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