Being a brother is like surfing
Image: Brother Nich Perez, C.S.C. (center) jams with students Roman Sanchez and Alyssa Bernal of Holy Cross of San Antonio, the school where he teaches, in a concert called Acoustic Night he pioneered at the school.
BROTHER? You’re a religious brother? What the heck is that?” Most of the time these questions hang in the air when I meet other people for the first time. The students in the high school where I teach, my classmates in grad school, and strangers beside me in planes have all wondered what a religious brother is. And most of the time I start off with an analogy to answer their queries: Being a brother is like surfing.
Having grown up near the beach and having experienced the effervescence of waves and a surfboard, I usually recount how a surfer patiently waits all day for the perfect wave to catch. The few seconds at the top of that wave are intense moments that can make you feel that God has called you and blown that moving body of water especially for you. In that eons-long second, God whispers within the depths of your heart how much he loves you, and you revel in the freedom of that surf reverberating throughout your body and soul. And when you fall off your board and splash into the water, you continue to swim against the tide to retrieve your floating board, to wait for that wave to come back, and then to start over again.
Being a brother is pretty much like that. Every day is an adventure. It is a daily commitment to wait and embrace that wave of God’s love, and to follow wherever the wave of God leads you. We brothers do not know fully where we are going, but we are certain in the hope that we will reach our destination in the arms of God.
Never a dull moment
To give you a more complete picture of me, imagine a beach bum in a religious habit, playing a reggae tune with his guitar, or wondering what the next sequence for his shooting script is. As unorthodox as it sounds, it proves the point that religious life is never boring. Like any other way of life, a brother’s life is full of surprises and challenges. It’s a meaningful life that includes plenty of fun because of the abundant opportunities to serve, grow, and build stronger relationships.
I have been with the Brothers of Holy Cross for almost five years now and have been a full member for two years. The preparation for religious life—or “formation” as it is called—was a bit tough and arduous, somewhat like boot camp in certain respects, but the truth and meaning that can be found along the way make it worth the journey. The transition from my old life, which was spent mostly in the fast world of advertising before I joined the brothers, to a much simpler lifestyle was a great surrender and a tremendous source of spiritual liberation.
The balance of relationships
As in any other vocation, being a brother is about maintaining a balance in relationships. Brotherhood is about balancing my relationship with God and with others, including my community, my family, and the people I work with in my ministry. As the youngest Holy Cross brother in the United States, this balance is critical for me. For instance, if a person were to focus only on one friend and neglect the others, he or she would wind up without any friends at all. Something similar is true for me: If I get my relationships out of balance, I could wind up losing the purpose of my life.
Relationship with God
My relationship with God is of prime importance because without prayer, and the love and faith for Jesus on the cross, there is no point in deciding to become a brother. God is the ultimate reason why religious vocations exist. When I ask my students, “What is your greatest aspiration in life?” most of the time their answers include: “. . . to be happy.” And most of the time the search for happiness is redirected to the search for God in our lives.
A few years before I decided to be a brother, my mother, Zenaida, who was my first teacher of faith, asked me a simple question—this in spite my lucrative job and fast-paced life. “Nicholai, are you happy?” My mother knew that something was lacking in my life that I never quite understood. I was so eager to face the world by myself. It was a hard question to answer at that time, knowing for a fact that I would lie to her about it because I could not find direction in my life. I was embarrassed with the irony of my reality, and I didn’t want her to worry.
After a few years of searching for God in many places, then finding the Brothers of Holy Cross in Austin, Texas, it seemed to me that such a categorical question has a simple answer when you start to know where your heart belongs. Now when I face my mother, or anyone who asks the same question, it is easy for me to look them straight in the eye and smile with confidence. The answer is: “Yes.”
Indeed, brotherhood is a journey to discovering peace and happiness in the bond with God that we try to nurture every day together in community. This is the same bond of faith that carries us all through life, especially in times of hardship and pain. And I find this bond of faith and brotherhood particularly meaningful as I write these words today. I am able to share my strength with my mother who currently struggles with cancer, and I can offer God’s hope to the rest of my family. That is a concrete example of the spiritual foundation that the Brothers of Holy Cross have built within me.
Relationships with others
For brothers community is a big thing. In living together, praying together, and ministering together, we grow as brothers, trusting each other and helping each other to fulfill our mission, which is, in the words of Holy Cross founder Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., to make God known, loved, and served. And what’s cool about being in community is that we bring with us our gifts and share them with each other and with those we serve.
For instance, two of my passions are making films and making music. I use these talents in my ministries when I strum the guitar for concerts and liturgies, when I teach my students, and when I write and direct plays or videos. The brothers never fail to tap the potential of each member so that we can be harbingers of hope wherever and whenever we are sent. And perhaps as a media specialist I am able to use my talents and skills in technology to fulfill our mission in one way or another, especially in this era of iPods and the internet.
For me, living with the brothers has given me a chance to experience the beauty of cultural diversity. I live with six other brothers from around the world. Because we take turns cooking for our community, every day is a happy gastronomic adventure. So it could be Mexican for Monday, Filipino or Asian food on Tuesday, or a European dish on Wednesday—which proves my point again that there is never a boring day as a brother.
Along the path to religious life I have met some inspiring and interesting characters in the community. These are the brothers who have spent their lives in service, traveling around the world with an ardent zeal for helping others and sharing their faith. They have taught me a lot of things, vestiges of wisdom that cannot be found in books or on the internet. I have had the most amazing conversations with these men, who never seem to run out of energy, stories, ideas, and blazing charisma.
Still and all, being a religious brother is not an easy life, but it is a life worth living and a vocation that is worth giving a try. It is as exhilarating as surfing, but you have to choose and dare yourself to take on the wave of life no matter how big or small. So I invite you: Take the plunge!
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