Spirituality is a word that is far more common in the public discourse now than it was a few decades back. In its literal sense, spiritual means ‘of the Spirit’, coming from a deep place within a person, –the soul. From this perspective, everyone is a spiritual person and everyone has some level of spirituality, including people who have no religious belief. For the Christian, spirituality takes on a different dimension. Authentic Christian spirituality is shaped by the belief that God assumed human form in the person of Christ and that the following of Christ invites certain ways of being in the world. Central to these ‘ways of being’ is a striving to relate to others following the example of Christ’s relationships with all whom he encountered.
Down through the centuries, the Catholic Church through its teachings, its liturgies, its structures, its pious devotions, etc. has tried to guide and inspire its members in their efforts to be followers of Christ within the Catholic tradition.
The Catholic Church is a very broad church however, including among it members peoples from every race and nation on earth. Within that broad church, there is also an estimated 2,000 Religious Congregations, comprised mainly of Sisters, Brothers and Non-Diocesan clergy.
Each Religious Congregation, or Religious Order as sometimes called, would share the common aim of honouring and worshipping God as ardent disciples of Jesus Christ. However, while adhering to the common core of beliefs and aspirations, most Congregations in time evolve distinctive features in their manner of witness and service. Among the factors which shape such features are:
• The founding vision and circumstances
• The adopted patrons, symbols and mottoes
• The Congregation’s Constitutions and inspirational documents
• The cultural background and personalities of the pioneer members.
And so has emerged within our Catholic church, a great variety of ‘ways’ of being faithfully Catholic ----the Jesuit way, the Franciscan way, the Mary MacKillop way, the Mercy way, the Marist way…etc..etc., and even the Patrician way. Underpinning all of the ‘ways’ are a range of spiritualities.
For many years the spirituality of Patrician Brothers was mainly the spirituality of the ordinary, practising , and local Catholic , enriched by daily prayer in Community which included the Prayer of the Church from the official manual known as the Breviary. No doubt, the living together in Community, and ministry that was mainly Catholic education, also had moulding effect on the shared spirituality. These factors remain strong influences.
More recent interest in spirituality in general has motivated the Brothers to delve a bit more deeply into aspects of their founding story. The fact that the Founder, Daniel Delany placed the Congregation under the patronage of St Patrick created an obvious link between the Brothers and the early Celtic spirituality of Ireland which was Christianised by St Patrick in the 5th century. In centuries following the death of St Patrick Celtic Christianity was thriving in Ireland and St Patrick’s spiritual legacy was captured in the Breastplate prayer which bears his name. The name ‘Breastplate’ is an Anglicised version of the Gaelic word ‘Lorica’ which more closely describes an over-garment which gives protection against evil and all harm. And so, the full Breastplate is a long litany of invocation praying for the constant and protective presence of God.
The 2004 General Chapter of the Patrician Brothers raised the profile of the Breastplate in the life of the Congregation with the following aspiration:
At the heart of our identity and mission is Patrician spirituality shaped and inspired by the Breastplate. The short extract from the full Breastplate ---Christ be with me, etc., is said daily in Patrician Communities and schools. Saying this part of the Breastplate is the easy bit. The challenge is to ‘live it’…to be conscious of Christ’s presence all around us at all times, and especially in those with whom we live and work. This is a powerful invitation to honour the sacredness of creation and to have a profound respect for the dignity of all people. High ideals indeed, but very much in alignment with the spirit of the Gospel, and a worthy platform for Patrician spirituality.