Bro. Bernie Spitzley, SVD
Bro. Bernie Spitzley, SVD, entered formation to become a Divine Word Missionary in 1968. He graduated from Divine Word College in 1977 with a BA degree in Sociology. He professed First Vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1975. He was assigned to teach at St. Rita School in Indianapolis for two years. He earned his MA in Sociology from Loyola University in Chicago in 1981 and professed Perpetual Vows as a Divine Word Missionary that same year. He served on the formation team at Divine Word College from 1981 to 1990 and was Dean of Students for six of those years. In 1990 he was assigned to Washington, DC to be the Director of Brother Formation for the Society’s Wendelin House. He also worked at NETWORK, a Catholic lobbyist organization. Since 1999, he has been serving at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Morant Bay, Jamaica as the parish’s Social Development Coordinator. As the Social Development Coordinator, he overseas three local food and clothing distribution centers and has helped construct over 3000 homes for those in need. Bro. Bernie also started two bible Sharing communities as centers for primary evangelization.
In the pre-Vatican II days the role of the Brother was easily understood, respected and appreciated. The great Mission Houses, printing presses, plantations and in-house ministries were of huge importance to the support and mission of the Society of the Divine Word. In contemporary times, the question of “what Brothers do” is not so easily handled. Vatican II inspired quite a bit of change for Brothers with regard to the plethora of activities in which we find Brothers engaged.
The down side of such apostolic availability is an ambiguity in the definitions of Brothers based on “what Brothers do.” This situation sometimes corners us into negative definitions of what Brothers do: “do not say Mass,” “do not hear confessions.” This approach is most unacceptable! I suggest we try to deflect the query with a few rhetorical questions of his own: What do Brothers bring to our individual professions? How does our training and commitment to Brotherhood inform the ministry we do in our professional choices? How does my lived reality of being a Brother affect what I do? These kinds of questions, pondered, reflected upon in prayer, gradually taking on deeper meaning, may lead us to a clearer realization of the mystery and gift that Brotherhood is. Brothers live “on the edge,” we tend to resent definition.
We freely choose to eschew the facile groundedness of official function, status, or place in the Church. By doing so, we keep company with prophets and live an intuitive experience that defies easy codification. Living the freeing, creative prophetic experience of being a Brother renders our lives liable to more than one interpretation. Yet that is an ambiguity that we revere, ‘blessed ambiguity’ for it captures the reality we experience in the church.
Basically, all life is a mystery of grace and call. It seems, though, that Brother’s lives are rendered even more a mystery than most consecrated lives in the church.
Why is this so? Perhaps it is because there are relatively few of us. But there are relatively few Bishops, too. Yet Bishops, having a recognized office in the hierarchical configuration of the presbyterate and a public function, are not at all unknown despite their few numbers.
Perhaps it is a priest-thing. Catholics have cultural awe for the sacramental priesthood because of the centrality of the Eucharist to our lives and our communities of faith and worship. Any consecrated, religious celibate male who does not function as a presbyter is suspect. Why a talented man would choose celibacy and religious life and not the adulation of priesthood?
The theology of call frames a good explanation, most people’s eyes glaze over at the telling. Perhaps it is a reticence on the part of brothers to speak of that which is most meaningful to us because the mystery of our call, is ultimately unexplainable. Such situations are certainly not unknown to the human condition.
Experiences of great depth like love, vocation, inner peace, mysticism, brotherhood, may be more fruitfully described by their effects. This could be a key to unlocking our mystery, and a glimpse at a blessed ambiguity.
For thirty plus years I have embraced this mystery, this gift called Brother. I cannot imagine living authentically in any other way. I have grown into the culture of this vocation so fully, my life choices have been shaped so definitely, God’s grace has guided me so gradually and the communities I have been blessed to live in have nurtured this vocation.
We Divine Word Missionaries need to continue to articulate, to verbalize, this mystery, this gift of Brotherhood. For it is sharing, experiencing and expressing brother that we enflesh the mystery, the gift of our vocation.