Brother “Benj” rolled up the sleeves of his brown Carmelite habit and walked behind his desk to make way for the ensuing exodus of high school boys from his classroom. As Tony, a junior, grabbed his books and papers from the desk and prepared to join his friends, a sheaf of loose papers from his folder spilled and scattered all over the floor. Brother Benj stepped quickly forward to help.
|Who are the Carmelites?
The Carmelites trace their origins to hermits who settled on Mount Carmel in Palestine more than 800 years ago. They live in community but live out their service in the world. There is no one career that defines a Carmelite: They might be pastors, teachers, lawyers, firefighters. They serve in the pastoral, educational, spiritual, and other creative ministries in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. Tony’s teachers, the Carmelites at Mt. Carmel High School, are part of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, for whom the primary fundraising entity is the Society of the Little Flower. To find out how you can help support the Carmelites, visit www.littleflower.org or call 800- 621-2806. To learn more about the Carmelite Order, call 202-526-1221 or visit www.carmelites.net.
“Thanks, Brother Benj,” said Tony gratefully. Brother Benj, who was in his late 20s, wasn’t just a great Spanish teacher; he also was a great guy. He and the rest of the Carmelites at Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago had made Tony feel at home at the school since his freshman year. They genuinely cared about all of their students both in and out of the classroom. Tony smiled as he remembered the sight of a group of Carmelites cheering from the bleachers at one of his school football games.
“You coming to the game this afternoon, Brother Benj?” he asked.
“You bet,” he replied cheerfully.
“It means a lot to the team that you guys come out and support us,” Tony said. “You all seem so happy, too,” he continued feelingly after a pause, “laughing and enjoying the game with each other. You guys seem to really have a sense of, I don’t know, community, I guess.”
As he said it, Tony wondered if maybe he shouldn’t have. He didn’t want to sound like he was buttering up his teacher, but he genuinely admired the Carmelites. The sense of community they shared, he thought, was something worth having in his own life, in whatever form he could find it.
Brother Benj rose to his feet as he handed Tony the last wayward sheet of loose leaf and scrabbled his fingers through his short dark hair. “You know, Tony,” he said thoughtfully. “I could see you as one of us — as a Carmelite.” Tony blinked in surprise. Brother Benj smiled and turned to the blackboard to erase the day’s lesson.
“Er…” said Tony. “Thanks.”
Tony walked slowly toward the door, turning over his teacher’s words in his mind. On one hand, he felt humbled; Brother Benj had just given him a wonderful compliment. On the other hand, though Tony admired the Carmelites, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be one. What about having a family? Kids? Playing pro football? Tony tried to imagine what it would be like to trade in his football jersey for a brown habit like Brother Benj’s. The corners of his mouth turned up in an amused grin.
Tony folded his hands under his chin as he gazed at the computer screen in front of him. It had been about a decade since his conversation with Brother Benj. Since then he had studied at Yale, taught for four years in Boston, and returned to Chicago to figure out what he would do next. Before him on the screen were courses offered by Harvard’s graduate program in education, to which he had been accepted. The trouble was, all the courses that caught his eye were on theology.
Tony opened his e-mail and scrolled down to the message from Brother Benj, inviting him to come visit the Carmelite community at his old high school. Tony had stayed in touch with the Carmelites there, and now he was wondering if it was time to pull the thoughts that had been brewing in the back of his mind to the forefront.
Tony had had a job, a girlfriend. He’d enjoyed the time he spent with both. But something was missing in his life — something that teaching CCD on Sundays and attending daily Mass still couldn’t fulfill. It was that sense of community that he’d witnessed in the Carmelites all those years ago. Tony wanted that in his life. His heart leapt, then plummeted down into his stomach, then leapt again as he wondered: Is this really right for me?
Tony drew up Brother Benj’s message and hit reply. He stared at the empty white box for his message, paused, and then started typing. There was only one way to find out.
“Kigozi, what are you doing out there? Keep your eye on the ball!”
From halfway across the football field, a teenage boy in cleats, grass-stained uniform, and helmet nodded an acknowledgement to his coach. Tony walked alongside the action, hands clasped behind his back. “That’s it, that’s it,” he called a few moments later. “Keep that up.”
The sunshine out on the football field at Crespi Carmelite High School in Los Angeles was beating down hard that afternoon. Good thing coaching calls for shorts and a coach’s shirt, thought Tony, and not my habit.
My habit. Tony smiled to himself at the thought of the garb of his Order. He felt sure he had made the right choice in joining the Carmelites. Ministering with them, attending Mass with them, praying in chapel with them — there, at last, was the community he had been looking for. Already he had begun the two years of teaching internship that would precede his solemn vows. Where had the time gone?
Where indeed? he thought as he caught a glimpse of his watch. Tony blew the whistle to signify the end of practice. The boys jogged over, pulling off helmets to reveal matted hair and sweaty but happy faces. “Thanks, coach.” “Have a good night, coach.” “See you tomorrow, Brother Tony.”
Brother Tony. Tony smiled. He sure liked the sound of that. CD
* Based on the story of Brother Tony Mazurkiewicz