Recently we celebrated the funeral Mass of Brother Joel Stern, a Franciscan Brother of the Poor. Joel served his community in various capacities, having been provincial and fulfilling other roles of service. He had also taught in various situations and assisted in parish work. He was well known in Cincinnati and famous for always having a joke to tell—some would make you laugh, others would at least bring a smile. My favorite smile was brought on from a postcard he sent, which was to inform me that he would be glad to help with a retreat. Scrawled in big letter across the face of the postcard was “CONFIDENTIAL.” I took a double take before realizing what he was doing.
One of the Brothers gave the eulogy and mentioned a number of Joel’s outstanding traits. But what hit me most was when the Brother said:
“For Joel, ‘Brother’ was not just a noun; it was a verb. He brothered his brothers and many others.”
It struck me that that is exactly how Brother Joel came across.
It also struck me that this is a perfect way to appreciate the incarnation: In Jesus, God came to brother all human beings. Perhaps we first think about his teaching and his miracles, then his giving of his life for us. He also brothered the scribes and Pharisees when he warned them of their hypocrisy. He continues to brother us through his Spirit. He gives a striking example of brothering in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.
Come to think of it, is this not a helpful way to think of the commandment to love our neighbor? We are called to “brother” or “sister” all our brothers and sisters under God.
The next time we meet another human being, we might ask: “How can I sister or brother this sister or brother?”
Featured photo credit: Chris Sharp/freedigitalphotos.net