by Friar Timothy Blanchard OFM Conv., Guest Columnist
“You’re going to be a priest one day!”
“Did you ever think about joining the seminary?”
“You are going to be a great priest!”
These are the same statements I heard for eleven years after every Sunday mass by the older ladies as they grabbed my arm and spoke to me about God’s plan for me, with their lip stick edged on their teeth and an aroma of aged perfume surrounding me like incense for a papal mass. The one thing I could be certain about during that period of my life was that I did not want to become a priest simply because I became annoyed of hearing about it, or maybe because I knew deep down these ladies knew I was destined for something
greater than I could run from. It’s most uncanny how God works; most of the time it
seems like the last thing you want on this earth, the thing you try to run away from
becomes entrusted to you, becomes your call. How can you not embrace something that truly comes from God?
Little did I know those comments given to me about the priesthood, as much as I tried to
suppress them, were the very seeds that gave life to my vocation. The first step of a vocation is realizing its existence. I never would have thought of the priesthood, let alone the Franciscans, if it hadn’t been for these older women, or as I like to call them, God’s finest recruiters: the elderly mafia. Getting the call is one thing, but staying faithful to it and all the crazy paths it will take you on it is another. It is becoming harder today because people are less dedicated and we forget that commitment brings stability to our lives. So often do I hear of young people who can only stay on board with a job for only 3 months, or can only hold a relationship for so long before they become bored or disinterested. We have been programmed to anticipate the “next big thing!” So, how do we commit to the call God has given us when have become to used to jumping around? In order to figure this out, I would like to share some insight
with my own vocation story.
When we make a commitment to God, it helps us to commit to other important things in our life, such as relationships, careers, or even volunteer positions. The most challenging part about joining the Franciscans for me was the beginning. There’s always a series of examinations and volunteer hours needed that demonstrates a sense of commitment when joining the church as a brother, sister, deacon or priest. When I first began showing interest to the order I was in contact with the vocation director of Campus Ministry at The Catholic University of America, Father Eric de la Pena. Yes, he was my director at the time and boy did he make me jump through the hoops. Talk about commitment! Anyways, being in Albany I had to travel back and forth to Syracuse to continue my discernment where I worked at the soup kitchen, helped with various projects around the parish, and served for the masses during the week. Every time I visited Father Eric, he knew how to put me out of my comfort zone. After a month of discernment and lots of prayerful hours in adoration, the call was so strong that I
couldn’t deny what I was feeling. Every friary I went to felt like home. That’s really
what it boils down to: what do you want to call home?
The next step was paperwork. I definitely would’ve favored being a disciple during the time of Jesus compared to the way we do things now. All Jesus had to do was say “Follow me” and the Apostles left everything to go out. Today, when you get the “Follow me” call it’s attached with filling out your address eight times on different documents then going for a psychological examination. The disciples had it easy and they were crazier than us!
Nonetheless, the paperwork must be done. They are pretty straight forward though,
you basically fill in the same information for several documents then its on to the written biography. This is required so the friars can catch up with the person you were and have come to be but its just as beneficial to you as it is to them. Additionally, reflecting on your own story is quite exciting. When your finish, you feel like you should forget the whole religious life idea and publish your own book. Once all of the necessary paperwork is finished, its off to the psychologist! That’s right, the order wants to make sure you’re not another St. Peter who would deny his brothers three times before the cock crows, or that you wouldn’t sell your provincial out for 30 pieces of silver. The final stage is left up to a bunch of individuals within the order called “Definitors” that make up a “definitory”, a lot like a Jedi Council (Editor’s Note: We Really do Love Star Wars here at Clarifying Catholicism). Along with the provincial of the province, the Definitors review your psych test, paperwork and biography and decide with the help of the Spirit whether you would be a good fit for the first year of formation known as “postulancy”.
With many prayers and novenas made by my Italian family, I was finally accepted to be
the first Postulant of our new province for the East Coast known as “Our Lady of the
Angels”. My first year (postulancy) was in Chicago. During the postulancy, you get to
observe the friars and partake in meals and prayers with them. It was a fantastic year!
Though in the beginning the hardest thing for me was adjusting to the amount of
prayer time we had. I know we are religious and all but do we really need to pray this
much! This feeling soon dissipated as I let go and let God, as they say.
After this wonderful year, it was on to the next major formation year, the novitiate. Now the novitiate is a tricky one, when you ask friars about it you can receive both horror stories and stories of healing and miracles. This year is really the most unique year friars will ever have in their life as a religious. It is an intense year of prayer and discernment
mixed in with no electronics and drama; it would really be a hit reality show if it ever got
the chance. For me it was the most amazing year I have ever experienced and though I could go on about the impact it had on me, I will simply say it was a year where I truly
heard the voice of God.
So how do we become the call? The answer is simple: we answer the call by, well, answering. Now hear me out, as I mentioned before, what did the apostles do when Christ called them? They dropped everything and answered. What did those who were poor and crippled do in the Bible when Christ came to them, they answered to the healing that was given them by pouring their faith out to God. And what did Our Lady do when visited by the Angel Gabriel who came to her bearing a message that would change the course of the world and not to mention her very life? She answered, “May it be done unto me according to thy word”. Notice all those who answered had no clue what would happen next once they did, but isn’t that our faith? It’s a mystery, and I am sure you have heard this before that we are called to live in the mystery not solve it. So then, we become the call by answering it with faith and fervent devotion; if we think about it, Mary’s “yes” changed and is perpetually changing the world, what will your yes do?