Fraternity is essential to the spiritual life
In my last article, I offered 4 recommendations for winning the prayer battle. Maybe you’ve tried them, maybe they worked for a while, but for one reason or another you always eventually find yourself right back where you started. The struggle is real, and the good news is there’s a remedy. Fraternity, brotherhood, friendships with good men that challenge us to live our best life. No matter what stage of life you are in, brotherhood and fraternity is an essential part of our spiritual journey.
Early on in my reversion, when I reached the point where I was convicted, I wanted to be a saint, I assumed the best path was to go it alone. I probably reached this conclusion because I assumed that no one around me was thinking what I was thinking or feeling what I was feeling. I felt alone but instead of reaching out, being vulnerable, I decided that I knew better than everyone else around me and so I’d better go it alone. This was a terrible mistake, and the enemy had a field day. After a year of failure, having made little progress, I finally realized alone wasn’t working. In my pride, I had isolated myself from everyone and had no one to blame but myself. So I started searching for other men to walk with me. It was as if my heart knew that I didn’t have all the answers, and the best place to find them was other men wiser than me. Early on in my search, I focused exclusively on “more virtuous men” foolishly thinking that only the spiritual elite would suffice. This quest proved no more fruitful than my previous solo strategy as I’d chewed through most of the men in my parish eliminating them as unworthy for this reason or that. I was still so thoroughly convinced that I was right about everything that I was only looking for a friend that was exactly like me. Had God given me what I sought, I would have remained blind to my faults having only surrounded myself with “like-minded” men, and I’d never make any real progress because the only thing they’d be able to offer me is validation that I’m right and everyone else is crazy.
It wasn’t until I felt like my life was falling apart that I gave up my ridiculous quest and surrendered. I wasn’t the husband, the father, the brother, or the son I knew I should be and it was eating away at me. I begged Mary to put virtuous men in my life to help me grow in holiness. Not long after, my prayers were answered. My wife and I had just moved to an adjacent town to be closer to our son’s new school and I’d asked the pastor if he knew any good men’s group. This was a Thursday. Sure enough, there were 8 men and the associate pastor starting Exodus90 that following Monday. These men were instrumental in forming me as a man, and preparing me to be in a relationship with others. A year later my wife asked me to join a couples small group with some friends of hers. Although I was nervous that not all the couples were Catholic, I knew the power of men gathering in the name of Christ, and not surprisingly our marriage has flourished because of it. Over the course of 2 years, the men from my Exodus group and the men in our small group have truly transformed me. I’ve made more progress in the last 2 years than I’d made in the previous 30, all through relationships ordered toward God.
We cannot live the Christian life well if we keep bad company, but the cold hard truth is that when we journey alone we become bad company. This is what Satan is doing to the men in our culture, our communities, our familes, and to us. He is isolating us so that we think we’re alone, shaming us into thinking we are bad (not our actions), distracting us from the pain of that isolation with endless amounts of entertainment and indulgences, and as we turn inward, our hearts continue to harden. We go from love to tolerance, from selfless to selfish, and from freely responsible to hopelessly enslaved. This is no way to live. This is why God made us for relationship, and in a special way for fraternity. Prayer and relationship go hand-in-hand. If we do not love, we will have no one to pray for. And, if we do not pray we will have no love in our hearts. For those who persevere to the end in charity, Christ will either say to us:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food…”
But, for those who have no love in their heart, He will say:
“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink…”
We learn to love by being in relationship with others, and it is in those same relationships that we find the courage to persevere in charity.
Call To Action
Set aside sometime this week and prayerfully reflect on the company you keep:
What about those relationships attracts me or keeps me attached?
My advice: Start praying for the conversion of these friends because they might be feeling the same things you are. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide each of your encounters with them moving forward. Remember, too, that you have free will. You can choose to say no to activities and situations that lead you into temptation and/or harm others. Maybe suggesting other group activities that are more fruitful like a game night (Cards against Humanity does NOT count) or even a scotch and cigars night. If these efforts fail though, be prepared to walk away for the good of your soul and that of your friend. You may have to do this alone, but rest assure you are never really alone. We are always accompanied by Christ through our Blessed Mother and all the saints in heaven.
What about being alone attracts you or keeps you attached? What’s keeping you from seeking out relationship with other men?
My advice: Start praying right now, tomorrow, the next day, and the next. Keep praying, admit to God you can’t fight this battle alone, beg for his assistance in placing men in your life who will help you grow in virtue, then be ready because chances are you won’t find them where you’d expect.
This is excellent, great work. Keep it up. Are you and the men in your fraternity living your best life yet or have you let comfort settle in? Maybe you are one of the few who have found that strong fraternity and in a place of sustained growth: how can you help the rest of the men in your life, your parish, your community discover the power of fraternity, too?
My advice: Fight the tendency to get comfortable, pray together often, fast together, and always be working towards something: prayer, study, the sacraments, etc. Be open to the Holy Spirit because there’s a good chance he’s putting men in your life that need what you have already found.
We want to hear from you! Comment below and tell us where you fall on the “company” spectrum and what has been your biggest obstacle in moving the needle. If you feel stuck, let us know too so that we can pray for you.
About the Author:
Jonathan Conrad is married to his high school sweetheart and the proud father of 3 adventurous boys. Jonathan is the founder of Catholic Woodworker where he makes heirloom quality rosaries, prayer kits, and crucifixes.