‘Brokenness’ Celebrated at Florida Vocation Retreat

Benjamin Simpson Friar News

Friars Stephen Mimnaugh, Zachary Elliott, Basil Valente and Aaron Richardson with their guests during the recent vocation weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Vocation Ministry)

On the weekend of Jan. 20, the Vocation Ministry held two events: a discernment weekend in Florida and a vocational awareness weekend in North Carolina. Vocation director Basil Valente, OFM, joined the friars in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla., to host five men for a weekend of prayer and reflection as they continue to discern God’s call in their lives. Associate vocation director Gonzalo Torres-Acosta, OFM, visited Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C., to preach about vocations during its many Masses, meet with the congregation, and invite the men of the parish to consider religious life with the friars of Holy Name Province.

‘Here We Are Broken Humanity’
The discernment weekend in Florida began with a warm welcome from guardian Joseph Hertel, OFM, who highlighted the many ministries supported by the men living at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg. After evening prayer and dinner, Basil invited the men to begin their discernment retreat as St. Francis did by contemplating the San Damiano crucifix, noting “the sense of peace of Christ on the cross in the midst of His brokenness, always reassured that the path set for him by the Father was the right one”. The candidates were invited to ask themselves the important question: what could they, like Francis, build for God as a Franciscan in Holy Name Province?

The evening session continued with a reflection led by Michael Reyes, OFM, who invited the participants to consider “our brokenness” and how Jesus called a true variety of broken men and women to follow him; that he calls us each by name not in spite of who we are, but because of who we are. Thus, said Michael, no one is unworthy to be called, for we are all called by Christ in one way or another. He also encouraged the discerners with stories from his own vocation journey and invited them to truly open themselves to all that God might do in their lives.

After dinner, student friar Aaron Richardson, OFM, and solemnly professed friars Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, and Alan Thomas, OFM, shared their vocation journeys and what it means to be a Franciscan friar today. The retreat directors presented some pre-recorded remarks from John Aherne, OFM, and Robert Lentz, OFM, who described their callings as discernment from a place of uncertainty and a sense of inner brokenness to a place of blessing and flourishing in the gifts of fraternity, community and prayer.

“I can say that there was a great energy surrounding the weekend, and I was inspired by the candidates’ passion for God and ministry,” said Aaron. “Between the interest of the candidates and the witness of the friars in residence at St Petersburg I left the weekend with a renewed enthusiasm for my own vocation and an appreciation of just how special our life together is.”

Proving to be a truly inspired evening, the discerners engaged the friars in a poignant discussion about feelings of worthiness and readiness for religious life. Basil emphasized that the Franciscans welcome all men, no matter their background, with the words of General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM: “If you are looking for a group of perfect people, of holy people, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere! Here, we are broken humanity, and we invite you to grow with us in discovering the path toward holiness.”

The retreat continued the next day with morning prayer and a reflection by Raymond Mann, OFM, who described his own joys and challenges while adapting to his life with the friars. He reflected with the participants on 1 Corinthians 2:16, about having the mind of Christ. He urged them to move beyond the mind of Christ into the heart of Christ, explaining that it is from Christ’s heart that the friars minister.

Zachary Elliott, OFM, Daniel Kenna, OFM, and James Toal, OFM, continued the discussion with their own experiences of ministering from the heart of Christ, giving the attendees a broad view of the varied ministries and populations served by the friars of Holy Name Province.

The evening was spent with the community at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, where the congregation warmly welcomed the guests. Zach, who celebrated the Saturday evening Mass, invited the men to consider the Gospel reading – which was, coincidentally, the passage in which Jesus called his disciples by inviting them to be “fishers of men,” Matthew 4:12-23 – in a special way. After Mass, the congregation gathered to encourage, welcome and pray over the discerners.

Participants in the recent discernment weekend gather around the San Damiano crucifix at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of the Vocation Ministry)

The retreat finished with morning prayer on Sunday. Before their departure, Mario Di Lella, OFM, took the participants aside. Encouraging them to boldly follow the call of God, he gave them each a special blessing for their discernment and safe travels home as they continue to discover God’s work in their lives.

Reflecting on the weekend, Joe commented, “I was surprised at how quickly the group seemed to gel among themselves but, more importantly, I was amazed at how quickly the group seemed to be at home with the friars. I am really proud of the way the friars in the community created such a spirit of welcome among the guests.”

“The vocation discernment weekend in St Pete was a wonderful experience both for the friars in community and the men who are discerning their vocation with us,” said Michael. “I enjoyed meeting all the candidates and learning about them. Hearing their stories and some of the friars’ vocation journeys was truly inspiring and life-giving.”

Stephen, regional vocation director based in New York City, said he felt particularly moved by the experience. “My week at work had been stressful,” he said, “and getting to hear the stories of how God is working in the lives of five young men proved to be a calming balm for me. I thought I was there to minister to them. Little did I know it would be very mutual. I was touched by the sincerity these men demonstrate in their own lives of service and prayer.”

Zach seconded the sentiment, saying, “The men we had the pleasure of meeting and offering hospitality to this weekend were as fine a group as any. They were diverse in their backgrounds, authentic in their conversations and challenging in their questions. From my vantage point, all would be fine for a deeper invitation in sharing our lives as friars.”

Aaron Richardson, second from left, with participants at the Florida vocation retreat. (Photo courtesy of the Vocation Ministry)

The participants also expressed a deep connection with the Province after the weekend, and a deeper sense of God’s calling.

“My weekend at St. Anthony’s and Sacred Heart with the friars, retired and active, allowed me to view my vocation from a better perspective,” said Eric, an attendee from New Jersey. “In serving the Lord, I already knew what I was looking for, but I didn’t know where to go about it or with whom. Journeying from time spent at a diocesan seminary, I longed for community. Witnessing the joys and struggles of the men at the friary and their effortless transparency made me feel like a brother instantly. I felt a true conversion of the heart and made true friendships in Christ.”

Another participant, John, from North Carolina, commented that the retreat “reminded [him] of how much God challenges us to grow in our faith as we try to find his way. He helps us, and he wants us to find joy.”

Richard, also from New Jersey, reflected that “in the community of the more experienced friars at St. Anthony Friary, I found the courage to say yes… and the hope to one day be counted as one among many.”

Hospitality and Encouragement in North Carolina
In Durham, Gonzalo experienced a “very blessed and busy” weekend. He presided at two Masses and spoke after Communion at another four. He also met with the English and Spanish young adult groups and the Spanish Charismatic Group, and he attended a Spanish retreat that Immaculate Conception was hosting for parish leaders. He met with four young men, one of whom plans to attend the discernment retreat at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston in April. He also spoke with three more who showed interest in learning more about the friars through the literature Gonzalo brought with him and through the Vocation Office’s website and social media.

Gonzalo Torres-Acosta, associate vocation director, speaks about vocations at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C. (Photo courtesy of the Vocation Ministry)

“I hope my visit encouraged the parishioners in Durham to continue responding to God’s call in their own Christian vocation,” Gonzalo said. “The friars at Immaculate Conception were very welcoming and did a wonderful job promoting vocations with me this weekend. I am very grateful for the hospitality shown to both me and those men discerning our way of life.”

As he reflected on recent vocation activities, Basil expressed awe at the depth of the sharing that takes place during the retreats.

“I always marvel at how our men in discernment continue to bless me as they freely share their stories of goodness and brokenness,” said Basil. “Our candidates relate to the friars because of all that we’ve been through and all we’re going through in life and in ministry – the good and the not-so-good. It’s real, it’s empowering and it’s God-centered.”

He continued, “Candidates are not coming to the friars because they’re searching for perfect people, living in perfect communities. Rather, our candidates come to us because they see us sharing our experiences of love and struggle on a daily basis, and they see that God is present in our individual and fraternal lives. God is alive in our world and God is right there with us – to love us constantly – during the wonderful occasions of our lives and even during the times of confusion, failure and sin. Our candidates see us, as Michael Perry points out so beautifully, ‘as men of prayer, brothers who live in communion with one another, committed deeply to the pastoral and missionary life of the Church.’ It’s always a privilege for me to join our men along the important journey of discernment with the friars.”

Gonzalo, along with Steve DeWitt, OFM, and I, will be visiting Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, N.J., for a Vocations Awareness Day on Feb. 2.

The Vocation Ministry is pleased to announce that four men have been accepted to the class of 2017 and that eight men in application. The ministry will be joining the Province’s African Ancestry Committee in hosting a discernment retreat for black men from Feb. 10 to 12 in Maryland, and will host another general discernment retreat at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston in early April.

— Benjamin Simpson is the administrative coordinator for the Franciscan Vocation Ministry of Holy Name Province.

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