BOSTON — As the Catholic Church prepared for a special jubilee year calling people to share profound expressions of love and mercy, five men explored their call to religious life during a Come and See/Discernment retreat that focused on the same themes outlined by Pope Francis when he spoke about the Year of Mercy. The Franciscan friars of St. Anthony Shrine hosted the retreat.
“Throughout their time with us, the men were invited to discern God’s calling in their lives while understanding their actions and ministerial activity as deep expressions of love and mercy as we’re called to by the pope,” said vocation director Basil Valente, OFM. “I’m very impressed with the men who came to visit with us. Their humble expressions of interest in the Franciscans serve to highlight and strengthen my own commitment to God and to the consecrated life.”
Associate director Gonzalo Torres-Acosta, OFM, described the group’s participants, saying “Each one of them has different talents, stories and realities. Nevertheless, they all share the same Christ, the same Spirit who lives and moves in us all.”
The men were greeted on Dec. 4 by vicar John Maganzini, OFM, who remarked that the overall weekend was “a wonderful experience of true Franciscan welcome and hospitality.” Basil and Gonzalo led introductions before the men joined the friars for evening prayer.
Called to be Brothers
Prior to a discussion about “What does it mean to be a Franciscan friar today?” — led by John Aherne, OFM, and regional vocation director Barry Langley, OFM — the men watched a video of General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, discussing organic discernment communities. The candidates were particularly surprised by the way the General Minister referred to himself as “brother,” even though he is an ordained priest.
“While we were watching the video, several of the men were struck by the way the General Minister styled himself as ‘Br. Michael,’” Basil said. “We invite men into the Franciscan Order to be part of a brotherhood. Some of them discover a call to priesthood, but they are invited first and foremost as brothers.”
This was significant, Basil added, given that the Vatican affirmed the vocation of the lay brother in the Catholic Church, saying that the first title Jesus used for himself and for his disciples was that of brother.
“Jesus Christ first of all become brother, shared our flesh and blood and was in solidarity with the sufferings of his brothers and sisters,” states “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church,” a document released Dec. 14 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious. “This is the title Jesus gives his disciples after his Resurrection.”
During his first discernment weekend as regional vocation director, Barry remarked that “I felt the extreme privilege of being with these men as they listen to the movement of God in their lives. Hearing them speak of their journeys of faith and the leaps of faith they have made so far bolstered my own vocation once again.”
In addition to the video from the General Minister, the men also watched videos of HNP friars sharing their vocation stories — including John Aherne, Casey Cole, OFM, and Robert Lentz, OFM — throughout the weekend. These videos are included on the Vocation Office’s YouTube channel.
During free time at the friary, one candidate shared a song he wrote about vocation and being called by God. It was originally written in Spanish, and he translated some of the lyrics to share with those present.
On Dec. 5, John Aherne along with two Shrine staff members — managing director Julie Ogden and Mary Ann Ponti, the Shrine’s director of outreach programs — led a short presentation on the many opportunities for ministerial involvement at St. Anthony Shrine. After lunch, a group discussion with the friars-in-residence — moderated by Eric Carpine, OFM, and Hugh Hines, OFM — took place in the recreation room.
For the friars, spending time with the men helped them renew their own vocation.
“It was a privilege to spend time with the men who joined us at our friary in Boston,” said Gonzalo. “It is really an act of love when someone takes a break from his or her routine to ponder God’s will for him or her.”
As Gene Pistacchio, OFM, listened to the men sharing their faith, he was reminded of himself when he entered the Order in 1981.
“The distinguishing feature I notice is their intense desire to discover God’s presence in their daily lives,” he said. “This triggers my own desire for God and the continual conversion that the Gospels and Franciscan life calls me to. I am amazed at how profoundly God works in the lives of others, how their hearts are touched by our prayer, fraternity and life-giving ministries, even to the point of a joyful and deeply felt gift of tears.”
“We had a wonderful group of men who offer real promise for our future,” said Daniel Murray, OFM. “Many thanks to the staff of the Vocation Office for all of its hard work.”
Eric agreed. “We shared what we live as a Franciscan community with gifted and happy men discerning their response to God’s call. I would have no difficulty seeing these men as friars sometime soon.” During the retreat, he shared with the discerners a poem he had written for them.
A special project awaited the men after dinner. John Aherne and Ogden shared with them the story of St. Francis’s role in the creation of the first Christmas crèche, as told by Thomas of Celano in his account “First Life of St. Francis.” Afterward, the candidates were invited to construct and decorate the Shrine’s crèche.
“The candidates were extremely hard working,” noted John, who is spending a year-long internship at the Shrine. “They were able to install our Christmas Crèche in very little time with a whole lot of flair. They left the Arch Street community with a gift that we will treasure throughout the Advent and Christmas season.”
Ogden was struck by the desire of the candidates to begin God’s work by ministering to those in need.
“They showed a curiosity for the partnership between the friars and partners-in-ministry, and they had an energy that well represents the Franciscan spirit of service,” she said.
Both Gonzalo and Basil expressed their appreciation for the friars at St. Anthony Shrine and all those throughout the Province who have supported vocations this year. In October, the friars successfully created a new organic discernment community at the Shrine, inviting men exploring their vocation to religious life to do so with the support of their peers and with the support of the friars.
“I’m grateful to Gonzalo, administrative coordinator Benjamin Simpson, our regional vocation ministers, the friars at St. Anthony Shrine and all of the friars of Holy Name Province for always helping interested men respond to God’s call,” Basil said. “Peace love to you all this Christmas.”
Information about becoming a Franciscan friar is available on the Vocation Office’s website, BeAFranciscan.org.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.
- “Reflection: Year of Mercy” — Dec. 8, 2015, HNP Today
- “Vocation Weekend Connects Candidates with Grieving Parents” — March 31, 2015, HNP Today
- “Priestly Ordination of Michael Reyes Set for Jan. 16” — Nov. 17, 2015, HNP Today