. There are many reasons why this is true, but the one that Jesus announces is the best: Our bond as brothers is found in seeking and doing the will of God.
And so out of an indistinct mass of staggeringly different men, bonds of brotherhood form. My novice classmates are, indeed, my brothers. Some of my brothers are old enough to be my father (and still others old enough to be my grandfather!). Some of my bothers come from the other side of the world, rooted in cultures and languages that I do not understand and that will always remain opaque to me. Some of them view the world differently than I do, and sometimes we argue about that. And yet all of them are my brothers; my brothers who remind me (and I often need reminding), who this Jesus is who calls us together and who sends us out on his mission.
It is one of the things I love about my Jesuit vocation. One of the many things.
The Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver offers Ignatian group retreats, individual spiritual direction, the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, and trains spiritual directors and guides of the Spiritual Exercises.