Every so often, when they are away from their peers or potential eavesdroppers, young men will ask the question, "Father, how did you know that you wanted to be a Franciscan friar or a priest?" I must admit, it's not an easy question to answer. I suppose it's like a parent trying to answer the question, "How did you know that Mom/Dad was the right one for you?" It seems easy enough, I suppose, but really isn't.
It's not because I don't know exactly -- it's more like, how do you explain a mystery? And a vocation is a mystery! For me, at least, there was no "magic moment" of Aha! It was more gradual. I am very visual, and I think part of my childhood attraction was the Franciscan habit. But the story of St. Francis of Assisi caught my imagination and heart even moreso!
I was fascinated by St. Francis' relationship with the Lord Jesus -- with his deep attraction to prayer, his holy boldness in preaching the Gospel, and his willingness to joyfully love his opponents who, quite frankly, thought he was nuts. I wanted to be like the "Poverello" (little poor man in Italian). I wanted to live for Jesus Christ!
When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s!) I became involved in an area-wide youth group in metropolitan Pittsburgh, PA. It was led by one of our friars, Fr. Augustin ("Gus") Milon, OFM. And it was through him that I ended up becoming a Franciscan friar myself. I was drawn to prayer, to preaching and eventually to work among the poor.
I guess I just connected with the Franciscan charism (gift of the Holy Spirit), but before I even knew that there was a Franciscan charism! Maybe it grabbed me? See what I mean? It's difficult to explain. It really is a mystery.
But through prayerful discernment with other Franciscans over time it became increasingly obvious to me that this was where I belonged. God works with what attracts us. The Gospel of Jesus, the whole Bible, the Mass and Sacraments of the Church, the life and writings of St. Francis of Assisi, the habit, prayer, preaching -- all these attracted me to the Order of Friars Minor. It was something consistent and persistent in my life.
How about you? What attracts you? What does the Lord use to attract you to himself? To his Church? To ministry?
(In the above photo from August 2006, Bro. Jaime Hernandez, OFM from Guadalajara, Mexico and I are at "The Fest", a vocation event held annually in the Cleveland, OH area.)