Brother finds Christ after years of darkness

He went from being a lost teenager who was heavily into partying, drinking and smoking marijuana to a charismatic member of a religious order serving the poor in Ireland.

Brother Martin Ervin's story of conversion is unique, but not uncommon, he said, because God changes lives every day.

The youngest of 10 children to Frank and Loretta Ervin of Omaha, Brother Martin, whose birth name was Stephen, grew up in a Catholic family where Sunday Mass and devotions to Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus were part of life. For a little while, he attended St. Margaret Mary School before graduating from Central High School.

But after struggling for several years with dyslexia, he developed a low self-esteem and a lack of motivation.

"I stopped searching to be popular in the way of being top in the class and the best at sports and I started to look for friends who would accept me in the way of being an odd person because I thought I was odd," he told the Catholic Voice during a visit to Omaha in February.

He made friends with people in the punk rock scene and eventually became the lead singer of a local punk rock band.

When he was young, the l3-year-old Ervin and his sister started lying to their parents about going to Sunday Mass. Instead they went to McDonalds.

"I didn't understand the Mass and I didn't even know what was happening when the priest said the prayers over the bread and wine and that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Jesus," Brother Martin said.

"Because I stopped receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, I stopped receiving that life of God within me," he said. "I stopped going to confession and I didn't have an understanding of what the church teaches about the commandments."

He said he started choosing other things, like drinking and partying, to fill up the emptiness he felt by pushing God out of his life.

Brother Martin spent eight years in this lifestyle during which time he distanced himself from his family.

Family helps him

But he says it was his family that helped him return to Christ.

When he was 18, Brother Martin began working as a janitor in his older brother's photography studio. During the workday, his brother, Bob, who was going through his own conversion at the time, slowly began talking to him about the Scriptures, Eucharist, sacraments and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

At first he was uncomfortable with the conversations, but Brother Martin said he was grateful for his brother's guidance.

"Every day I went to work I realized it wasn't just going to be mopping floors. I was going to be taught a lesson," he said. "Some were tough lessons, but that was good because he was being honest and willing to really try and pull me out of the darkness I was living in. He was helping me see that there's more than just my own selfish life."

Slowly Brother Martin began to change his ways. He started to pray, visited with a priest, went to confession and attended Sunday Mass. He also started being more vocal about his faith to his friends, and stopped drinking and doing drugs.

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Bob Ervin calls his brother's conversion and vocation to the religious life a "miracle."

"I'm really proud of him," he said, adding that he believes the struggles his brother experienced were necessary for him to be the kind of person he is today. "He's very charismatic. It's just an absolute miracle."

One day in the office, Brother Martin overheard his brother talking about vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and he said he felt something stir within him.

"As I was standing there, all of the sudden this little fire kind of burst in my heart and I felt myself say inside my heart, 'You're going to do that someday,'" he said.

Bob Ervin credits the Holy Spirit with inspiring his brother.

"I don't think I was on a mission to change him at all. It was the Holy Spirit. That's the thing about living the Catholic faith - if you actually live it, you can't really predict what's going to happen with it," he said.

"I do remember one talk we had when he told me he was thinking about his vocation. We talked for like four hours about how awesome it is to live with Christ."

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Lifestyle changed

Brother Martin started watching the Catholic television station, EWTN, and came across Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, with whom he immediately felt a connection.

"All the things he was talking about were confirming all the desires that I had in my soul," he said. "He talked about the community and the work with the poor and living a radical life for Christ and the need to reform our lives. I just thought it was incredible."

Although he explored the diocesan priesthood, Brother Martin felt called to Father Groeschel's order, especially after he visited the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal's headquarters in the Bronx in 1994. He joined the order as a religious brother in 1995.

"I'm a bridge to the priesthood in a way because sometimes people need someone to talk to before they go to confession or before they go back to Mass or they enter marriage," he said. "They're looking for someone to help them see that right path to walk on."

As a Franciscan, Brother Martin prays seven times a day, goes to daily Mass and prays in front of the Eucharist for an hour every day. He also works with the poor, prays peacefully outside abortion clinics, and evangelizes through retreats and street ministry.

Brother Martin spent eight years in the Bronx before moving to a mission house in London. Five months ago he was sent to help start a mission house in Ireland.

"Being in the community has been a blessing. It's not without its challenges. My brother, Bob, helped me realize that life is not just a one moment thing, but it's a daily conversion, it's a daily change and sometimes we fall back and then we have to get back up again. That's why we have the name in our community and I'm realizing that more and more. Every day we have to renew ourselves in Jesus and get back up again, sometimes 100 times a day and start over."

Printed with permission from the Catholic Voice.