In becoming an uncle, I realize that I have entered into a new moment in my religious life and priesthood.
For several weeks now I have telling my Latin gag about how though an uncle I have no obligation to be avuncular. When one woman I know got it and laughed out loud, I wanted to quote one of the great anti-heroes of my youth, Henry Rollins, and say, 'I will follow you on bloody stumps through the snow,' but that, of course, would have been inappropriate. The sentiments were there, though, in a chaste way.
When I first came into the culture of religious life, I was surprised by several aspects of how religious related to their families of origin. First, I was relieved to discover that it was entirely normal to have family members who were hostile to the religious vocation; in fact, it was often the ones from Catholic families who were given the most trouble! Second, I was surprised to see sets of siblings in religious life. I guess I had thought that a religious vocation was such an odd thing that there would never be more than one from a single family. My intuition about this was entirely wrong. I have met several sets of brothers in the Order and have known many who had sisters in religious life. Just the other day I met a young diocesan seminarian with a twin brother who is a cloistered Carmelite.
But most of all, I noticed the way religious and priests talked about their nieces and nephews. It was sort of like how other people talked about their grandchildren, rejoicing in the milestones of their lives and providing a curious, extra-parental connection to the preceding generation. When I ever had a spare moment to have a thought during the three days of obsequies for Fr. Bernard last week, I would reflect also upon his unclehood. His nephews formed a kind of inner circle of family as it related to him, and their griefs and gratitudes were so strong. One of my prayers for his passing has been to ask his prayers to obtain the grace of good friar-uncleness for me.