Silver Spring, Md. – On the weekend of December 9, as the Church celebrated Gaudete Sunday, five men joined the friar community at Holy Name College for the Vocation Ministry’s final discernment retreat of 2016.
The weekend began with evening prayer, which was led by the postulants, and a reflection by Vincent Cushing, OFM, who encouraged the participants to “be not afraid” when the journey seems lonely. “Each of you is a beloved child of God, and He is always with you,” he said. With this blessing in mind, the discerners joined the friars in echoing St. Francis’ prayer to God offered eight centuries ago: “Who are You, O Lord, and who am I?”
After dinner, Walter Liss, OFM, postulant director, and Christopher Posch, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus Parish, offered thoughts on their own journeys as they continuously seek to know themselves in the light of their vocation. Reflecting on what it means to them to be a Franciscan friar today, Walter and Chris discussed the diversity of ministries served by the friars in today’s world. Walter highlighted his journey of discernment and his recent ministry in higher education at Siena College outside Albany, N.Y., and in formation work with the postulants. Chris emphasized his work in pastoral ministry throughout the province. Throughout the discussion, the joy of living out uniquely individual vocations in a community of brothers working towards the same goal (living the Gospel life) was a constant theme.
The evening continued with recreation hosted by the postulants, who warmly welcomed the participants to the fraternal life of the house. The postulants organized multiple games, snacks, drinks and group activities to break the ice and provide Franciscan hospitality for the guests.
The event continued on Saturday with morning prayer and a reflection by postulant Jason Damon, who opened up about his own joys and challenges while adapting to his new life with the friars.
“Religious life is totally unlike any other living experience I’ve had,” he told the discerners. “There are the expected tensions and friction; and there is, unlike college, no place to hide from [them]… [but] that being said, I couldn’t feel more at home or welcomed than I do right now… I honestly couldn’t be more humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to discern in depth what may be my calling in a place where I can honestly feel like I can be myself.
“Just as St. Francis embraced the leper and the outcast, so 800 years later, through his followers, I feel him embracing me, including those parts of me I’m quick to gloss over, that I’m loathe to think about or discuss,” Jason continued. “If you take one thing away from this weekend, even though we’re not professed friars yet, I hope you can feel the fraternal embrace of the brothers.”
Opening Up About Life
Postulants Joseph Annibale, Michael Cerretti, and Troy Hillman also shared their journeys as postulants and moderated a poignant discussion about the process of discernment, adjustment to and embrace of the consecrated life. Erick López, OFM and David Schlatter, OFM, contributed their insights as well, providing a broad spectrum of experience in Franciscan life upon which the discerners were able to reflect and consider. The postulants each emphasized the special importance of the community from which they came (Catholic Student Ministry at Furman University, HNP parishes in Raleigh and Durham, N.C., and St. Bonaventure University, respectively), and the role those communities played in their own discernment. David offered a special reflection on what family means in the vowed life, and how the community and the fraternity amongst the friars affects his day to day living in a profoundly joyful way.
After lunch, David along with Daniel Grigassy, OFM, Charles Miller, OFM, and Basil Valente, OFM, took the opportunity to speak with the participants one-on-one. “This was an excellent chance to meet the discerners and get to know them on a more profound level,” said Charley. “It was very moving to discuss with these men the depth of God’s grace and guidance in their lives.”
The retreat came to a close with the Mass in celebration of Gaudete Sunday at St. Camillus Church, one of the Province’s most multi-ethnic communities. The participants joined the friars of St. Camillus, Holy Name College and the postulants as they worshiped with the congregation in joyful anticipation of the coming of Christ on Christmas. The congregation prayed for the discerners, that in His coming, the Lord would continue to guide them with His radiant love.
Reflecting on the impact of the weekend, Walter said that “the friars at St. Camillus and Holy Name College warmly welcomed the discerners and openly shared their experiences. I think we all benefited from hearing each other’s stories, especially from the friars who have lived the life for many years.”
Appreciating Personal Growth
“It was a very special time with my brothers and brothers to be,” said James La Grutta. “It was definitely a weekend of personal and spiritual growth in my discernment.”
“It was so humbling to have guys asking me about my vocation, especially since I’m not much further along than they are,” agreed Domingo Martinez. “The weekend actually helped me with my own discernment. I’m grateful to have been a part of it.”
Troy Hillman commented that he “felt very blessed to spend the weekend with these authentic men, who demonstrated an openness and a desire to serve others and to grow in fraternity with one another, which is really the heart of the Gospel… This discernment retreat also helped put my own vocational journey into perspective, having now been on both sides of a discernment retreat, and to see the joy in them reminded me of the joy I find with the Franciscans.”
Joseph, who was responsible for organizing the fraternal game nights, commented that “there’s something incredibly beautiful in someone attempting to show God’s vast love to the world, in becoming a ‘person for everyone.’ I’m continually overwhelmed by so many people showing this love and the joy it brings, and this past weekend by the incredible men willing to give it a try and see what God can do for and through them.”
The leadership of the postulants was “filled with God’s grace,” said Basil, vocation director. “The tenor of this retreat was very different from previous weekends thanks to the unique contributions of our postulants and their interactions with our guests, each of whom is deeply rooted in Franciscan spirituality,” said Basil. “The postulants had a tremendous sense of outreach, and their experiences as discerners themselves truly resonated with the experiences of the participants during the weekend.”
Octavio Duran, OFM, editor of the Franciscan publication The Anthonian, who documented the retreat, was “moved by the willingness of the candidates to consider religious life. As the [they] shared their journey and openly spoke about their vocational discernment, I realized how the grace and mercy of God continues to inspire young men to follow Christ in the steps of St. Francis.”
Summing up his experience over the weekend, Octavio concluded, “Holy Name Province is blessed with such men eager to answer the call to be Franciscan friars.”
One discerner offered these parting words in thanks for everyone involved in the weekend:
“Thank you so much for setting up such a wonderful discernment retreat this weekend! The friars shared not only their joy as friars, but they also shared some of their own brokenness and vulnerabilities as human beings. What a gift! Thank you.”
The Vocation Ministry is looking forward to three upcoming vocation events in 2017: a discernment weekend in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla. (from Jan. 20 to 22); a vocation awareness weekend with Gonzalo Torres-Acosta, OFM, and the friars in Durham, N.C. (Jan. 20 – 22); and a discernment weekend for black Catholic men at Holy Name College (Feb. 10 – 12). For more information about attending one of these events, contact the vocation ministry team at email@example.com.
— Benjamin Simpson is the administrative coordinator for the Franciscan Vocation Ministry.
- “Postulants Begin Year with Workshops, Visits and Fraternity” – Dec. 14, 2016, HNP Today
- “Vocation Ministry Hosts Retreat Honoring Feast of St. Francis” – Oct. 19, 2016, HNP Today
- “Vocation Event Attracts Visitors to Wilmington, Philadelphia” – Feb. 24, 2016, HNP Today