My brother Andrew is two years older than me, but he was three grade levels ahead because I repeated 4K.
He finished two years of college before deciding he felt called to be a priest. He made the decision to continue that discernment process by entering the seminary. So as I began my senior year of high school, he started seminary.
My parents and I had some indication this might be the right direction for him, so it wasn’t a total shock. But he was dating someone at the time, so he had to break that off.
I was very proud of my brother. Proud of him for taking such a big leap and giving himself a chance to see if this was the right path. I was proud of him for going through formation and receiving a proper education, more relevant for priestly responsibilities than what he would receive at a public university.
In high school it was pretty cool to share with teachers who also taught my brother that he was starting the seminary, especially considering I was going to a Catholic high school.
As I got into college, the novelty began wearing off. I would go home for the weekend or for a holiday, and a lot of people from church would approach me. These encounters seemed to follow a script:
A seemingly obligatory and socially dictated “Hi, Lindsay, how are you?”
I replied, “Fine.” (I then continued to rack my brain for something else to share, some additional detail of life at college. The person quickly jumped to what seemed to be the real reason for talking to me.)
“So how’s your brother doing? Which seminary is he at again? Does he like it? How much longer does he have? How cool is it that your brother is going to be a priest. You must be so proud!”
No, people didn’t typically rattle off so many questions without letting me respond, but they had a lot more follow up questions concerning my brother.
I understood that these people were merely trying to show interest and support. They were genuinely interested and curious about the process. It wasn’t intended to be a snub.
They didn’t intend to make me a backstage worker on a production of my own life. An odd metaphor, I know, but one that came to mind often. When I got questions like this, I felt like he was on stage and in the spotlight while I was peeking from behind the red curtain. Granted I didn’t like being in the spotlight/center of attention but I at least wanted to be on the stage!
I knew I wasn’t an easy person to talk to but it still hurt to think I had to compete with him when he wasn’t there.
Over the years it has gotten easier to deal with these situations. But at times that melancholic thought pops back up that people are only talking to me because of this sibling relationship rather than who I am.
I think this situation hit me harder because I was already struggling with my identity and where I fit in.
In some ways, I suppose it’s similar to when parents have children: the focus turns to the kids more than the adults. There are more questions about the child’s development than how the parents are doing. I know I’ve been guilty of doing that too, especially when I’m unsure of what to say to the parents. They always seem eager to share about their child’s latest achievement.
Brotherly and pastoral advice for the win
When I got to college, I started reaching out to my brother more. I felt guilty that I hadn’t done it when he started college. Several missed opportunities for sibling bonding, although maybe he did better with the transition than I did.
During my second year of college, several things began lining up in matters of faith. Of all the things to request for a birthday gift, I asked my parents for a new bible. The one I had was a gift from my First Holy Communion which was illustrated with Precious Moments characters. Other things stood out to me during the semester — ad campaigns and activity I saw on campus — and I’d share these observations with my brother. He’d commend me for noticing, assuring me that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. And he encouraged me to keep listening.
He sent me talks on CD, and I devoured these. I have the notebooks to prove that I not only listened but took detailed notes. These CDs included talks about the value and importance of the sacrament of reconciliation and tips for making a good examination of conscience. A talk about the Mass and what’s really happening.
I shared with him about random moments when I felt a strong nudge to pray the rosary. And I wasn’t one to regularly use this devotion. He encouraged me not to brush off those moments but to follow through.
I took these in and still wanted more. I wasn’t getting the faith development and education that I wanted through PACT. That ministry was still mostly social.
So my brother encouraged me to strongly consider daily Mass. That seemed like a bold move. And I was skeptical that it could make a radical difference, but I gave it a chance.
I knew that a nearby church offered daily Mass in the morning. Really early. As in 6:30 a.m.
As it happened, I was taking an 8 a.m. class four days a week in the upcoming spring semester. Normal preparations would mean getting up at 7. I wasn’t the type to roll out of bed and go straight to class. There was no chance of me skipping breakfast. So I conceded that getting up an hour earlier was possible. That meant packing my books and laying out clothes the night before so that I could get ready and dash out the door quickly without disturbing my roommate too much. I had to walk across the street to reach my car and then it was about a five minute drive to the church.
Since Mass would end with plenty of time to get back to campus and eat breakfast before heading to class, it seemed like a foolproof plan. The only thing standing in my way was deciding to do it.
After a few visits to church, and putting this new routine in motion, it really wasn’t too hard to continue making the decision to get up early. It was a great experience. I got to see how the daily readings explore more of the Bible; you get a fuller picture of things than what is highlighted on Sundays.
It was amazing to see the contrast of darkness and light, literally. I walked to my car in the darkness and emerged from the church with the sunrise. Sometimes I walked to my car tired and annoyed. There was the temptation to head back to my bed. Is this really that important? I can skip this one time, right? But after mass those doubts were gone. There was calm and peace and hopefulness. I was much better equipped to focus in class.
I made a new friend in the process, too. I shared the idea of daily mass with those at PACT. One girl took me up on the offer to ride together. I hadn’t interacted with her much, mostly because she was a grad student. It was a bit odd to see her writing things down because her face would be so close to her paper. But it makes sense. She was legally blind. It’s not that she couldn’t see anything but she relied heavily on magnification, especially when studying. Naturally she was unable to drive, so she welcomed the opportunity of being picked up. I don’t think we missed a day the whole semester. She was inspiring, though. Not letting vision problems get in the way of pursuing a degree.
I will say in retrospect I wish the morning church group was more welcoming that semester. I don’t think anyone acknowledged college students participating and regularly attending. It didn’t stop me from going, but it would have helped build a sense of community.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)