“All priests, who are constituted in the order of the priesthood by the sacrament of Order, are bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood…” — Catechism of the Catholic Church 1568
I grew up in a house with two older brothers. As the youngest, I wasn’t always a part of the activities and sports that filled their days. I took my share of punches, and I enacted my share of revenge on them. My brothers still recall that I used to keep lists of their wrongdoing so I could blackmail them for things. (For the record, I don’t condone that behavior.)
But once my brothers and I grew older, especially once we were no longer living under the same roof, our bond grew. We learned to depend on each other, to support one another, to challenge each other, and most importantly to make fun of one another (usually without crossing the line). To this day, it is my brothers who can best keep me humble, whether with a quick shot or a legitimate insight.
So when I arrived at the seminary, I was surprised to hear that people started referring to one another as “brothers.” Mostly, the common title DB took some getting used to. I thought people were just calling me by my initials until I realized everyone had the title – I soon learned that DB meant Diocesan Brother, a name for other seminarians studying for the same Bishop and diocese. It seemed that even before ordination, we were being prepared for this new sort of brotherhood – different than just being brothers in Christ.
At the ordination ritual, there is an incredible moment that can sometimes be overlooked by the other rich symbols of the priesthood. The Bishop ends the ordination ritual with a kiss of peace to the newly ordained priest, acknowledging him as a co-worker, a son, and even a brother (CCC 1567). Next, all of the priests present exchange the sign of peace with the new priest, their new brother. That moment is not just a congratulation – it is a welcome into the fraternity of the priesthood, the family of servants, and the band of brothers.
That brotherhood means we celebrate together – just last week I got a text message from one brother priest, saying that he was now in the “6 in 12 club” – meaning he had celebrated all six Sacraments a priest can offer, all in a 12 hour period. I knew he wasn’t bragging – he was humbly rejoicing in the gift of his priesthood, and I returned the text with a prayer of thanksgiving for him. There are the shared challenges, too, and the brotherhood means we often walk through dark valleys together. When a tragedy strikes our parish, or a parent dies, or we feel the pains of fatherhood, or the stress of endless days, it is a brother priest who can understand, offer prayer, and also offer counsel. We also understand the burden of caring for souls, of inviting Christ to destroy the evil we see so clearly, and the challenge of the promises we’ve taken to the Bishop – simple living, a prayerful life, obedience, and celibacy. While our married friends teach us much about how to love, it often takes a brother priest to teach us how to best love as a priest.
As in any family, being a part of that brotherhood doesn’t always mean that we get along perfectly. We have legitimate disagreements, we sometimes speak uncharitably of each other; sometimes we don’t invest enough in each other. But the graces of such a bond seem to outweigh any of our selfish humanity that gets in the way, and I pray they always will.
That brotherhood means that there are certain parts of our lives we share only with one another, because we have a common bond, a shared experience, an insight and understanding as to what God asks of us. Like men on a battlefield we serve together, often arm-in-arm, in a battle for souls. This brotherhood, though, is about more than a fraternity, more than a bond of people who have the same job. We have been given the same calling, the same gift, the same Sacrament, and that builds something that is almost unexplainable. I realized it most strongly recently, in a single moment. After going to confession to a brother priest, and hearing the words of absolution proclaimed over me, I made the sign of the cross. As the priest took off his purple stole, he kissed it and placed it over my shoulders, quietly saying the words, “Now bless me, my brother, and father, for I have sinned…” I resolved in that moment not just to give thanks for the priesthood each day, but also for the invitation to be a part of this band of brothers.