On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which this year falls on April 17, Catholics will recognize the 53rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Below, one of Holy Name Province’s regional vocation directors shares thoughts about his role.
Ministering in a busy place like the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan can be a lot of fun in many ways because there are so many things going on. What I like the best is getting to know so many people. The depth of how well I know people varies, as it does in any ministry. Some people I know by name, others only by face. Still others have invited me to be a part of their lives. No matter how well or how casually I know people, very often they know the friars — our names, our preaching styles, and sometimes our routines — whether we’re casually passing by or frantically running to the sacristy.
In reflecting on World Day of Prayer for Vocations — April 17 — and my role as a regional vocation director, I begin with the premise that all friars are de facto vocation directors. Simply by wearing the Franciscan habit, we announce something different, a way of life, and a way of interacting with others as their brother.
New York City has a population 8.4 million people, and yet, it can feel like a very lonely place. Perhaps because of the reputation of St. Francis himself or the good works of friars in whose footsteps we follow, when people see us, they see more than just a particular friar. People see someone who wants to be their brother, their equal, another (occasionally struggling) Christian. So, it is not an unusual occurrence for someone’s gaze to meet ours, and for their expression to soften.
Often, such encounters are just simple pleasantries such as, “Hi, Father” or “Have a nice day.” On other occasions, it might be a question or a request for a more substantive conversation. Depending on the situation and whether I am running somewhere else, these occurrences might also be opportunities.
I have a favorite question that I like to ask people. It’s a question for anyone really, but for young men in church it has particular significance. However, it is not something I can just spring out of the blue, although to the hearer it might seem that way. The question I like to ask is, “Have you ever asked yourself what God is calling you to do?”
Following a question such as this, you’re apt to notice a little confusion, nervousness, surprise, or perhaps even terror. So, I have learned to be quick with a follow-up statement: “I am not asking for the answer, just whether you have ever asked yourself the question.”
Admittedly, this is a deeply personal question. Nonetheless, I think it’s one that all of us need to ask with regularity. Moreover, I can usually read faces well enough to judge whether the hearer might benefit from the question. The people we meet in ministry trust us. And who else is better positioned to remind someone of such an important question than someone he or she already trusts?
In a sense, my bold question might be part of my job description in part-time vocation ministry. I prefer to think of it as rooted in my ministry as a friar. More to the point, I am happy to say that some of the young men who have been on the receiving end of my question now have the initials OFM at the end of their names. Certainly, many would have found their way even without this question. Perhaps this simple, yet profound, question made their journeys just a little clearer.
— Fr. Stephen, who lives at St. Francis of Assisi Friary on West 31st Street in Manhattan, works full-time at St. Francis Friends of the Poor, a permanent supportive housing program founded by the Franciscans in 1980, and part-time at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. He professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 2008.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal theme — are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at email@example.com. The newsletter’s previous seasonal reflection, by Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, titled “Easter: Going to the Father,” was published on March 22.
- 2016 Pope’s Message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations
- Vocation website of Holy Name Province
- “‘Franciscan Vocation Awareness Weekends’ Planned for New Jersey” — March 11, 2016, HNP Today
- “‘Faith-filled Weekends’ Inspire Vocation Candidates, Friars Alike” — Nov. 12, 2015, HNP Today