Our pilgrimage as religious will be marked by separations, when members leave the community. These partings on the way will test the quality of our brotherly love and our dependence on God alone.
Separations may give rise to many different responses. When it has become clear that a novice or brother in initial vows does not have a vocation to our life we may feel gladness that he is ready to move on to explore God’s call to another way; even so, if we have grown to love one another, the separation will wound us. But when a brother leaves because he has ceased to rise up to the demands of God’s call, our grief will be more severe. Only truth sets us free, and the Spirit of truth will help all of us to express and face the conflicting emotions we may feel. While some brothers are experiencing anger and disappointment, others may be more conscious of relief. There may be times when we recognize that the departure of a member clears away an obstacle to the onward movement of the community. We can help one another accept the validity of our different feelings and support one another as we work through them.
The same Spirit who frees us through the truth is the Spirit of love, who will give us in due course the generosity to let our brother go with respect and hope, commending him to the love of God. In the Spirit we will be able to trust that God had a holy purpose in calling him to be a member of our brotherhood for a time. As part of our continuous self-examination as a community, we will go on to consider together what there may be for us to learn from his leaving.
It may happen that a brother in life vows comes to feel he is unable to persevere, and expresses a desire to leave the Society. The gravity of this crisis means that the community and he must embark on a process of discernment of a year’s duration to discover whether his vocation is dead, or whether the breakdown can be healed. Only after this may the Chapter release him from his membership of the Society. His vows remain binding until he is dispensed from them by the Visitor.
Whenever a man leaves, there is an opportunity for us to recognize the mystery of our vocation and to reaffirm our total dependence on God for the grace of perseverance. Jesus gave a special calling to the beloved disciple to remain until his coming. We can be steadfast only if we grow in reliance day by day on the glory of Christ’s faithful abiding in us.