Aunt Carol: A Reflection on Mary, Death, & a Story I have never told about my Vocation.

A Visit:

Today, I drove my Grandma and my Mom up to Aurora, Illinois so that my Grandmother could visit her sister one last time. Aunt Carol has been struggling with several different illnesses lately, but as her breathing has gotten harder and harder, the doctors and she, think that her remaining time here is short.

We had a beautiful visit, full of lots of laughs, some tears, and a lot of story telling. I can’t tell you what I felt watching my Grandma reminisce with her sister about their time growing up. It was hard to not cry. When we arrived, Aunt Carol was incredibly surprised as no one had told her that we were coming. Grams and Aunt Carol embraced in a hug with tears in their eyes. I knew that this trip to visit Aunt Carol one last time was important for my Grandma, and watching them embrace, meant the world to me, and probably to them as well.

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Grams and Aunt Carol

I wanted to share a little bit from our visit with Aunt Carol, reflect on death and the relationship Mary has with it, and also tell a story about Aunt Carol and myself that I don’t think anyone knows, or at least remembers.

Aunt Carol is ready to go. Watching and listening to her talk of how this is God’s way of keeping her from having a prolonged illness brought tears to my eyes. I have only three memories of Aunt Carol. The first is one time I went to pick up my Great Grandmother with Grams from Aunt Carol and we met at a truck stop. (I had met her before, I was just too young to remember.) The second was at my Great-Grandmothers funeral (we’ll get there in a moment.) and the third was today, after our visit.

Mary, help us to embrace our death!

Most of you know that we produced a Marian Hymn CD at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary this year. Mary has a major role in the lives of seminarians and priests, and as Aaron stated in his little message inside the CD, “It was only fitting…that our cd should focus on Mary, our Mother…”

While we were visiting with Aunt Carol and laughing about stories of her and my Grandma sleeping on comforters and “soaking up the dew” at the state fair, or when they and Grandpa Meyer would go black-walnut hunting, my Grandma gave Aunt Carol a copy of our Mary CD.

imageThe front of the CD has a beautiful image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on the front. When Aunt Carol’s eyes hit the front she started crying. I don’t know what was going on inside of her, but she said a line that has stuck with me all day:

Without her, I don’t know what I would do. Without Mary helping me and giving me strength, I don’t know how I could do this and be able to embrace it.

To watch a woman, just a few days shy of her young 84th birthday, have this much devotion, trust, and love of our Blessed Mother as she prepares for her end, made me start crying. Turning to the back and reading some of the songs, Aunt Carol looked at me and mentioned about how Gentle Woman was one of her favorite songs, then with her short breath, and with tears in our eyes, Aunt Carol started singing the first verse and refrain of Immaculate Mary.

Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing! You reign now in Heaven, with Jesus our King! Ave! Ave! Ave Maria! Ave! Ave! Maria!

Mary means a lot to my family, and to watch, listen, and sing with Aunt Carol, to our Blessed Mother meant so much.

Sister Death

Death comes for each of us, when we least expect it. I remarked to my Grandma and Mom over dinner tonight after our visit, how humbling old age and death must be. Like when we are born, we go out of this world with nothing, reliant on those around us for our needs. What a beautiful thing death is! St. Francis in his Canticle of the Sun, mentions:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your will! The second death can do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks. And serve him with great humility.

For Francis, death was simply a transition, a passing into the next part of our lives with God. It was a necessary action which gave birth to life eternal. It was a humbling, and even humiliating action which bestowed so much on us, if we properly embraced it.

For my Great Aunt Carol, I think that she too, like St. Francis is preparing to embrace Sister Death. She praises and blesses God for giving the gift of death to her. Yes, she will miss those in her life, but I bet she cannot wait to be counted among the saints in Heaven.

Mary, always…ALWAYS leads us to Christ. She always points us to her Son. Normally in the Church, we pray that St. Joseph will help us to have a well-prepared for death, a happy death. Watching my Aunt though, I think that Mary surely has to be there with St. Joseph, calling us home to be with her Son. I love my earthly Mom, Sue Bruns. I love my Heavenly Mother Mary, I want her to be there to prepare me, and walk with me on the road to death. I want her there to be able to comfort me. I want to ask, she, who “reigns in Heaven with Jesus our King” to bring me to be with him.

Watching, listening, and visiting with Aunt Carol today, made me see Mary at the foot of the Cross, Mary who walked the road to Calvary, and watched her Son be brutally killed upon the Cross. Mary was with Aunt Carol and will continue to be as she continues to progress as we all do, toward Sister Death, from whom no living mortal can escape.

A Story:

Those who know me and have heard my Vocation story before, know that I first really started considering the priesthood when I was in the 5th grade. My Great-Grandmother had died shortly after I had started thinking about it and the whole family was gathered in Quincy for her funeral. I remember sitting on the fireplace hearth downstairs in my grandparents old house with Aunt Carol. Aunt Carol, and I were having a conversation about what I wanted to do when I grew up. She was the first person that I told besides a priest that I could actually see myself as a priest. We had a wonderful conversation and at the end of it, Aunt Carol gave me a hug, told me to be strong, that I would make a great priest, and that she would pray for me. Being the first person I mentioned that I was sincerely thinking of the priesthood to and had an honest heart to heart conversation with, made her a very special person to me, especially because of her words of support and encouragement after I told her.

Today, as we prepared to leave I bent down and gave Aunt Carol a hug and a kiss. She whispered in my ear that she was proud of me, that she loved me, and that I would make a great priest. I told her that I would have some priests at our Seminary offer Mass for her, when I got back to school and said let’s keep praying for each other. She kissed my hand, we spoke for a few more moments and we said goodbye.

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Grams and Aunt Carol hug and say goodbye

In Conclusion:

I never thought that I would have had such a deep theological encounter with the Lord today. I am so happy and so blessed to have been able to go and visit Aunt Carol one last time. She was one of the first to support me in my vocational discernment of the priesthood and she will be missed by many. In her last few, days, weeks, or however long the Lord grants her here on Earth, I will pray for her each day, that Mary will be with her. That Mary will give her strength and will lead her to her Son. I pray that one day I am as at peace with death and with God as Aunt Carol seemed. May we all have that grace to have a well-prepared for death! I’m thankful for Aunt Carol in my life and for her support of me. I can only imagine what others in the family are thankful for her for!

My grandmother’s name is Mary. I know that Momma Mary had something to do with making sure that Grams (Mary) and Aunt Carol got to see each other one last time. Thank-you Momma for making it possible for that to happen and allowing us to be here! Death is something that I know I will struggle with as a priest. It’s hard seeing someone you love die, but at the same time with a firm hope in the Ressurection, I think, preparing souls for death will be one of the most fruitful parts of priesthood for me. Getting to be with Aunt Carol for a few moments today touched me immensely.

As I come to the end of my time in college seminary and move on toward major, Aunt Carol’s comment: “Without her, I don’t know what I would do. Without Mary helping me and giving me strength, I don’t know how I could do this and be able to embrace it.” rings true in my own life. It’s amazing what our Mother does for us, isn’t it? Aunt Carol is walking the Way of  Beauty!

I love you Aunt Carol! Pray for me when you get to see Jesus first! I will be praying for you!

Now that I have tears as running down my face again, I’m gonna wrap up. Will you join me in praying a Memorare for my great Aunt and her family?

Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided, inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

We prayed a rosary on the way home tonight and offered it for several intentions, but firstly for Aunt Carol. The first luminous mystery is The Baptism in the Jordan. May she who died to a life of sin, and rose with Christ in her Baptism, one day rise too with him to Life eternal. Amen.

My Vocation Story

The following is my Vocation Story up to this point. Why do I say  up to this point? Because, it is a never ending process. Until the day I die I will always be seeking to discover and discern where/to what God is calling me to next. The following are just specific points along the way

All three of us in the Fall of 2013.

All three of us in the Fall of 2013.

that have stood out to me. Pray for me, that I may discern well, you are all in my prayers daily!

Growing up I was always encouraged to do whatever God wanted me to do. And no matter what my “ideal” job was in my mind my Mom used to always say that I should keep my options open incase God wanted me to be a Priest. Going through my life up until the 5th grade I wanted to be everything from a Construction Worker to a Veterinarian, but the thought of a being a priest was never that high on the list.

A little background before I start: I was born a triplet in the town of Quincy, IL to my parents Larry and Sue. I have one triplet brother, Brody, one triplet sister, Emily, and two older brothers: Adam and Nathan. (Both of whom are married with children now) In Quincy my family and I attended St. Peter’s which is where Servant of God Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first black priest in America was baptized and did some of his first ministry.(Because of our connection, I have a devotion to him.) My grandparents attend St. Francis Solanus in Quincy, which has had a big impact on my vocation, particularly through several of the Franciscans there.

My vocation story  really starts out in the little town of Beatrice, NE. We had moved to

Our family in Nebraska

Our family in Nebraska

Nebraska when I was in the second grade. My Dad had just got a job there and we moved to be with him. We made many friends, particularly ones from church. We attended St. Joseph’s and were blessed with two great priests. The then Fr. Mark Seiker and Fr. Finnian, who was a priest from Africa. Our faith really began to take off in Beatrice, not that we weren’t Catholic in Quincy or such, but too me it seemed to really take off. Mom was involved with the Ladies Sodality at the parish, which was blessing not only for her, but also for our family as it helped deepen our prayer life. My dad was involved with the Men’s group and we three kids went faithfully to CCD, and Mass with my parents. There is something unique thought about our time spent in Beatrice. I distinctly remember going to Holy Hours throughout the week. If memory serves, it seemed like we went each Saturday before Mass, as well as different points throughout the week. I remember Mom taking us there with her to pray, since Mom was a teacher she knew the value of good books and we were blessed to always have good Catholic books to read during adoration. We were particularly fond of books about the saints. They had a statue of the Infant of Prague in an alcove, with a basket of saint books under, that we would always peruse.

I remember even then looking at saints and praying about who I should choose as my confirmation saint down the road. (It was between John Bosco, Nicholas of Myra, and Francis of Assisi (Francis won, though I hold the others as patrons as well)) There was a statue of St. Theresé of Liseuix off to the left of the church in an alcove near the confessional, and for some reason I have always had a devotion to her since then. I remember dealing as a child with nightmares of hell, demons, etc. One time in particular I remember being at my grandparents and hearing a terrible voice saying that it was going to get me and that I was a sinner and that I was doomed to Hell. I ran out to the garage crying where my Grandma was and told her about it. Her words of advice have always stuck with me, she prayed a Hail Mary with me and told me if I ever heard the voice again to pray and ask Mary to defend me with the help of my guardian angel. Back in Beatrice I remember thinking about it and looking over at St. Theresé and seeing the shape of someone kneeling in front of it, facing toward the tabernacle, and they were shining with a white light. I asked Mom who it was and she didn’t see anything. I always took it as either a sign of my guardian angel showing that it too prayed with me and was there with me, or it was the trick on the eyes of a child, whatever it was it certainly deepened my faith.

I remember sitting and praying there in the church during the time, reading about the saints and falling in love with the Eucharist. My siblings and I received our First Holy Communion there by intinction. (sort of a neat fact) It was either at our First Communion, or our First Confession that I remember getting to sing the Alleluia and Alleluia verse prior to Fr. Finnian reading the Gospel. (I never thought that one day I would be leading the community as I intoned it at seminary years later!) The year we spent living in Nebraska was one of much peace, love, and happiness for my siblings and I. Sadly, I know my Mom and Dad struggled more than we did with being so far away from our family in Quincy, but I would have never known it.

Christmas came, and because all of our decorations were boxed up in storage, my Mom had the great idea to do an “old-fashioned” Christmas, decorating our real tree (I have yet to have a fake tree for Christmas!) with popcorn, apples, oranges, etc. I remember learning to ride our bikes in the park down the road without training wheels, the pet cemetery, the nature reserve across from our apartment where we got in trouble for catching grass hoppers for a class project. (If they hopped across to our side of the road we could keep them, go figure!) It was a time of much joy, spiritual growth, relying on Jesus in the Eucharist to console us as we missed our family and where I believe my vocation story really began. Thanks to my Mom, my siblings and I all have a great love, devotion, and sense of reverence to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and love to make Holy Hours.

After our year in Beatrice, we said good bye to our friends and apartment as we moved yet again to Marion, Kentucky where Dad had got a different job. I have lived in Marion ever since then, and while not having a Walmart or Kohls is a slight drawback, I wouldn’t change it for anything. It didn’t take long for us to get active in Marion, make friends and we had started attending St. William’s Catholic church down the road. Mom would still have us pray a family rosary, and during Lent/Advent my siblings and I got to choose devotions to do as a family each night.

Life was good and after one year of living there it came time to get a dog. We had a had

Maggie and the triplets

Maggie and the triplets

animals growing up in Quincy and because we had to put our Golden down shortly after we moved to Nebraska, Mom had promised that we would get a dog once we had lived in Kentucky for one year. So in May of 2003, my Grandma came for a visit and all of us went to Fancy Farm, Kentucky to look at Labrador Retrievers. One month later we returned to Fancy Farm and then home, this time with a growing yellow ball of fur who we named Magnolia (Maggie). Maggie was my joy, even though she had her temperamental qualities like nibbling on your back if you weren’t paying her attention, or digging up moles, wounding them, then leaving me to finish killing them. She was my best friend growing up, but I’ll continue on:

Later during the month of June St. William’s received a new pastor; Fr. Richard Cash. My family always went to the Saturday morning Mass at St. William’s and my brother and I had started serving for Fr. Bruce Fogle. Fr. Bruce is such a genuine man who really welcomed my family into the parish and was one of the first to show me that priests can have fun. (My siblings and I would have snowball fights with Father in the parking Lot after we left Mass on Saturdays.)

On the Saturday that I first met Fr. Cash I remember Mom and Dad were gone somewhere for something and an older couple from the parish who we called Grandpa Mike and Grandma Annie picked us up to take us to church. I remember Grandpa Mike pulling up in his white pickup, Brody and I sat in the bed with their dog Jake, Emily rode with them in the cab and we went to church early, so that we could welcome our new pastor.  I remember this “old man” driving up and getting out of the car and walking over to talk with all of us. Little did I know that Father was not “old,” rather he was in his 40’s and his hair was just turning grey. We all introduced ourselves and he asked if Brody and I were going to serve. We said yes, and proceeded to help him carry his things into the church. One of the things he handed us was a pillow that he told us to sit behind the Altar. Confused, my brother asked what it was for, Father replied: “Incase I get sleepy and want to take a nap during Mass.” (I later learned that Father used pillows as bookrests for the missal on the Altar.)

That day was the start of a great friendship between my family and Father Cash, one that has had a huge impact on my life. Father would come over with Aaron our organist at church to eat Easter dinner with us or come to our Mardi Gras birthday party for our grandma. He was a great role model and one whom I looked up to immensely. He taught my brother and I how to serve with the help of another dear friend: Jim Butler. Our Liturgies at the tri-parishes (of which St. William’s was a member) were always beautiful and steeped in tradition. We used incense, and torches for the procession and Consecration, we wore Cassock and Surplice, and we learned the proper ways to ring bells and polish the metal in the church.

Life was good. Then one day Fr. Cash announced that he was being moved. I remember going home and my whole family seemed sad. We knew that we would still keep in touch with Father, but we were definitely going to miss him. One of his last Sunday’s after Mass the five of us young boys who always served Mass, reverenced the cross, gave Father hand shakes for a job well done and then listened to him tell us some advice. It was in this moment that I learned so much respect for the priesthood and how to be humble. Father said something along the lines of: “Promise me that when you all get your new pastor, you will treat him with the same love and respect that you do me. He might not do everything that I do at Mass, and he may celebrate Mass differently, but instead of arguing or being angry I want you all to always remember to say “Yes Father” and do it. Every priest is different and that is good, he will bring new things that will help St. William’s to grow and you all will get to witness it, so keep serving, stay close to Christ, and thank you for always serving! You guys are the best!” These words have stuck with me and I have always remembered that even if I don’t agree with a priest he is still a priest and deserves my respect. Whenever I was asked to do something at Mass or to help the parish I would always say; “yes Father” and give glory to God.

During a Confirmation class at my Parish one day in 5th grade I had a talk with Fr. Cash about my plans in life, he said that after knowing me for awhile he thought that I might have some qualities that would be good in a Priest and encouraged me to ask God what he wanted me to do with my life. From that moment I began to have that question in the back of my mind saying: What would your life be like if you became a Priest? Throughout the years since I have always tried to ask God what he wanted me to do with my life whether it be with a secular job as a husband and father or as a Priest.

My family continued to attend St. William’s in Marion during this time until my 8th grade year, when we changed parishes to go to St. Ann which was located 45 minutes away. People always seem shocked with how far we drive to church each Sunday, driving 45 minutes, vs 5 minutes down the road, but moving to St. Ann was one of the best things we did for the spiritual health of my family and for my own vocation. (Note: When I’m home over break, I still go to St. William’s for Thursday Mass and still keep in contact with those there, as they are where I first felt called to the priesthood.)

Our pastor at St. Ann was Fr. Gerald Baker. Fr. Baker and Fr. Cash both have a love for beautiful Liturgy, something that I have inherited from them. A major part of my vocation story is from serving at the Altar and getting to interact with so many holy priests within the Liturgy. St. Ann not only had beautiful Liturgy, but they also had Perpetual Adoration. If you remember my family has a love for adoration, which started back in Nebraska when my Mom would bring us, continued to our weekly Holy Hour on Saturdays at St. William’s and continues to making time for it today at St. Ann.

I started serving at St. Ann with my brother and got to know Fr. Baker and the then associate, Fr. James Walling CPM. Fr. James and Fr. Baker loved Christ and preached his love from the pulpit each day. They increased our faith in the real presence, preached God’s mercy in confession and truly helped us to blossom and grow. My sophomore year in High School, Fr. Cash was named as our associate at St. Ann, so my family got to have both of our favorite priests under one roof.

Throughout High School, I was blessed to have several great teachers, who even though they were protestant they encouraged me in discerning seminary and the priesthood. My Ag Advisor, Larry Duvall always taught us his students what it meant to be a man of virtue, to give to others freely, and always help those in need. It was through my time in the FFA, that I gained so many valuable leadership skills and experience in leading others. Our Systems Engineer for the district Technology office, Don Winters became a close friend as I worked with him in STLP and running the school help desk in the mornings. His own ministry as a youth minister inspired me to seek to do more. Carol West, our librarian was always there ready to talk to us and encourage us to follow God’s calling. And lastly, all of my English

My new niece Winnie!

My new niece Winnie!

teachers, Mrs. Gavin, Quertermous, McCord, and Lacy always inspired me, as they read my English writings, several of which discussed what I was thinking of doing. Mrs. Quertermous even proof-read my application for seminary for me! I was blessed to go to a fantastic high school, which even though it was public, still retained it’s Christian roots and morals. The staff was always so supportive of each student in achieving our dreams.

Fr. Cash was moved my Senior year, but prior to that he helped me set up an appointment with Dr. Litke, the new Associate Director of Vocations for the Diocese and he had helped me in Spiritual Direction as well. I applied for Seminary the Fall of my senior year and was accepted right after graduation. I always joked about how it took almost 5 months to get my results back from my psychological evaluation. I would walk in the sacristy to serve Sunday Mass and Fr. Baker would alway say: “Well, Mr. Bruns have you found out if you’re crazy yet?” To which I would respond: ‘Well, I already know that!”

Pictures of myself and Fr. Cash and Fr. Baker, as well as my brother Brody.

Pictures of myself and Fr. Cash and Fr. Baker, as well as my brother Brody.

I graduated from high school as Senior Class President and the Vice President for the FFA, STLP, and Beta Club. Life was good. I drove up to seminary in August of 2012 and the rest is recorded on random posts throughout this blog. My vocation story is still developing. I am still discovering what direction Christ is calling me toward. I feel that I am called to be a priest, and that I am in the right spot for now in my life. I am engaging in spiritual and human formation and striving to become the man God created me to be. Whatever direction Christ takes me in my life, I know that he is always there watching, guiding, and guarding. I have had so many people who have walked alongside me in life thus far, and I know that there will be many more. God has blessed me abundantly and continues to do so each day, as he constantly converts my heart and calls me to himself. This is only fraction of my Vocation Story, there is a lot more to it, as well as a lot more people who have played a part. If I were to go in to everything, it would probably take triple the length of this post. So I will spare you the length!!

When was the last time that you thought about your vocation? When was the last time that you invited a young man to consider a vocation to the priesthood? When was the last time that you said yes to God’s will in your life and followed his lead? I encourage you to go, invite that

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young man at your parish to think of seminary! Pray for Vocations! Inspire Vocations by your own life and ministry! The Harvest is abundant but the laborers are few!

Pray, encourage, and invite others to think  about their vocations. Pray for them and please, please in your kindness pray for me!

 

 

 

The above piece, is one of my favorite musical pieces. Enjoy!