A Practice in Fraternity
"Man, created to live in the image and likeness of God, is called to unity..."
Man, created to live in the image and likeness of God, is called to unity, for God himself is eternally a unity of persons, the Trinity. As Christian men, we belong to something much bigger than ourselves: the body of Christ. Somehow, we’ve forgotten this in our culture and replaced the good of fraternity with the fairytale of the self-made man.
What man wages war against a great multitude on his own? What climber attempts to summit K2 without an expedition team? What Olympic athlete stands on the podium without ever having had a coach or partners to aid him in training? Even a successful businessman (honest or not) never formed his own body out of clay. Rather, he only made it to the top by learning from mentors and relying on partners to help him prosper.
Each man is at his best when he is surrounded by men pushing him to triumph. The eyes of onlookers might keep us on our toes, but it is the active presence of men we can trust that keeps us both perseverant and headed in the right direction. Real fraternity leads to real success.
Exodus is just as much a practice in fraternity as it is in prayer or asceticism. A distaste for prayer or unwillingness to take on ascetic disciplines often reveals a need to grow in those areas. The same is true of fraternity. If you’d rather not be a part of a fraternity, you may be acknowledging that you don’t understand what real fraternity is. This should cause no shame, as too few men have had the gift of real fraternity in their lives. Now is your chance to change that.
Commitment is Key
Men who weren’t fully committed to building a fraternity (or worse, were slack in attending their fraternity meetings) have tended to experience substantial difficulties during Exodus spiritual exercises. Unfortunately, they too often return to the very things they desired to be freed from. This should come as no surprise. Men who act a certain way without fraternity before Exodus can expect to act a similar way if they don’t commit to living fraternity during Exodus. The good news is that the solution is simple. Commit to living the life the Lord is calling all men to—commit to living fraternity.
"They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers." (Acts 2:42)
Exodus Men who speak of the success they were able to experience during their spiritual exercises consistently give abundant credit to the great fraternity they built along the way. The men who have set time aside for fraternity, regularly report how they have become a greater source of grace to their families. This should be no surprise. God values families. His roadmap to freedom is not made to hinder family or community life, but to bring greater grace to it.
What will your fraternity be like? That will depend on how much you invest in it. This doesn’t mean you need to be the leader, but it does mean that you won’t just be “going along for the ride.” Do your part to make your fraternity a committed band of brothers.
Be a Well-Set Anchor
“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
As veteran rock-climbers and mountaineers know, some of the most breathtakingly worthwhile views can only be reached with the use of ropes and solid anchors. A climber or mountaineer’s life often hangs by a rope that relies completely on the weight-bearing strength of an anchor he sets during his ascent or descent. Without solid, well-set, anchors, many climbs would be impossible.
“I love the term ‘anchor.’ In climbing, rappelling, and mountaineering, people’s lives depend on anchors. In sport climbing, anchors are easy and reliable with bolts pre-anchored into the rock face for anyone to use. But the views at the top of these routes are often not as prized. In traditional climbing, rappelling, and mountaineering, you depend on anchors you build yourself, whether it is with cams, nuts, snow, trees, etc. If your anchor fails, death is likely. In these grave instances, you might build two or three redundant anchors for additional safety. Climbing without proper anchors is foolish, especially if you know you lack the skill to successfully complete the ascent without them.”
- Logan Tuura, Ski Mountaineer, Salt Lake City, Utah
"We cannot ascend to the heights of freedom on our own"
We cannot ascend to the heights of freedom on our own—we have proven this repeatedly to ourselves and to others. This truth applies as you begin your Exodus journey. Within your fraternity, each man should pair up with a brother. This particular brother is now your anchor, and you are his. If there is an odd number, make it a group of three. No one should attempt this ascent without an anchor. “Climbing without proper anchors is foolish...”
As your brother’s anchor, your commitment to him will include checking in with him daily; a simple text message or brief phone call can work great. You are also committed to pray for, encourage, admonish, apologize to, and consistently forgive your anchor throughout the exercise. If your anchor gets shaky, help him to get reset in a solid, dependable place. This is not only for his sake but also for yours.
If “you are the man” (cf. 2 Samuel 12:7) skipping disciplines and starting to fall into sin, call your brother immediately. Let him know that his anchor is weak. This serves both you and your brother. It is far better to alert him to your weakness than to let him experience your failure as a dependable anchor.
Whatever brother you choose as your anchor within your fraternity, make a commitment to him. Be a steady and dependable anchor. The journey to the heights is challenging, but the view at the top is “breathtakingly worthwhile.” Help your brother get there.
Now Is the Time to Commit
Whether the men in your fraternity were chosen by you or not, remember: these are your brothers. The quality of the fraternity in large part depends on you. Take a look at the men with whom you are about to make this exodus. They are worth respecting, challenging, and persevering with all the way to the promised land.
Remember Christ’s words: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). As much as you desire freedom, recall that these exercises are not for you alone. They are for your friends, your family, the Church, and your brothers. Don’t allow selfish thoughts to hinder the success God wants to give you. Be ready to make sacrifices for your fraternity, just as Christ made sacrifices for you. If you do so, your efforts will be like water in the wilderness and a fountain of life for you and your fraternity. Commit to greater freedom for yourself and for your brothers. Commit to your fraternity.
How Many Men Should I Have in My Fraternity?
Each fraternity should have 6-8 men. This is based on studies of how the number of men in a small group impacts the effectiveness of the group. Yes, you can have less than 6, but 4 is about as small as a group should be. Yes, you can have more than 9 but more than 9 men starts to get too large. At that size, a group should consider splitting into two smaller, tighter-knit, fraternities.
It continues to surprise me how connected Exodus Men feel to each other even when they are not in the same fraternity. There is something significant, something unitive, about making this bold journey that unites men. Suffering together simply has that effect, especially when it is for as good of a reason as salvation.
How Do I Find Men for My Fraternity?
Where will you find men to make this journey with you? You are the protagonist. You will ask God where to find your brothers, and then you will go and intentionally ask them. In your church, your workplace, your club, your family, or your favorite bar, wherever the Lord is calling you to find your brothers, go there and make the invitation.
Fraternity is one of the most obvious, and yet overlooked, aspects of the Christian life today. When we challenge each other to do what is good and hold each other accountable to doing it, great fruits consistently come about. Great fruits, not just for us, but for our entire community. On the other hand, when we isolate ourselves and are held accountable to no one, our lives become a self-serving mess and our community suffers.
Remember, if the Lord is calling you to do something, he will provide the grace to bring it to completion. Is he calling you to take up an Exodus spiritual exercise? If so, he will provide brothers to do it with. This may mean he is offering you the grace of courage to make personal and intentional invitations to men in your life. Some men that you know well, and some you might not know as well. If so, respond to his grace, trust the Lord, and follow him to greater freedom.
For further reading:
Strengthen Your Fraternity
Here are three proven recommendations for strengthening your fraternity:
1) Consider scheduling a weekly fraternity holy hour. Your daily prayer time can be done on your own, but coming into the presence of the Lord as a fraternity has a mysterious unifying effect, even as each man prays silently on his own. It is worth scheduling a weekly fraternity holy hour, even if not everyone is able to attend every week. And if your circumstances as a fraternity allow for a daily holy hour together, all the better.
2) Go to confession regularly. Regular confession every few weeks (at a minimum, once per month) is a great way to renew your brotherly bonds, both with your fraternity and with Christ.
3) Attend one extra Mass each week. “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’” If Exodus Men want to discover the real influence of the Eucharist in their lives, let them commit to the holy reception of Christ at least one more day each week. “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself” (CCC 1324). Past Exodus fraternities have found that attending an extra Mass each week worked best when a consistent day of the week was chosen. Many fraternities paired their weekly Mass with their fraternity holy hour before or after Mass.
"...We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother..."
-Henry V by William Shakespeare