Photo: Felix Carroll

Brother Brent, MIC (left, shown with Fr. Angelo Casimiro, MIC), is spending his apostolic year working a half a day with the Eden Hill maintenance staff. In the afternoons, he is an altar server for the daily liturgy and devotions at the National Shrine. "It's quite an experience to come into contact with pilgrims," he says.

Bowed Down in Service

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By Dan Valenti (Jul 5, 2012)
Every seminarian serves what is a called an "apostolic year." The intent is not to take men out of their studies but to augment what they learn in the classroom with hands-on ministry. Their service can take many forms, but each has one thing in common: to help prepare candidates for the religious life as priests or brothers, giving them access to well-rounded opportunities for ministry.

For two Marian seminarians, their apostolic year finds them in service on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., provincial home of the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina, and home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center. Brother Brent, MIC, and Br. Thad, MIC, have different duties, but each sees their service year as a deepening of their spiritual commitment.

'To Know Jesus More Intimately'
"The apostolic year has given me the ability to deepen the grace of the second week of the [Ignatian] spiritual exercises: 'to know Jesus more intimately that I might love Him more deeply and follow Him more closely,'" says Br. Thad, who has been assisting at the National Shrine and accompanying Marians on parish missions throughout the country. "I remember going through these exercises, imagining what it must have been like for the Lord traversing Palestine in His ministry. I now have the opportunity to experience some of what Jesus experienced in traveling and giving missions."

Brother Brent works a half a day with the Eden Hill maintenance staff. In the afternoons, he is an altar server for the daily liturgy and devotions at the National Shrine: the Rosary for Life at 1:30 p.m., the 2 p.m. Mass, and praying The Divine Mercy Chaplet and Novena at 3 p.m. He, like Br. Thad, also helps out wherever he might be needed.

"It's quite an experience to come into contact with pilgrims," says Br. Brent. "I have learned a lot through them and getting the feel for what it's like here at the Shrine. People often ask for prayer, sharing their problems and blessings. I recently had a couple tell me they came to the Shrine looking for a miracle for their granddaughter. They asked me to pray for her. I told them about the novena to [the Marian Founder] Blessed Stanislaus, and then I took them to the Shrine of the Holy Innocents [on the lower level of the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine]. It was an emotional encounter. I've learned that most everyone comes to Eden Hill for a reason."

Extensions of Mercy
Both young men — whose apostolic year began in August and runs through the end of that month this year — talk of the need to extend mercy to others.

"I recently spoke to Fr. Kaz [Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, Marian provincial superior] about a personal problem, and he reminded me that if a priest lacks a compassionate or merciful heart, he has nothing," says Br. Thad. "What Fr. Kaz said, and what I'm learning in this apostolic year, reminds me of the song, 'Here I am, Lord,' whose refrain ends with, 'I will hold Your people in my heart.' Jesus poured out the love and mercy of His Sacred Heart upon aching, sinful humanity during His three years of public ministry. I have the opportunity to share this kind of life this year in teaching, serving, and loving the people of God."

For Br. Brent, "just being around the pilgrims, my [Marian] brothers, and those who work here [on Eden Hill] is inspiring. I see their devotion and dedication," he says. "It strengthens my faith. This is the message of Divine Mercy being enacted. I know now more than ever that Divine Mercy is the biggest spiritual message of our time. I feel privileged to share it with others as best I can."

Starting Afresh from Christ
Each man speaks of the practical aspects of service.

"This experience," says Br. Thad, "makes concrete the sacrifices I make through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I do not live these vows because I believe in ideals. I have vows because I want my life to resemble the life of Jesus as much as possible. Starting Afresh from Christ, a Vatican document on the renewal of religious life, mentions how we religious are to be first and foremost extensions of the humanity of Christ in the world today, so that the Holy Spirit, as He did in Mary, can make the Word flesh again in our daily lives."

Brother Brent says his service year on Eden Hill has, like Br. Thad's, helped him see the fruits of his religious vows in his day-to-day life.

"Throughout the day," Br. Brent says, "I see many examples of the need to trust. 'Jesus, I trust in You.' I often turn to that [motto of The Divine Mercy message], because I realize how weak I am, individually. We have to love our weaknesses, though, because, as St. Thérèse says, our weaknesses enable us to go to God and tell Him, 'I need help.' I can't do this on my own."

Brother Thad speaks for Br. Brent when he says about his apostolic year: "I have learned the profound meaning of my vocation: I, in a radical way, as did the Apostles, leave everything to follow the God-Man, Jesus Christ [see Mk 10:29-30]."

There are many reasons for the apostolic year. For these two young men, the most important lesson is that God, through the will of their superiors, has willed the year of service.

"We are learning a life of obedience built on the pillars of chastity and poverty," says. Br. Thad.

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