by Corey Knapke, Cincinnati Province Candidate in Formation
It has been several months since my last “InFormation” column, and I had several things I wanted to write about this time around: how formation has changed since last year; how my discernment with the community is progressing; how my classes and ministry are going. But after some prayer and reflection, I decided instead to write about a word I value greatly: fraternity.
Frater means “brother” in Latin. Better understanding brotherhood has been my business since 1993 when my parents gave me my first real brother. My understanding grew substantially in 2008 when I pledged a bandsmen’s fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi, while an undergraduate. From that group, I learned the Greek alphabet and a lot about the college fraternity tradition. I also gained many close friends, whom I sincerely call “brothers.”
America’s college fraternity tradition grew mostly in the beginning of the 19th century. It was influenced strongly by Freemasonry and other groups of that nature. It is interesting that during this same time St. Gaspar was doing spiritual battle with the Carbonari, Jacobins, and Masonic societies cropping up around Rome.
Why would Gaspar urge people to denounce such groups guided by principles as noble as “brotherhood”? As it turns out, the Missionaries and the Carbonari had two different understandings of fraternity.
A fraternity in the Missionary sense is not simply a group of men who are “chummy” together. It is also more than a group sharing common ideologies, for even ideologies must be rooted in something deeper; an ideology by itself is superficial. Gaspar and his entourage shared this foundation: The Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
The conception of Christian fraternity, which pre-dates the Enlightenment, is where “frater” finds lifeblood. It is in the Incarnation that we see a true model of brotherhood in Jesus. We can root our concept of fraternity in something greater than mere philanthropy (love of humanity) or philosophy (love of wisdom).
Gaspar understood the great value of joining men together in “bonds of charity,” sharing in Christ’s Precious Blood. Francesco Albertini helped perfect this formula with his foundation of the Archconfraternity of the Most Precious Blood in 1808.
To link all of this back to my life, I suppose I can say that my understanding of fraternity took its next step in 2012 when I first began speaking with Fr. Vince Wirtner about vocations. I was drawn to religious life because I saw there a model for fraternal living that I found attractive. Fr. Vince captured this thought by explaining that the Missionaries are like a “holy fraternity.”
A caveat: “Holy” does not always equate with “perfect.” It is difficult at times to feel the fullness of a “holy fraternity” while living in a house of just two brothers. It can be difficult when personalities disagree, but we find in scripture: “He who is a friend is always a friend, and a brother is born for the time of stress” (Proverbs 17:17). Christ’s Precious Blood, which was purest of all, ran with the dirt and grime covering his broken body when he exhibited what he thought was true fraternity.
At last July’s Brother Retreat, led by Br. Joel Giallanza, C.S.C., I was especially struck by the special vocation of “brotherhood” within the Church and within the Precious Blood community. As for the latter, my observation was these men exhibit a unique sense of the word fraternity by their life commitment to Christ and to each of their fellow Missionaries. While priests can find part of their fraternal charism in performing the Sacraments in persona Christi, the Missionary Brother is especially committed to that true fraternal ideal set forth by Gaspar and Albertini all those years ago. They could choose to serve God independently, but they instead choose to do so arm in arm chanting the rallying cry of the Blood.
My last fraternity, of which I still consider myself a brother, was rooted in the love of music. Music is noble, but it is still a created thing. The Creator is no created thing, and I find that a fraternity grounded in the love of God trumps all others. I look forward to learning more about fraternity as this journey continues.