I punch him in the arm. Hard, but not with all I’ve got. “You idiot,” I say, “don’t forget to look both ways before you cross the street.  Remember to breathe every once in a while. And try, or at least pretend, to behave yourself.” And when I can’t think of any further putdowns, I slowly nod my head and turn away. But we both understand. We all hate saying goodbye.

And as men, we dislike sentimental goodbyes even more. Gotta be tough, right? Well, I guess I’m writing these lines in a spirit of un-toughness, on my own behalf, and, I suppose, on behalf of many others.

I am currently living in a center with over 300 young (and a few not-so-young) men studying for the priesthood with the Legion of Christ. Spring and summer is always an interesting time here in Rome. Okay, “interesting” is an overly-tough-feigning-indifference kind of word. Better to say that it’s an intensely difficult period, and for many, a period of decision. In these months, after much prayer and discernment, many discover that God is not calling them to religious and priestly life in the Legion. But that’s a negative way of putting it. Many discover with greater depth and clarity the path God is inviting them to walk—their true vocation.

It’s hard because over the years everyone forms many solid and profound friendships. In a deeply spiritual way, religious life is family life—we don’t call each other “brother” for nothing. And when following your vocation means going back home, it affects those relationships. Separation hurts. You’ve lived rough and amazing moments together, and when brothers are separated, the relationship changes—that can be a good thing, but it’s difficult. You’re not living the same lifestyle anymore, sharing the same or similar experiences. You’ve fought battles together, and those scars, badges of honor, never leave.

There are people God brings into our lives to support us, help us up when we fall and whom, in some mysterious way, God allows us to help too. Some God will have accompany us for our whole lives; others walk alongside us for a limited time. Either one of these possibilities can happen with someone who leaves.

Anyway, these lines are dedicated, with much respect, affection and gratitude to all those former Legionaries who are following God along a different path, especially those I’ve been closer with personally. The journey been so worth it. I’ve learned so much from each of you, and the strength of your decision gives me courage to follow my own vocation. Thank you. Once a brother, always a brother.

Photo by Marc Rafanell López on Unsplash