Why I hate Tuesdays and Thursdays

By Brother Matthew McKenna, C.S.C. An evening class takes this brother from a highlight of his day. Here’s why waiting for dinner can mean so much.

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Image: These community times, in the great room around the fireplace, are one of the main reasons I became a brother.

I HAVE A LOVE-HATE relationship with Tuesdays and Thursdays. On these evenings I’m taking my last class for my teacher’s certification. This class rocks. The professor is awesome, and my five classmates are excited about learning how to provide the best possible education for their students. Our evenings together are energizing, interesting, and fun. I love Tuesdays and Thursdays because I’m in one of the best classes of my life.
 
But I hate Tuesdays and Thursdays because I have to go to the class. Going is painful, but not for the usual reasons. Granted, it’s in the evening, and I arrive after working 10 hours at San Juan Diego Catholic High School. That makes for a long day.

But the main reason I hate going to such a favored class is that I have to walk through the community room to get out the front door. Our community room is where all the brothers I live with congregate for half an hour or so every day before dinner. This is community time, and I hate missing it.

Room for community
These community times, in the great room around the fireplace, are one of the main reasons I became a brother. I first met the brothers in that room. When I came to Austin on a vocation visit to explore the Congregation of Holy Cross, my current home was the first stop. Brother Joe led me into the community room a little while before dinner. If I felt shy or intimidated by being in a room full of unfamiliar faces, I quickly overcame it because I was immediately drawn into conversation. The brothers were interested in who I was and where I was from. They told jokes. A can of Coke found its way into my hand. We debated who would win the big football game that weekend. Before I knew it, I was not in a stranger’s house but in my house. I knew I belonged with these men.

In Holy Cross houses, the community room always has a prominent place because it is the focus of our lives. The common area is where we share our lives with one another. It is the place where we gather after work to spend time and to encourage one another. From the community room, we go and share a meal. And from the table, we go to the chapel to share prayer. The gathering in the great room initiates our daily ritual of spending time together.

This being together is what being a brother is all about. After all, brother implies a relationship. It’s impossible to be a brother in isolation, apart from others. Our community time is where the bonds of those relationships are formed and nurtured. What others, observing from the outside, might describe as a social gathering is sacred time for brothers, as important as ministry or prayer. It might not look like much, but it nurtures the soul. That’s why it pains me to walk past the brothers on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The gift of stories
Time together is a primary, spiritual element of being a brother because it is mutual and formative. There is a give-and-take to these encounters. I give to the brothers I live with—many of whom are older and semiretired—the stories of my ministry. Every day when I come home, Brother Romard asks me about the day’s activities. He wants to hear about my students’ progress and struggles. In this way, they become his students as well. Teaching is not just my ministry but our ministry. I also give the brothers my attention as they tell about their days.
 
At least once a week, I sit with Brother Carl. As we eat peanuts together, he shares the details of his latest painting or sculpture. I’m not an artist, but I like hearing how he sees the world and tries to capture his vision through art. As a retired art teacher, Brother Carl loves to share his passion for the workings of the artistic process. Another brother I often sit with is Brother Keric. A natural storyteller with a flair for humor, he enjoys telling about religious life in the 1940s and 50s and his missionary exploits in Brazil.

As a young teacher, I have the privilege of mingling with a roomful of master teachers every day. I would not have survived my first year of teaching without the wise and compassionate counsel of Brother Patrick, delivered during conversations in the community room before dinner.

And quite often I am put at ease after a long, tough day by the playful banter of Brother Don or the calmness of Brother Andrew. I’ve been encouraged in my prayer life through my time around the fireplace listening to Brother Edwin and Brother Johnny.

Prayer and work
I am the brother I am because of this community time. My preparation to become a religious of Holy Cross has largely consisted of soaking up what each of my brothers has to offer. Sometimes I am asked to explain the “spirituality of Holy Cross” or “what it means to be a brother.” I find this hard to do because the essence of these concepts is not so much in words but in being around my brothers. I can only invite others to experience it for themselves. After being with the brothers for a time, you notice the effect of their presence and get a sense of what being a brother is all about.

This sense of community, of brotherhood, that is created and fostered during our daily time together, is expressed in the other aspects of our common life, namely prayer and ministry. In the mornings, before heading off to school, and in the evenings, after dinner, the brothers here at St. Joseph Hall gather in our chapel for prayer. These prayer times are special for me because I’m praying with and for people I know—people with whom I live and serve. The brotherhood we form during community time makes the prayer we share more intimate than what I have experienced elsewhere. Truly, this is family prayer.

Also, the brotherhood formed during time in the community room is expressed in our common ministry. At the high school, I teach with four other Holy Cross brothers, all of whom live with me at St. Joseph’s Hall. The faculty and the students often refer to us collectively as “the brothers,” not only because we all have that title, but also because we have a common spirit and share a care and concern for one another. This cannot be faked.

I hate Tuesdays and Thursdays because I miss out on what makes my life and my vocation work—my brothers. Yet, the community has sent me forth to learn so that I can be an effective minister and teacher. So, I walk through the community room on my way to class. My brothers call out, “Have a great class” and promise to save me a plate. I thank them and relish the thought that next semester I won’t have to hate Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Brother Matthew McKennaBrother Matthew McKenna entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1997. He teaches theology at San Juan Diego Catholic High School in Austin, Texas

 

2008 © TrueQuest Communications

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