by Justin Brannan
When you’re a kid and life is about breaking the rules and questioning the answers, it’s not easy to appreciate being raised a Catholic. For me, it wasn’t until I grew up that the merits became apparent. And when it did hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. For others I know, it seemed more subconscious: They grew up rough around the edges, but they leveled out just fine. Today they’re successful business owners, entrepreneurs, educators and civil servants – most of whom are happily married with smart and beautiful kids.
I attended both public and private schools throughout my life, and I will tell you this: For all that public school did to support my unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Catholic school poured my foundation and helped make me the man I am today. If public school was the road I traveled to get across the ocean on the suspension bridge, then Catholic school must have been the columns that held the bridge up to keep it from falling – thus making my own unique life experiences the catenary.
As a teenager, the allergic reaction to rules and rhetoric came naturally. I was older than my years, creative and impatient – it made for a dangerous cocktail. But the rebel made it out alive – in fact, the rebel did better than just make it out alive: The rebel has embraced a life lived for others, and the very things I questioned and shrugged off as “common sense” became the very things I was so appreciative for having hard-wired inside me as a boy raised as a Catholic.
As a restless kid, there is nothing worse than an adult telling you what to do – save for an adult telling you what you’ve decided you already know! I knew it was our obligation to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. To me, the Ten Commandments were the most obvious set of rules I had ever laid eyes on – but it wasn’t until many years later that I realized I only felt this way and knew these things because my parents had taught it to me – thanks to their own Catholic education!
I realized my Catholic education nourished my foundational imagination, which has allowed me to not only see but also celebrate the abiding grace in all creation. I see Catholicism in all facets of my life: I see it in my devotion to public service and my compassion for animals; in my thirst for balance and innate sense of cause and effect; in my appetite for life – my love for food, drink, art, music and all things debate and struggle – and above all, I see it in my friends and family and the incredible bond I share with my best friend in the world: my wife. She is my peace, my calm and my mutineer. I thank God for her every day.
I follow closely the wisdom of a clergyman who taught me that doing the right thing will always be more important than simply believing the right thing. And that is why for me, at 35, faith in action is what it’s all about. With all that’s going on in the world today, it’s time for us to lead by example and show the world that being good to each other and looking out for your brothers and sisters really matters.
Justin Brannan, director of communications and legislative affairs for Councilman Vincent Gentile, is a member of St. Patrick’s parish, Bay Ridge.