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Committed to the path of the ageing Brothers



The spirituality of an old Brother finds expression in his communion with the community

08/08/2011: Belgium

On arriving at Genval twelve years ago, I believed that spirituality was a way of living based on a spiritual vision of life. I have since become aware that spirituality is also a way of dying. I have discovered that the meaning given to one’s life, the values to which one adheres, as well as the transcendence which links us to God, permit religious to define themselves spiritually, and this by living the ageing process and by preparing for death. It is this evolution in my thinking which I would like to share with you.

What is spiritual produces fervour and provides a perspective. Beyond individual piety and community participation in prayer, I believe that today that the spirituality of a Brother who is elderly or affected by illness finds expression in his communion with the community. Thus, the cup of coffee taken together, the admiration for the environment, the exchange of an instant of happiness, the gratitude summed up in gesture, the humourous look or the wink are signs of a deep spirituality. When Brothers express their gratitude, joy, when their eyes light up at the memory of their teachers, their confrères, their former students, their friends or families, this gives good expression to the meaning they have given their lives.

Confronted with ageing or sickness, the Brother perhaps finds the same situation experienced after the closing of a school: on one side, powerlessness and on the other, the search for culprits; there he is invited to face up to the truth or it turns into vinegar. Once he passes this stage, once the person or patient masters the mourning, he achieves a stable balance. This grieving is sometimes a painful thing to live, the more so if it is multiplied: abandonment of his apostolate, his community, his friends, his former pupils, the death of family members .... Once this stage of revolt-grieving is overcome, the Brother accepts his new limits while maintaining his dignity and independence at the maximum. So everyone comes back to life, be he aged, handicapped, ill, bedridden, even if his days are numbered.

Starting from this long introduction, it is not difficult to see the road I have had to walk. Leaving a very active youth, abandoning a rhythm I loved, an order I imposed, I have had to learn to keep silent, to accept, to listen, to be present, to pray with and for ... To control a  certain agitation, a certain enthusiasm, and at the same time to have no more week-ends, leaves, holidays! To manage, create an environment of quality. It has been necessary for me to get used to new confrères and to come to a rude awakening, for I had my wounds, I lived a sobering up experience in contact with elderly Brothers, inertia with regard to a will to change, the failure of certain initiatives ... That was my desert, and I could not allow it to appear for the risk of dragging others down the slope of pessimism! My balance I found  principally in the team of doctors and nurses and in the formation I received during sessions of quality, and also from the momentary separation from my work by forcing a holiday on me.

After that, I could set sail for the open sea, I was happy ... I was in my nursing vocation. I could aid confrères on the winding ways of integration into a home of retirement and care, a way paved with uncertainties, denial, aggressivity, bargaining, depressions... follow one or another down the paths of progressive dementia, the language of confusion, listen to the dreams ... To follow is like going out on a dark night, it takes time to get used to seeing one’s way.

I could suffer with those who suffered, spend hours assisting brothers on their last journey. I could look on the bright side in my personal life, in my relations, and stay optimistic, I could surpass myself.

But above all, I was free to listen, to listen time and again, night and day. To restore hope, show that the sun rises each morning, recall the good memories, restore faith in a God who loves us, to sympathetic confrères.

For a religious to be able to expand psychically and spiritually, I am convinced he has need, like everyone else, of an environment of quality, whether for his cleanliness, his clothing, the  orderliness of his room... Green plants, flowers, music, movement. This requires investment, but above all self investment.

It is at times when doubt invades me, or when I come up against the harshness of life, its  injustice and our weakness, when one no longer knows how to take it, or what to do, that God takes me by the hand. He invites me to deep prayer, he helps me say: « Into your hands, Father, I surrender everything». It is the same prayer I recite with and for the Brother whose eyes I am going to close in a moment. A gesture by which my life will be illuminated.

Roads of the plain, mountain roads, roads which require a hope, an horizon, roads which invigorate our desperations, these are the roads I accept taking, for, quite simply, I have made them my life.

Br. Marcel
Genval - Belgium

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