Seasonal Reflection: A Year of Renewal

Basil Valente, OFM Features

Franciscan friars talk at Holy Name Provice's chapter at Siena College.
As the Year of Consecrated Life continues, the Province’s vocation director encourages friars to view the year as a chance for renewal, and to look for new ways to continue supporting those who may be discerning a vocation to religious life.

The words of the psalm, “My flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26) have always invited me to consider and pray about my own life, especially as a Friar Minor. This psalm is wonderful and deeply engaging because it exudes a joyful confidence in God and in God’s unceasing love for all humanity. The psalmist does not present us with shallow words, but rather a powerful understanding of God’s constant love for his creatures, no matter what the situation.

Francis of Assisi tried to live his life as a joyful penitent, always aware of God’s love for him, a sinner. As many of us are firmly aware, Francis’s greeting was usually “Pax et Bonum” (peace and all good), a greeting that was filled with great joy and love of neighbor.

For me, the hardest part about reading, praying and reflecting on this psalm is being attentive to God’s voice in my life. Even after almost 30 years as a Franciscan, it’s sometimes difficult to identify God’s voice, and to be open to his voice and what He may be suggesting. At this point on my journey, God is calling me to be even more loving toward my brothers and sisters.

A Year of Renewal
With that important challenge in front of me, I recognize this Year of Consecrated Life as an opportunity for me to renew my own commitment to my vowed life and to “wake up the world to a different way of doing things, of acting, of living, of loving” as Pope Francis has so eagerly suggested. “Wherever there is life, fervor, and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise,” says Pope Francis. What inspired words, right?

For about six months now, I’ve been involved in full-time vocation ministry for Holy Name Province, after serving as a professor of marketing and communications for more than 20 years at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York.

I’ve learned a great deal during my few months in vocation ministry, not the least of which is that the spirit of God is working, with great power, in each of us, during our joyful experiences and even during our darkest moments, when we feel most broken. In all of this, we can be assured of God’s constant love for us.

Throughout my vocational ministry, I continue to be amazed at the wonderful and spirit-filled men who express sincere interest in the Franciscans and invite me to journey with them as they joyfully and prayerfully consider the consecrated life. The best part of this process is inviting these aspirants to share in our prayer life, our ministries, our community life and our meals, and watch them connect with our Province and us.

It’s an important privilege to walk with these men along their journey of discernment and watch them embrace a firm conviction that being loved by God is at the center of one’s vocation. Men will continue to join us if our witness continues to be joyful and authentic, rooted in daily prayer, healthy community life and ongoing, other-centered ministry. This joyful witness is very present throughout Holy Name Province.

A Challenge to Consider
At the heart of it all, though, we must remember to ask these men who are exploring vocations a simple, but essential question: Have you ever considered being a Franciscan friar? The responses continue to overwhelm me, in the best sense. The question, moreover, usually begins a significant and prayerful conversation.

During this important time of journeying with men along the path of discernment, I realize that I can never be too open, too understanding or too loving. If we’re to embrace this time of renewal in our Church, as Pope Francis has suggested, we must continue to pray for more vocations and encourage vocational pursuits, especially during this Year of Consecrated Life. As a Province, we can always challenge ourselves to be more attentive to accomplishing our work and our ministry with a joyful confidence in God’s appreciation for us, knowing that we are infinitely loved and always guided by the Spirit.

As many of us are aware, discerning one’s vocation — religious or otherwise — is no easy task. At a time when our candidates have nearly endless options and choices to make, identifying God’s voice amid the din of social pressures and individual desires may be more challenging than ever. During these times, we can never ask the question too often: Have you ever thought of being a Franciscan friar?

At the same time, as I work to invite men to our way of life, I see an ongoing hunger in today’s world for the values of Francis of Assisi, as Pope Francis has lovingly made clear. People everywhere respond to the clarity of St. Francis’s message; to his courage as a peacemaker, to his depth of compassion for all people and all of creation, and to his special concern for the poor and marginalized. These are all expressions of his profound love for Christ and Christ’s love for us.

That said, I’ve found that people today are yearning to follow Francis’s experience of the Gospel in action. Francis took to the streets to share Christ’s love with people who were suffering and alienated. People today are looking for the same experiences. They’re joining the Franciscans to embrace the Gospel message of Jesus Christ by living humbly as brothers, testifying to the great joy of apostolic ministry in imitation of Jesus.

The Treasure of Brotherhood
As I continue with this ministry, I’ve also found that there’s a different face of vocational prospects than was the case in the past. For example, Holy Name Province is seeing a variety of aspirants from many backgrounds, cultures and ages. And, these men are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with many candidates being in their 40s. The Province recently revised its policy guidelines for candidates seeking admission, providing more opportunities for those who are more than 40 years old. Why are these men coming to us later in life?

A recent PEW study on Religion and Public Life reveals, “about half of American adults have changed their religious affiliation at least once during their lives.” Many in that group have changed their religious affiliation more than once.

Additionally, people who have left particular religious affiliations did so because the organizations were too judgmental and/or hypocritical, and the religious organizations focused too much on power and/or money.

What do these findings suggest to me as a vocation director? First, they imply that we must be open to the people of God as they consider God’s call to the consecrated life. We must be open to the hand of God calling them to join us. We must be open to one’s brokenness, always inviting one to see the Sprit of God working in one’s life to forgive and lead us forward in the Gospel message of love.

The other piece I’ve learned is that it’s a privilege to journey with God’s people — at whatever level of discernment.

Another delightful part of working in vocational ministry is that I’ve realized, first hand, the treasure of brotherhood we have in Holy Name Province. I’m so grateful to the friars for the many and ongoing ways they promote vocations. Our brothers, individually and collectively, truly support vocations and they will do whatever they can to help an aspirant with one’s discernment process. This personal ownership, from our Province, rooted in God’s loving embrace, highlights the essential value of our brotherhood, rooted in authenticity of action: being who we say we are. I’m truly grateful for this.

Like Pope Francis, I believe today’s Church is hungry for the Franciscan message of Gospel-centered compassion, humility and love. Now is the time for Franciscans to make a difference. Now is the time for us to unceasingly recommend that men consider a vocation to Holy Name Province with the simple but thought-provoking question: Is God calling you to be a Franciscan Friar? As a Province, let’s wake up the world to “a different way of doing things, of acting, of living, of loving…”

“My flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps. 73:26)

Br. Basil, the vocation director for Holy Name Province since summer 2014, professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1987 .


Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday or holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office. The previous HNP Today Seasonal Reflection, about Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was written by Benedict Taylor, OFM.