When you write a lot about what is in essence, a superfluous topic such as television, you can be filled with trepidation and a distinct sense of inadequacy when something truly important happens. …Like when you learn that your brother is going to become a bishop.
But whereas I prove on a regular basis I am no theological expert, I am currently a self-identified specialist when it comes to knowing what it feels like to learn your brother is a newly-appointed bishop.
When my brother told me of this seismic change in his life we shared some awkward silence. Now I know what people feel when they claim an out-of-body experience.
There we were, two Valley boys from Van Nuys, looking down at the ground trying to figure out what to say to one another and trying to understand why one of us was soon to be ordained to the episcopate and become a successor to the Apostles.
I believe our first mutual reaction was humility … and not false humility. Our family has an awful lot to be humble about.
We were a large family at a time when large families, in the pre-Vatican II Catholic “ghetto” environment in which we were bread and buttered, was the norm.
Sure, there were a lot of families smaller than ours, but there were a lot of families bigger than ours as well. There was more than a hint of triumphalism and tribalism in our clan but it was the timbre of the times when the only people we knew were Catholics … and those who should be.
We grew up in a time when there were only two types of people in the world, Catholics and those who should be.
This story could be about my brother becoming a bishop, but it is not. It could be about a man, my brother, who became a great parish priest and obediently took on new duties at the request of his archbishop, but it is not.
This story is about six people who will not be standing, sitting and kneeling in the pews at the cathedral when my brother receives his ring, miter and crosier and take his place as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Six people who may not be there in body but will surely be there in spirit … and by spirit I do not suggest some new-age “they live in our memories” kind of way.
Rather, they will be present in a very real sense and will probably have much better seats than any of my brothers and sisters.
Not sure if it takes a village to build a bishop but in my brother’s case and in mine and in my other brothers’ and sisters’, building a foundation of faith in the Church and her sacraments took something extraordinary.
It may have been wrapped in exceedingly ordinary and flawed wrapping paper, but the gifts we received from these six pairs of shoulders our family all stand on cannot be truly measured. I am not proud I too have had these shoulders to stand on, unsteady as I do, but deeply grateful that for some unknown reason, God graced us with them.
This is not to suggest that a family of 10 children growing up in a big rickety two-story California Craftsman built in the early 1900s was some kind pastoral tableau of familial bliss out of a 1950s television show, filled with a serene, pipe-smoking dad who always had time to sit his children on his knee and dispense calm and reasoned advice while even the “irrepressible” siblings always learned a valuable lesson in tolerance and brotherly love before they were tucked into bed in their perfectly appointed bedrooms each night.
It was more times than not, reminiscent of the scene in the original “Planet of the Apes” that depicted a crazed gorilla spraying a caged Charlton Heston with a fire hose while Heston’s character screamed at the top of his lungs, “It’s a mad house!”
I’m sure there were neighbors and even extended family members who would scratch their heads and maybe even say a little prayer of thanks of their own, that this particular family dynamic had passed them by. It was chaotic at times, it was cruel and sad at times.
It was spectacularly joyful at times. … It was a time I wouldn’t trade with anyone.
We may have been the sum of all of our imperfections, but as manic as things sometimes got, we had anchors.
These anchors may not sound like much to the world, but they were everything in our world, starting with our dad, a grocer who suffered more disappointments and trials any person has a right to expect; our mom, an un-churched Southern Baptist who embraced the faith and had a devotion to our Blessed Mother that would put any woman stepping off a boat from Ireland on Ellis Island to shame; our Uncle Rich, a one-armed cranky old guy (he was old when he was 25, according to all family accounts); our brothers Roger and Raymond, who were both taken from us far sooner than we would have desired; and our uncle, Father John L. Brennan, a profound man who loved the poor and society’s outliers with a no frills aspect of Christian love.
And just how do these six disparate types make a bishop?
To be continued.