By: Pete Ascosi
Recently our family piled into our minivan and traveled for five hours to visit my sister in New Paltz, NY, followed by a visit to a Bruderhof community several miles away.
Together with six other members of the ChristLife Missionary Community—a small newly formed community that emerged from ChristLife Young Adults—we spent a couple days with the Bruderhof. Each of us was hosted by a family and shared life with them. We ate and drank together, joined in prayer and sang to our Lord, played with one another’s children, and participated in their daily work.
The visit left a deep impression on each of us and encouraged our discipleship in a number of significant ways.
Giving up Everything
The first evening after my wife, Ally, and I put our kids to sleep, we spent some down-time with other families in the communal house we stayed in. The others had a fire-side conversation with some young adult members of the Bruderhof. One of the young men spoke about the weight of joining a community where all members live in common and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He said about joining the community, "I gave up everything, only to find that I lack nothing."
During our visit these words rang true as we witnessed the lifestyle of the Bruderhof. A very simple lifestyle where nobody owns private property or has their own money, where social status is not based on whether you work as a doctor in the medical clinic or you work in the daycare or clean dishes. Their lifestyle, in the words of Henri Nouwen, is truly one of "downward mobility."
Most essentially being with the Bruderhof gave new meaning and depth to our Lord's words about the total call of discipleship, "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).
Meeting real people who are striving to live out these words in a radical way challenged each of us to take more seriously the call to give up everything for Jesus.
Caring for One Another
On Saturday night after the kids (finally) fell asleep, Ally and I shared a glass of wine and meaningful conversation interspersed with laughter with other members of the house. There was outspoken George, who is over eighty but is clearly eighteen years old on the inside. There was Norm and Ria the young couple who graciously hosted us. And there was Becky the single woman in her fifties whose job is to take care of Iris a woman with Downs Syndrome.
Each of them left a deep impression on Ally and myself. It is very clear that the years of living in community had taught them the "secret" of contentment which St. Paul speaks about (Philippians 4:12). They had also learned what it means to accompany one another and care for one another.
It became very evident to me that this care for one another isn’t incidental or just when they happen to get an opportunity. It is built into their lifestyle by design. For example, single members of the community are each assigned to families for meals and other activities for their mutual social benefit. They are being formed in the sacrificial love demanded in family life.
On Monday I worked in the factory where they manufacture adaptive equipment for adults and children with disabilities. One of the young men, Philip, shared that after high school it’s normal to take a "gap year" for service. Philip is leaving for the community in England in a few weeks to accompany and assist a boy with disabilities. I asked about what he hopes to do for the community beyond this year. He said he wants to be a nurse and that this call came as he spent many hours of accompaniment with an older member of the community who was dying of cancer.
These encounters and many others showed me the joy of caring for one another—especially those who rely upon the help of others: from young families to those with disabilities to the elderly to the dying. This accompaniment is at the heart of Christian life and our witness to the world as Pope Francis exhorts us:
"I especially ask Christians in communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another."
—Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 99
I left the Bruderhof admiring their care for one another and with a deeper zeal to build care for one another into my own personal life and the life of our community.
A Final Lesson
Sitting in the shade on a hot August afternoon on our final day with the Bruderhof, the eight of us from the missionary community, with our children playing in an adjacent sandbox, discussed the many ways we were each touched by the visit.
These ways ranged from the nature of their community meetings, to the spiritual maturity of the young people, to their modest clothing and head coverings, to their faithfulness to what the Gospel reveals about gender, marriage, the dignity of life, and other moral stances they share with the Catholic Church.
A final lesson learned is the value as a family and as a community in taking "field trips" like this to learn from others. Though I had read Bruderhof books and even heard stories from my friend Juan who had visited them earlier this year, sharing life together with them for a couple days deposited something special in each of us. As Pope Francis writes:
"If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us."
—Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 246
Ecumenical experiences and friendships stretch our faith and are an inspiration along our journey of discipleship. Not only were we impacted, those we stayed with were also deeply touched by our visit, writing to us afterwards:
We are also extremely thankful for your visit; it’s always heart stretching and encouraging to share the same path towards the same goal, the Kingdom of God! Wishing you courage to keep going and believing in faith!