Lent


Two Brothers, One Calling

On May 27, 2017, Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., was ordained to the priesthood. The Mass of Ordination was celebrated by Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in the St. Norbert Abbey Church.

Frater Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (right), and Christopher Brennan, C.S.C., in 2013.

Frater Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (right), and Christopher Brennan, C.S.C., in 2013.

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 15)

By Katrina Marshall

Like most siblings, Frater Michael Brennan, O. Praem., and his younger brother Christopher Brennan, C.S.C., have their differences. “Chris is stronger but I can run a lot farther,” said Frater Michael, tennis player and basketball coach. “Despite being smarter [and] more handsome …” began football player Christopher, laughing, “I’m probably more of an introvert.” Regardless of their contrasting hobbies and personalities, these brothers have something very special in common.

On August 28, the Feast of St. Augustine, De Pere Norbertine Frater Michael professed Simple Vows at St. Norbert Abbey. Less than four weeks previous on August 3, Christopher, of the Congregation of Holy Cross, professed First Vows at his Novitiate in Cascade, Colorado. Despite their 12-year age difference, the Brennan brothers are both on track to become priests within the next few years.

“When Mrs. Pearson asked my third grade class at Queen of All Saints to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, this is the picture I drew. My mom kept it all these years; 31 years later, I finally grew up.” —Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. | as seen in Surprised By Joy

“When Mrs. Pearson asked my third grade class at Queen of All Saints to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, this is the picture I drew. My mom kept it all these years; 31 years later, I finally grew up.” —Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. | as seen in Surprised By Joy

The brothers have strong Indiana roots, born and raised in the Hoosier State. Reflecting on their religious lives growing up, both remember praying at meals, participating in the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent, and going to Church regularly. “I knew I was going to be a priest since I was seven years old,” said Frater Michael. Christopher knows that passion for becoming a religious got passed on. “It made for an environment in which a vocation for priesthood was a normal thing to consider. Mike’s discernment is a big part of my story,” he said. The men’s Uncle Ted (their mother’s brother) will also celebrate his 50th year of priesthood in May 2017. Frater Michael graduated from St. Norbert College, the only Norbertine college in the world, in May 1999. The following month, he began the Alliance for Catholic Education Program (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame. As part of his Masters of Education program, he taught and coached in Louisiana, Chicago, and Atlanta for several years.

He returned to De Pere as a novice at St. Norbert Abbey in August 2011 and spent his novitiate year at Holy Spirit House of Studies, the Norbertine house of formation, in Chicago. Frater Michael spent his Second Year Novitiate and Apostolic Year at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, teaching math and theology to area high school students.

Christopher followed a slightly different path than his older brother. He entered the University of Notre Dame not only as a college student, but also as an undergraduate seminarian at Old College, the Congregation’s formation and discernment program. After a year-long postulancy at Notre Dame as a senior, Christopher graduated in 2012 and spent the next year at the Congregation’s Novitiate in Colorado.

Both Frater Michael and Christopher agree that, while being blessed with a vocation to priesthood and religious life is wonderful, starting to recognize a particular religious community as “home” is even more special.

As he takes his next step toward becoming a priest, Frater Michael will return to live at Holy Spirit House of Studies, where he will prepare for the priesthood at Catholic Theological Union, starting by earning his Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Theology with a concentration in ethics. Christopher will begin his Masters of Divinity at Notre Dame, living at Moreau Seminary.

Frater Michael said he feels passionately about serving others and learning from those who may have much to give but lack the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. At the heart of his vocation is the Eucharist. “The Eucharist is why I’m Catholic, and why I’m drawn to the priesthood.

“I’m truly blessed to be in formation at this time,” said Frater Michael on the day he professed his Simple Vows. The journey toward priesthood is one he is sharing with not only his blood brother, but also his community brothers, the men in formation with him.

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“He Descended Into Hell”: A Reflection for Holy Saturday

By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Today Hell cries out groaning:

‘I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.

He came and destroyed my power.

He shattered the gates of brass.

As God, He raised the souls I had held captive.’

Glory to Thy cross and Resurrection, O Lord!

—Vesperal Liturgy for Holy Saturday
“The Risen Lord is standing on the Fallen Gates of Hell in the form of a cross pulling Adam and Eve out from the underworld, their chains and shackles falling away.”

“The Risen Lord is standing on the Fallen Gates of Hell in the form of a cross pulling Adam and Eve out from the underworld, their chains and shackles falling away.”

Christ’s descent into hell is a line which we repeat in the Apostles Creed, yet it is one that is probably confusing to most folks who likely recite the words without reflection. And this neglect is often reflected in the lack of attention to the event of Holy Saturday in the Easter Triduum, yet it is at the heart of our faith.

What confuses us is the reference to “Hell.” We think of hell today as the place of final damnation. That place of which Dante wrote, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” But in ancient usage, Hades is the abode of dead. So in the Spirit the Resurrected Christ descended to the realm of the dead to free the souls of the righteous held captive there.  This is alluded to in I Peter 3:18 and following.

When we think of the Easter Triduum, we focus on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, beginning with the Great Vigil. Holy Saturday—or the time between Jesus’ death and his glorious Resurrection—is almost a non-day. There are no sacraments—only the daily Office. We treat it as almost a break between the great events.

Yet it is an important time of action. Jesus is not resting peacefully in the tomb. He has been raised in the Spirit and confronts Death, destroying its power and freeing those held captive. Because it happens out of sight, so to speak, does not mean that nothing is happening.

There is much that is important happening behind the scenes or under the surface.

—Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

While the discovery of the empty tomb is a Third Day Easter event, the reality of the Resurrected One is virtually immediate. The classic (although not the only) icon of the Resurrection is actually a depiction of the harrowing of hell: “The Risen Lord is standing on the Fallen Gates of Hell in the form of a cross pulling Adam and Eve out from the underworld, their chains and shackles falling away.” They are free—and with them, the souls of all the righteous. The hymn quoted above from the Byzantine Holy Saturday Liturgy offers a sense of the magnitude of this event.

What can we learn from all this beyond a deeper appreciation of the fullness of the Easter Triduum? There is much that is important happening behind the scenes or under the surface. If we limit ourselves to the external—the plainly visible—we lose access to the mystery of faith … indeed, the depth and mystery of ourselves and other human beings.

From an Ancient Christian Homily

“A thing strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

“He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.

“Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”


More opportunities to celebrate the season of Lent at St. Norbert Abbey »

Restless Hearts Returning to God: Lessons for Living in Lent—Palm Sunday 2018

St. Norbert Abbey presents “Restless Hearts Returning to God”—a series of Lenten video reflections by Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem., Fr. Bradley Vanden Branden, O. Praem., and Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem.

Palm Sunday features a message by Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

from St. Norbert Abbey on Vimeo

More opportunities to celebrate the season of Lent at St. Norbert Abbey »

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