Autumn is harvest time. In this season the uncertain work of sowing, the tedium of weeding and the endless, patient waiting through spring and summer finally receives its reward. Harvest is a time of celebration and gratitude. The Psalmist puts it simply: ‘They go out, they go out full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing; they come back, they come back full song, carrying their sheaves!” This year, even in the midst of so much anxiety, loss and restrictions, the Irish Franciscans are thanking God for a joyful harvest-time. On September 8th our brother Damian Casey was ordained Deacon by Archbishop Eamon Martin in Merchant’s Quay Friary, and on September 12th our brothers Dennis Ahern and Ronan Sharpley made solemn profession of vows in Killarney Friary. The call these men received several years ago has been nurtured and cultivated in the soil of our Franciscan province. vocations mature, like any seed, slowly and imperceptibly over the years, until the day a public and solemn commitment is made to a Religious community and to ministry in the Church. Against the all the odds, God is still calling to men and women to live a joyful, faith-filled consecrated life in the Church!
Who is Called?
A vocation to the Religious Life is a mysterious thing. Why are certain people drawn to one Religious Order or another, to one saintly Founder or another? How do I know I have been “called”? Can I be sure the call is from God, and not just a figment of my imagination? Am I worthy to be called, and how can I know? These and many other questions are asked in one form or another by those who consider, even briefly, the vocation to Religious Life. For most people all this may seem impossibly mysterious! But there is one thing very certain: Everybody, without exception, is called by God to holiness and salvation. This is the primary and fundamental call which God addresses to every human being, through His Son Jesus. In the documents of the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, chapter five) we read: ‘…all in the Church…are called to holiness, according to the Apostle’s saying: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th. 4:3; cf. Eph. 1:4)’. The call to holiness is itself a great mystery; it is a call to union with God. It is experienced as a call to integrity, to wholeness, to authenticity and freedom from sin. Everyone feels this desire in some way; everyone has a longing to live a life of integrity, to be whole, to ‘enter into life’ (Matthew 19:17). Holiness is nothing less than a relationship of loving obedience and trust with God the Father, through Christ. That call is not for the few; it is deeply felt within us all. It is expressed in restlessness, a desire for peace, a longing for justice, a hunger for a world which is united in charity, not endlessly divided and in conflict. The Church or a particular Religious Order cannot give you this call: the call to holiness is certain and is from God!
Following the Call
A vocation to the Religious Life or the priesthood, which is a particular way of following the call to holiness, can emerge over time, or it can be felt quiet strongly early in life. A person who presents himself for the Franciscan Order, or even just asks for information has already taken a big step; he has acknowledged that his call to holiness may be taking him in a specific direction, leading him to a very particular way of living out the Gospel values. The process known as “discernment” describes the period of time during which the enquirer (or ‘aspirant’ to the Order) is accompanied by the Franciscans in working out if there is a genuine call to the Franciscan way of life. This takes time, since both the individual and the Franciscans are on a journey of discovery, working out together where the universal call to holiness is leading the individual. Several things determine this process: The person is judged suitable for the Order if he has some concrete affinity for the Order’s charism and ministry. The person’s choice must be for supernatural motives (supernatural motives can be expressed quiet simply: ‘I like to be with this group of friars’, ‘something about this life is good and brings out the best in me’, ‘I feel closer to God when I am trying to live this life’, etc). Whatever the attraction to Religious Life, if it is a supernatural call, it cannot simply be running away from problems or avoiding personal difficulties. While an attraction or desire for the Religious Life must be present, that’s not to say the individual won’t struggle with the decision. If you read the vocation stories of some of some of the prophets and great figures of the Bible one thing is very clear: there is almost always a sense of struggle, uncertainty and even resistance. But in the end, there is a free and generous commitment to follow wherever God is calling.
When St. Francis of Assisi, then known simply as “Francesco di Bernardone” heard the Gospel of Matthew (10: 7-10) read in church on the feast of St. Matthias in 1208, the Lord’s words to the Apostles went deep into his heart: “…Proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand…You received without charge, give without charge. Provide yourself with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey, or spare tunic or footwear, or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep…” St. Francis approached the priest after Mass and asked him to explain the Gospel passage, line by line, and as its meaning went deeper and deeper into his heart, the call from God found its response. St. Francis exclaimed: ‘This is what I want, this is what I am looking for, this is what I am longing in my inmost heart to do!’ In our world, so different from the world of St. Francis, and yet, so much the same, the call to holiness and union continues to go out, and God, always faithful, awaits our response.
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 Psalm 126.