Family is Not Necessarily Biological


When I first entered seminary last fall, there was one thing that I could not stand, one thing that started getting on my very last nerves.  One phrase that was repeated over and over again.  It went further than any caribou, Alka-Seltzer, Cincinnati and K-Mart, or 296 comment that Justin and Adam tortured me with (and still do).

“Seminarian Brothers.”    “Diocesan Brothers.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love the role of older brother I have in my life.  I love talking to Shannon about some new song I heard on the radio and end up practically singing it word for word to her.  I love being able to compete with Justin for almost everything.  I love being able to tickle Adam and hear his giggle.  I love picking them up from a school event just to spend a little time with them.  I love being there to cheer them on and experience their successes.  Towards the end of high school, particularly when I gained a leadership role as field commander in band, I grew further in this role of older brother by being both the leader and the person that everyone felt comfortable talking to.  To cheer them on and support them in their struggles.  To stay up late nights texting or talking to them.  So I guess you could say that I would be used to the idea by now.

But the term “brother” thrown around what seemed like haphazardly, on the verge of carelessly, seemed out of place.  Wrong.  It didn’t feel right to walk into a new way of life with people I had never met before and instantly feel comfortable calling them family.  Family was important, sacred, to me, and that wasn’t something that I was willing to change, even if it was merely by acknowledging that the term brother could relate outside of family.

Things began to change towards the end of my first semester when I finally considered the idea of brotherhood as something possible for those not named Adam and Justin Hess.  It began to dawn on me that, on this discernment journey, there were difficulties that I was not going to be able to deal with on my own.  And there were people who cared for me that I could go to, much like many came to me in my high school years.  I began to have my own older brother for the first time in my life, someone who I felt comfortable going to, even if i didn’t reveal every deep and dark secret.

You see, I realize now that calling others “brother” is not a defilement of my personal, selfish definition of family.  My family is still there, loving and supporting and annoying me.  But my definition of family only included biological family, when as Christians we should rather be defining family as each and every one of our neighbors.  We should be there to help and support all those in need.  We are all part of the Body of Christ, giving aid to those crosses others carry while also accepting aid for our own crosses.

I found the end of the year difficult to come to grips with at times.  As excited as I was to see my biological family, I came to realize that I was saying goodbye to some of my dearest family members for an extended period of time with little or no contact.  I wouldn’t be able to go down the hall to pick on a red head.  I wouldn’t be able to go across the building to see what is going on in the Pope or Brute rooms.  I wouldn’t be able to make fun of how Kentucky people talk.  I wouldn’t be able to “study” and instead talk in the Chapter Room late into the next morning.  I wouldn’t be able to go up the stairs and just around the corner to throw a tennis ball at a wall while we talk about everything and anything.

I understand why people were so quick to use the term brother now.  They understood the need for this type of family before I did.  They realized the similar journey we are all on towards the Roman Catholic Priesthood and how difficult of a road it can be at times.  And they realized it a lot quicker than I did.

Thank you to each and every one of the seminarians I have been blessed to journey with this year; you have become more than what I could have ever hoped for:





“I’ve heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return”

———“For Good” from the musical Wicked

Getting Out of the Habit

ImageWow! Almost 200 views for my first three blogs, multiple references on other people’s blogs, and a homily given about one of them.  Not too bad for a beginner!  With the school year winding down, I’m looking ahead to the summer more and more.  Home, relaxation, free time to read, and family, to name a few.  This morning, a group of us went out to cheer on another group of Brute seminarians who ran in the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon.  I decided that I would try to run it next year, so this summer I will also begin running (we will see how it goes!)


In my Intro to Theology Class, we attended a Sunday service of a different denomination.  It was an enlightening experience that, to my surprise, I enjoyed greatly.  While sharing our experiences in class, one woman who visited a Catholic Mass stated that she was overwhelmed with much of the symbolism in the church.  The thing she spoke of the most is the fact that Catholic Churches have holy water fonts at the entrances.  She was moved to tears at the idea that as people enter the church physically, they remind themselves through the holy water of their baptism–their spiritual entrance into the Church.  


Another more personal experience happened over Holy Week of this year.  On Holy Friday, there is no mass celebrated, and the main tabernacle is left empty;  in simple terms, no Jesus.  Yet, all of my family genuflected towards the empty box made by men.  I gave my younger brother a hard time about it afterwards, and he acted in the mindset of “what’s the big deal.”


We are creatures of habit.  We do something without thinking of the real reason.  And I am as guilty as any other guy.  How many times do we walk into a church and get our hand wet, bend our knee towards the front of church, without realizing that we should be remembering and giving thanks for our baptism, that we should be acnowledging and honoring our Lord’s substantial presence in the Holy Eucharist?  How many other practices do we do out of habit that have much deeper meaning behind it?


My challenge is for all of you to find the things of habit in your life: the recited prayers without meaning, even going to mass on Sundays.  Change that.  Make it more than habit; make these actions a habit that you put thought into, that you take to prayer, that you realize the true meaning behind them.


I leave you with the first three verses from the hymn “Be Thou My Vision,” a traditional Irish hymn.


Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.


In Christ’s Peace,