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It is my presumption that each friar has his own “vocation story.” None of us joined the Friars Minor because we happened to trip over a mop handle in the sacristy of a church and slide into a friary. There are “coincidences” that led us to consider this way of life. Even the word vocation comes from the Latin verb, vocare, which is “to be called.” Samuel’s famous call in the Temple, where the lamp of the Lord was close to being extinguished, involved a need to be accompanied, mentored, to understand the nature of this call, and even how to start responding. The Bible is full of such calls, from Moses in the burning bush, to Isaiah’s vision of an angel with a hot coal touching his mouth in the year of King Uzziah’s death, to Jesus verbally calling fishermen to drop their nets and leave everything behind. They are always full of love and lead to love.
God, it seems, can literally use anything, any event, any dream (maybe even mop handles!) to coax, encourage, command, stir a person to consider living alternatively. All vocations, as married, religious, single, really are a response to God’s urgings in the heart. Lived well, they always take a person on the adventure of his or life. They open us up to love, which is who God is. They stretch us to become better people. They have the effect (perhaps of a mustard seed, or water droplet in a pond) of creating a growing chorus of the entire universe to consent to God’s intention of love. Even our failures, sins, stupid choices and mean ones, when reverently understood, can put us back on course toward being an instrument for God. God forgives, races down heaven’s highway to embrace us in our pain. Both pain and God’s great love seem to eventually get our attention.
I heard an elder friar last week tell me during visitation, “Mark, I’ve been able to receive the deepest desire for which I entered the order. I’ve lived a life of prayer. It makes me happy. My wish has been fulfilled!” This brother, who shall remain nameless, really exudes joy when in his presence. I walk away lighter. Oh, he’s got quite a concern for the poor that gets manifested in his life, too. And even a critique of us as a whole: “We need to reclaim our early enthusiasm. We’ve been goin’ to school in Paris and not taking care of the lepers.” His own connection to our charism has continued over the years.
He did make a point. It is important for us to revisit our own initial vocation experience. There in a kernel is part of our initial and continued enthusiasm. Married couples return to their vocation story that begins generally with the line, “This is how we met…” They are frequently funny and encouraging. As we are in the midst of our own revitalization, I believe our shared story of the early companions of St. Francis holds our kernel of truth. The dream of Francis, his return to caves around Assisi, the care of lepers, meeting with Br. Bernardo, the experience of Rivo Torto, the rebuilding of San Damiano, the wildness of Lady Clare: all these stories hold revitalizing potential! This DNA was passed down through the crazy and serious friars whom we first met at our arrival to this brotherhood. It has been replicated in our own lives, hopefully leading to a life where many friars are saying, “My wish is being fulfilled.”
May others hearing their call to an alternative life see it in us and catch fire.
(Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, is the Provincial Minister of the Province of St. John the Baptist.)