Sometimes as we’re walking through life, minding our own business, we will be struck by a thought that sticks with us for the rest of the day. That happened to me today, and the thought was of my brother Gary. Gary was the third oldest in our family of six. I was the youngest, by far, thirteen years younger than Gary. In my childhood memories, Gary is probably the sibling who shows up the least, yet he told me one of the most reassuring things I can ever remember being told. And I was probably about eight years old when he said it.
My family was nominally Catholic, which is to say that if you asked any of them they would say that they were Catholic, although no one ever attended Mass. As a result of this, and some other things, I was never baptized as a baby. In fact, I wasn’t baptized until I was 37 years old, but I’ve already covered that part (see here). But, like all good Catholic families, we had a crucifix in the house. It was hidden in the basement laundry room, but we had one. I remember staring sitting in that laundry room for hours on end staring at that crucifix (ok, it was probably five minutes, but that’s an eternity to a kid). Then one day, I made a discovery. I took the crucifix down from its spot and investigated it, like all good kids would do, and found that the back slid off. And inside there were two candles and a small vial of water. ”What’s this?” I wondered. So, I went off and asked the nearest adult, my brother Gary.
I don’t remember at all what he said about the candle, but I remember him telling me that the water was holy water. ”What’s holy water?” I asked. Gary explained that it was water that had been blessed by a priest, and was used to bless things as well as for baptisms. ”What’s baptism?” I asked. To this day I don’t remember how he explained baptism to me, but what I do remember is this – he explained to me that I had not been baptized, but if anything ever happened to me he would take that vial and baptise me. I don’t think I had any idea what he was talking about, but I know that I felt a great sense of peace from that time on. I knew that something about this baptism could somehow save me, but I had no idea how. It would be almost thirty years until I would figure out exactly how it could save me.
The other profound memory of Gary comes from a wedding that we went to when I was young. I don’t remember whose wedding it was, or what kind of church it was (definitely not Catholic), but I remember that Gary genuflected going in and out of his pew. ”That’s how you enter and leave a church” he told me. Of course, I know that we don’t genuflect in a non Catholic church, but what I remember from this was that you had to show respect when in a church. I think of that to this day every time I see someone genuflect at Mass, Gary’s voice is in my head.
Gary passed away twenty years ago. He was 32 years old. I probably have gone long stretches of time without even thinking about him in those twenty years. Since my conversion, however, he is with me every time I go to Mass. And I’m not only talking about the Communion of Saints. He’s there with me every time I dip my finger in the holy water. He’s there with me when I watch the people genuflect as they enter the pew. And he was there with me on that day in 2010 when I was finally baptized, and I’m sure he had a huge smile on his face. Today I am going to pray for my brother Gary, because somehow I felt he was with me in a special way today. God Bless you my brother, and may you rest in peace.