(L-R) Sergio Bermudez, now in Heaven, and his big brother Alejandro, still on earth.

(L-R) Sergio Bermudez, now in Heaven, and his big brother Alejandro, still on earth.

I remember vividly how happy I was when my little brother Sergio was born. I was seven, and until Sergio came along, I was the only boy and the middle child out of five. My two younger and two older sisters would play in pairs, while I had to play with mom. Not that it was bad playing with mom, but it is not hard to imagine how the arrival of a little brother was the best thing that could happen to a seven-year-old.

I remember time and again going to my little brother’s crib to pray to God repeatedly, “Make him grow fast! I promise you that he will be my pal and I will never leave him!”

Despite the age gap, we had lots of fun as kids. I would always beat him in wrestling, of course. Sometimes I would make him cry… but he would never give up, because it’s a boy thing and we were brothers.

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But leave him I did later, as I became a consecrated and he slipped into a crazy, wandering life, a life that would include bouts of rehab and even a few nights in jail.

The strange thing is that he never stopped being a passionate, convinced – and convincing – Catholic. He never doubted that the Church held and distributed Jesus’ grace, and that coming back to Her was always sweet, peaceful and deeply renovating. He compared it to setting back the odometer: “Takes you back to zero miles,” he would say.

Not even the roughest of his friends would dare to speak ill of priests, the Church or the saints in his presence. Combine his magnetic personality with the fact that he was very skilled in a Japanese martial art known as Goju Ryu, and you can do the math.

In his own words, he was “a very accomplished sinner and a very bad Catholic.” Bad as it was, he never liked to soften the truth about the rift between his life and his faith. Once, trying to ease his sadness, I told him in a calming tone: “Maybe you are a Chestertonian Catholic.” “Great! I didn’t know Chesterton did cocaine!” he quipped with an ironic smile. His message was clear: you may be older and the ‘good brother,’ but don’t take me for a fool.

As he lay dying of cancer last week, we finally spent that coveted time together, just the two of us. I told him the story about my prayer when he was a baby and I was a little boy. I was just trying to be kind, and to set the ground to ask for his forgiveness for not being always there for him during his life.

He looked back at me seriously. “That’s how Heaven is, brother. Is us being together forever before God and the saints,” he said. “Once I get into Heaven, I will pray to God that all the family may deserve to go to Heaven, all of us! And I can’t wait to get together and to be together forever.”

How did he get the theology of Heaven so right? Was it the wisdom that comes when suffering is not only tolerated but embraced with valor, devotion and generosity? I don’t know, and I don’t worry, because I know I will understand in Heaven.

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After a crazy life and a holy agony, Sergio died on Wednesday, three days short of his birthday, an hour after receiving Holy Communion for the last time.

Yesterday, I stood next to his coffin, praying again, as I did years ago next to his crib. But this time, older and – I hope – wiser, I made no promises. I just asked of him one final request: Please little brother, do not rest in peace. In Heaven, you have much to do for us.