There is Goodness in Fraternity
I’ve had a lot of good things happen in my life. Had and done a lot of bad things too. Sometimes in low moments, I in and of myself, was not enough to pull myself back up. I needed someone else to go to, to help me, to lift me up. Even in good moments, the cause of that good or joy or success was attributed to someone else doing something for me. Interesting how that works—when we reflect on it—how much we need others. Obviously we need Christ first and foremost–by no means am I challenging that. But we as young men, and especially single young men, need each other to grow. I’m talking about fraternity—brotherhood.
Now I’ve talked about fraternity in the past, often in a negative context. There’s the current “definition” of fraternity—often stereotyped as a group of college idiots dressed in Ralph Lauren and Star-Spangled banners, smashing brews and chasing girls. Young men wasting their potential and their formative years in an environment of degradation, all in the name of “brotherhood.” Similarly, in my past essay, the French “fraternite,” describes a similar attempt at equal brotherhood and minds. But I’m not talking about this; well, in a way I am, I’m looking at the good ideals that formed the original basis for these wayward themes.
Christian men need fraternity. All men do, but in a special way, Christian men desperately need it. We need a group of male peers who can support us, advise us, lift us up, and rejoice with us. With recent reflection, I’ve realized how many men have lifted me up or inspired me to greater heights simpler with their friendship. Men who ask each other about life, relationships, goals, and even as one asked me this summer “hey bro how has your faith life been?” Simply put, guys often ‘get’ each other in a way that no woman except a spouse could understand. In a society often predicating male friendship on pursuit of sex and alcohol, Christian fraternity finds itself especially needed. Men who come with as Pope Francis writes, “their wounds, their questions, but especially with the joy of encountering one another.” Such is the revolution of this fraternity, friendships formed in similar love of Christ and life.
We see examples scattered throughout the Gospels and the Church. Looking at the Old Testament, Daniel and his companions resisted the temptations of the Babylonians—remaining together. Similarly with Shadrack, Mishek, and Abednego who braved the fiery furnace in brotherhood grounded in God. In the Church, look at Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola—friends who challenged each other to grow in holiness each and every day. Countless martyrs too—St. Paul Miki and companions, Isaac Jogues and companions, the Korean martyrs. These men who served the Lord with their whole hearts, some even to a bloody end. Could they have done it without the support of their brothers next to them? It’s a question worth asking. Even Christ gathered a group of men around him, his closest friends. Even when he withdrew to pray, Christ took the three closest with him—desiring their aid and support. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Should we do any less when our friends fall? When the apostles deserted Christ in fear, only St. John remained. One can only imagine how he lifted the spirits of his brethren in their regret after their reunion. I can imagine a scene where he and Peter sit in tears as he comforts the leader of the apostles who denied Christ in a moment where he had sworn he would not. True brotherhood, a moment of love, chastisement, forgiveness, repentance, and encouragement all in one. Our friendships should reflect this.
Our society is one that has adapted well towards picking off men one by one, driving them into sin, often through loneliness. The pornography epidemic is a stark example of such an attack on the individual. Look at it like a herd of elephants. One alone is easily picked off by the lions, lost in the night. Yet a herd protects the weakest, forming a barrier around the young and old alike so that the lions cannot take them, bearing the brunt of any attack that comes. They help the young to mature and grow, and in turn that young one will then be able to protect the older members of the herd should they falter. In such fashion should our brotherhood be. Support each other, especially the weak, raising them up. We have a revolutionary opportunity to change the world, yet we cannot do it alone. Pope Francis writes “the new generation of young people gave the answer to today’s challenge. They gave a sign of hope, and this sign is called fraternity, because, in fact, in this world at war, we need fraternity, closeness, dialogue, and friendship. And this is a sign of hope, when there is fraternity.” Yet one key that is often forgotten, is that we must share in fraternal correction as much as we should share in fraternal joy. When based in charity, the ability to guide our brother from a negative action becomes essential and grows the friendship. So this responsibility becomes shared when in the context of a group of men. I look to St. Josemaria Escriva, who writes well on the struggles of friendship and fraternity, always exhorting loyalty, charity and humility as the keys to true friendship. In a time of such turmoil and struggle, fraternity is the answer to transcend all boundaries. Escriva writes
"Christian freedom comes from within, from the heart, from faith. It is not something merely individual, it expresses itself externally in social behavior. One of its more characteristic features is seen in the lives of the first Christians: fraternity. Faith—that great gift of God—has reduced the divergencies, the barriers, so that they have disappeared ‘and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female’ To know that we are brothers, to love another as such—over and above differences of race, social condition, culture or ideology—belongs to the essence of Christianity."
In such context then is seen such a value to our friendships. True fraternity, founded in charity and drive for Christ, overcomes the boundaries of race, ideology, background and such. How fascinating is this? How beautiful!
What then can we do as men to increase our sense of brotherhood and bonding? In college it is as simply as engaging in activities and groups that will form and grow those friendships. However, in the post-grad life, it becomes a little more difficult. Here more effort is required—as oftentimes our friends and brothers are far away. I encourage you to make more effort in reaching out to these men! Give them a call, set up times, ask about life, revisit memories, but most importantly continue to grow these friendships! St. Paul intercede for us in this endeavor, as he too continued his friendships with other men in the church through his many letters and exhortations.
In closing, I would be remiss without mentioning the line “iron sharpens iron” Cheesy as it sounds, the truth behind it still rings true. Two good men in community will make each other better. It’s like having a lifting buddy—you keep each other honest on your goals, pushing each other to achieve more and more. Christ set the tone and the apostles carried it on. We must be brethren burning together in the fire of Christ’s life, becoming beacons of hope in the darkness of life. We are men fording the river of life, while the currents of secularism threaten to drag us away. We must link arms if we are to survive, and if one slips, our brethren will catch us or we will all fall together.