It was an awkward moment. I remember I had already started talking when I walked into my twin brother’s room one afternoon. I should have knocked. My brother and I stood motionless for a moment in utter silence, staring at each other over a TV tray set up like an altar, with an embroidered pillow case carefully arranged over the top and candles on each side. I think my brother was using Saltines as his stand-in Host, his customary iced tea for the wine. That moment was probably the first time I had ever really thought of the Mass and priesthood as a vocation. Until that moment, I guess if I thought of the priesthood or religious life at all it was with the assumption that priests just kind of came with the Church, no assembly required. It never occurred to me until I looked across that TV tray that anyone actually decided to become a priest, much less desired it enough to practice at home.
It would be another seventeen years until I heard that call and understood how deep and consuming that desire to serve can be, but looking back I can see now that my brother was already preparing and no doubt dreaming of becoming a priest at twelve years old. He continued to gravitate toward the priests in our Catholic High School for the next three years and by senior year I thought it was inevitable that he would become a priest. Toward the end of our senior year, however, something happened that sent him in another direction. I’ve never gotten the full story to this day, but what I’ve gathered is that my brother had a heart-to-heart with his favorite priest, who talked him out of joining the seminary. As I have often said in this blog, nothing is wasted. Even journeys that take a long time seem to pick up character and depth as they meander to their destination, like Moses and the Israelites in the desert. The people who finally reached Canaan were not only an entirely different generation of Hebrews altogether, but were also quite different spiritually and psychologically from those who had left Egypt forty years before. My brother’s story, and mine for that matter, has that quality to it.
When my brother asked me what community he thought he should contact first, I found myself thinking about vocation differently than I ever had. I started thinking of all the communities I had contacted and visited thus far and put my twin brother, the heart of my heart, in the midst of them as a brother among brothers. The choice became clear at that point. I immediately introduced him to the community that I knew would love him best and allow him to love them in return. I recommended him to the Carmelites. Every person is different and every person’s ability to love and style of conveying love is unique. I think there is a place in the Church for every vocation. But when it came to giving my best to the Carmelites, I only have myself and my brother to give. And when it comes to giving the best to my brother, only the Carmelites would do him justice. Let the Holy Spirit do what he will with both of them this weekend.