Frequently Asked Questions

THE APOSTLE SAINT JOHN

One day, I received a call from Rome asking what name to give this new religious family. I must confess I hadn’t given it much thought. When you are very close to people, you don’t think about naming them; you live with them. Nonetheless, I replied: “Listen, since you’re asking me what name to give, I can only conceive of one, and that’s Saint John. ” “Oh, fine, very good. ” And that’s how it was concluded. Afterwards, I thought about it quite a bit, and I realized that there was no other name possible.

For me, Saint Dominic and Saint John are very close. I have always liked to go from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica to the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel enables us to directly live the mystery of Jesus and the Summa Theologica enables us to purify our imagination and our intelligence so that we may be more intelligent for Jesus. There is a very close connection between the doctrinal aspect of Saint Thomas and Saint John. The latter, by the way, is called ” the theologian ” by those in the East.

No, because it was not so much the theologian that I was considering but above all the “beloved disciple” (John 13:23), the faithful disciple. In our world, it is so difficult to be faithful -the word itself isn’t used so much anymore- we have successive fidelities…. John’s fidelity is not a “successive” fidelity ; it’s fidelity in love, which is the most demanding, and which must assume our entire life. What Jesus asks today of his disciples, of his friends, is a fidelity which perseveres to the end: follow the Lamb even to the Cross (cf. Rev. 14:4), living His mystery of Resurrection and Glory, looking only at Him, letting Him go before them. This is what the name ” Saint John ” really means for us.

Yes, it’s a perspective that’s given to us in his Gospel. It consists first of all in a very special bond with the mystery of the Eucharist. John is the one who spoke of the mystery of the “bread of life” in the most incredible way (Jn. 6:26-58); and he is the only one who shows us the “washing of the feet” (Jn. 13:2-15) -that is, this ultimate purification of forgiveness, necessary for whoever wants to approach the holy table.

The Eucharist leads to the Cross and opens the way to the Cross: Saint John is also the only disciple who is faithful at the foot of the Cross. Here, he lives the mystery of Mary’s compassion, because he is closely united to Jesus and so near to Mary. Yet Jesus wants more : He gives Mary to John, who takes her ” into his own ” (Jn. 19:27), which means in the depths of his heart.

Thus John teaches us to live faithfully all the way to the Cross, by living this mystery as Mary lived it, in faith, hope and love. For through this mystery we receive directly from Jesus this ultimate gift which is Mary. Jesus entrusts her to John to show him how much He loves him and wants to give him everything, so that he may be faithful and persevere to the very end in fulfilling the demands of divine love.

RELIGIOUS VOWS

Since the end of the early persecutions under the Roman Empire, the Church has alluded to Jesus’ response to the rich young man who questioned Him regarding the means of going as far as possible along the road to sanctity: “… go, sell what you possess and give to the poor…and come, follow me” (Lk. 18:22).

Following Christ in the most perfect way requires a person to dispose of all his possessions: no one can simultaneously serve two masters, Jesus and money (cf. Mt. 6:24). It also requires a love that is constantly purified so that one may become deeply attached to the heart of Jesus alone. And in order to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we have to allow the messenger Christ has placed in our path to show us the way, to show us what we must do to be more and more faithful. Accordingly, the Church has defined vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Yes, because we need to emphasize the way in which these vows must be lived. The vow of chastity in its most perfect aspect consists in a spirit of virginity. Our hearts then experience that particular vulnerability that love gives and requires.

A spirit of virginity brings us very close to Jesus, so that we love what He loves, in His light and in the absolute limpidity of His heart.

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I think that today’s Church asks us to live these vows in an ever- deeper interiority, with the Virgin Mary to help us live what Jesus Himself lived. Jesus did not live by vows but by their spirit. Since He was perfect, He didn’t need vows, which are merely a means of achieving union with Him more rapidly, thanks to the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. The spirit of poverty eliminates everything that might prevent closeness to Jesus. Thus it is the guardian of the spirit of virginity. Finally, obedience enables us to go beyond our own will in order to fully satisfy, in the order of execution, our thirst for closeness to Jesus. The spirit of obedience enables us to pass from a deep union with the heart of Jesus to a union which takes our entire life. The love which binds us to Jesus thus takes possession of all our freedom, all our choices, all our preoccupations.

Thus it’s a question of living the virginity of Christ, who lived it so intensely that He only looked at the Father and the Father’s love. It means living His spirit of poverty, a poverty that was joyful in the crib and sorrowful at the cross: poverty marked His whole life. Jesus’ words show how intensely He lived poverty in order to be more closely bound to the Father’s will for Him. ” Obedient unto death ” (Phil. 2:8): through this absolute gift of Himself, He reveals to us that the will of the Father must come first for us and accomplishing His will must take hold of our entire life.

We would have to consider how St. John was divinely educated by the Holy Spirit and Mary so that our sole concern may be to be the beloved disciple; that is, the disciple who wanted no separation between the most intimate desires of Christ and his own heart.
We would like to fully live the union of Christ’s heart and John’s heart. Not just to be content with carrying out a rule, but wanting to be one with the Lamb and His wounded heart – which explains the connection with Paray-le-Monial. This requires constant fervour from us: not a sensitive fervour, but the fervour of the will, of profound and divine love, which shuns half measures and forces a person to give as much as possible. The vows have meaning only in the sense that they enable us to do this.

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In the Community, the desert is primarily something lived interiorly in the choice of living for God alone: this is why the brothers are monks.

But in every priory, there is a day of desert each week when the brothers say the religious offices individually and meals are eaten separately. Communal life is more discreet to facilitate immersion in Lectio divina (spiritual reading), solitary work, and silent prayer, according to the rhythm of each Brother.

This desert life may also be extended in special places reserved for this purpose, particularly our two “desert priories” in the Alps. One is more specifically intended for the novices who spend two months of their novitiate there, in groups of twelve. The other priory is composed of small scattered hermitages and is intended more for professed brothers.

In these deserts, the brothers can deepen their relationship with Christ. This return to the source is necessary for fruitfulness, since apart from Christ they can do nothing (cf. Jn. 15:15).

“In these deserts, which will be jealously guarded by the Community, each brother will be able to discover the secret bond which unites his heart to the hearts of Jesus and Mary, in order to always live this bond more and more .”
(Rule of Life)

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The habit is probably the first thing that people notice about the Brothers. It’s a sign that gives rise to various questions; in particular: “Why wear a religious habit?”, “Why a grey habit?”

The decision to wear a religious habit was made at the beginning of the community and responds above all to a desire for fidelity to the Church which, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, presented the religious habit once more as a “sign of their consecration” (Perfectae caritatis, 17).

The habit is a sign of belonging. It distinguishes, points out, and reminds the one who wears it that he represents his Community, and by extension, the Church.

More precisely, the religious habit bears witness to a life consecrated to the Kingdom of God. Just as the habit envelops the entire body, this consecration takes hold of our entire being. Just as the habit is worn throughout the day, this consecration is for one’s whole life.

But as for the choice of a habit… a “work habit” was needed and the Brothers chose, with a few minor modifications, the work habit worn by the Cistercians at Hauterive, an abbey near Fribourg which the brothers often visited.

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In the Catholic Church the Community of St. John is a religious institute of diocesan right under the Bishop of Autun’s jurisdiction.
How is the Community governed?
The supreme authority in the Community is the General Chapter which elects the Prior General for a term of 6 years. The General Chapter can modify the Community’s Constitutions, with the agreement of the Bishop of Autun, his mandate may be renewed for three years. The Chapter takes place every three years.

Each year during the General Chapter, the Prior General meets with all the priors and a delegate chosen by the brothers to represent each priory. The members of the chapter present to each other developments that have taken place during the year in the priory to which they belong. Then the various options for the future of the community are debated and put to a vote.

Does the Prior General work alone?
What is the juridical status of the Community in civil law?

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The Priory in Christchurch, NZ founded in 2010.
New foundations of the Community are decided, in most cases, after the Community first receives a Bishop’s request for a foundation in his diocese.
What are the criteria needed to decide on a foundation?
There are several criteria. The petition must come from a diocesan Bishop and correspond to the proper grace of the Community. The Brothers then evaluate the importance and the urgency of the petition for the Church as well as for the good of the Community.

PRAYER

[x_text class=”faq-title”]Questions addressed to Father Philippe about prayer…
What is prayer?[/x_text][x_text]
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Prayer is first of all common to all men. We all belong to the same family, since we have the same Father who ” makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good ” (Mt. 5:45). As soon as they understand God a little bit, men adore Him and entrust Him with all their difficulties, desires, and their deepest callings, which are often inexpressible, like the groanings of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:26).

[/x_text][x_text class=”faq-title”]How does prayer become Christian?[/x_text][x_text class=”center-text “]Jesus tells us: ” Ask, and it will be given you ; search, and you will find ; knock, and the door will be opened for you ” (Mt. 7:7). He wants us to have constant prayer in our hearts for everything that concerns our life. He wants us to offer everything to Him and to constantly ask for His help since He Himself has told us : ” apart from me, you can do nothing ” (Jn. 15:5). Prayer accompanies and envelops our Christian life to keep us in the presence of Jesus.

Jesus Himself helps makes this clear to us when His disciples ask Him how to pray: He takes the ” Our Father “, which is a very powerful expression. Jesus doesn’t reply: say ” Father “; He says ” Our Father ” (Mt. 6:9). In other words, Jesus wants our look at God to immediately accompany His own. We cannot pray without Him, just as a small child cannot pray without the constant presence of his mother, who helps him to place himself in the presence of God. We live by this presence in intensity of faith and hope but especially in love.[/x_text]

The Liturgy

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The intention of the Community is that its liturgical prayer remain a monastic liturgy. However, due to the demands of apostolic life – and, in the houses of formation, due to the philosophical and theological study necessary in preparation for apostolic life – communal celebration of the liturgy is limited so that more time may be given to silent prayer in community.

The brothers’ life of prayer is centered around the Eucharist ” silent love of God who gives Himself to each and every one of us ” (Rule of Life), which they wish to receive in faith burning with love.

The brothers strive for a sober and beautiful liturgy in which the simple and poor presence of Christ can be revealed among us.

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