I recently completed a questionnaire about myself. One of the questions was: What would be the title of your biography? I responded “Big Brother, Little Brother, Always A Brother.” This does indeed capture my life story in a title.
This past March marked 41 years since I became a big brother. I have always loved being a big brother. There is a sense of responsibility, protection and purpose in this role. I am a big brother to three siblings and I do not take this role lightly, just ask any of them. There have been times where fulfilled my role well and other times I didn’t step up to the plate to guide well or defend their name the way I should have. Still I remained a big brother.
Being a big brother can also leave one in a vulnerable state. In several situations all eyes can easily turn to you to have answers and the right words. I know that this didn’t always pan out well for me, but I tried to hold the delicate position of big brother with dignity, especially the dignity of the sibling. I have had to ask for clarification and forgiveness from my siblings and they have (for the most part) readily given it. Growing up my interests were very different from my two brothers and my protective instincts for my baby sister still run pretty high. It was in being relationship with these three that I first learned about the depths of my strength, the ways that worked for me, the power of love, the need to own up to wrongs, the joy of community, the safety of heart strings being pulled, the honesty in fighting words, the importance in letting go of grudges and the value of God-given gifts shared. It is in the gift of being a big brother that prepared me for being a little brother.
So how does one who is a big brother become a little brother? Well in my case it happened when I joined the Order of Friars Minor or Franciscans. The word Friars is based on a translation of the French word Frère which means brother While minor obviously means lesser or little. When one joins the Franciscans, they become a lesser or little brother. I am ever grateful for my three siblings, because of them I have been able to embrace this role as little brother. Being a lesser or little brother has new demands and challenges. In the 5 years I have been a Friar I have learned about lesser/little in a variety of ways from board games to chores, from community discussions to meals. Being little is about surrender and trust; knowing that my lowliness is engulfed in God’s grandeur of love. Being little means that I strive for brotherhood with the Friars I live with and the whole of our order. Differences do arise and perspectives do vary but being a Friar calls me first and foremost to be brother. Being a lesser brother doesn’t mean I am a doormat; it does however mean I must look beyond my view and see the view of the one I stand side by side with as a brother. Being a lesser brother continually calls me to reflect on what I have, what I offer, how I build community, what I need and don’t need and how this calls me beyond myself and the safety of our fraternity. Being a little brother challenges me to always be a brother.
By always being a brother, I must look with eyes that don’t see projected images or media-given stereotypes. I must see the person before me created in the image and likeness of God. I must be willing to embrace the other and acknowledge and celebrate their value. I must be willing to walk along side and listen in good times and in bad, in joys and sorrows. I must be willing to be vulnerable; trusting and surrendering into God so as to be a space for the siblings of the world to encounter Divine Love.
Always a brother began those 41 years ago when I very excitedly welcomed my brother, it grew a bit more when the second brother joined us and we were a perfect trio of uniqueness. When my sister came into the picture my brother skills were stepped up a notch. Over the years I have been blessed with amazing people in my life and some pretty amazing friends who have been as close to me as siblings. Over the years I have been blessed with amazing people in my life and some pretty amazing friends who have been as close to me as siblings. There is a small group of men I’m thinking of who have expanded my comprehension about brotherly love and there is a small group of women who have established themselves as sisters in my life. I am in awe by lessons learned and the risks I have taken to be a brother because of my blood siblings and these friend siblings.
As I reflect on the journey and consider the lives of families I have been invited into and the families I have ministered with the word brother takes on a greater depth again. The tables I have sat around being part of the family, the children I have seen grow into young adults and the pains and rejoicing I have been honored to hold are the gifts this dimension of brotherhood has offered. My role of big brother has expanded and now it comes with the lessons of being a little brother.
As I consider how my life has shifted, grown and has been challenged since I accepted the call of being a Friar Minor, brotherhood continues to expand and open me up to listening to God’s grand designs. My life as a Franciscan is never dull and it has its challenges however it always seems to bring the perspective of brother into view very quickly. It is from the journey of life so far that I choose again on this Religious Brothers Day (May 1) to commit myself as a Big Brother, Little Brother, Always a Brother. It is with a grateful and awe-filled heart that I say thank you to those who have helped shape me as a brother.
Non-ordained Religious Brothers from all walks of life and religious communities the world over do so many different tasks and share their gifts with communities, families and churches in unique ways. I humbly ask you to pray for us today on May 1 that we may continue to respond well in being a brother for the people of God.