July 01, 2019
It is the end of the work day on a Friday afternoon. Your coworkers are closing up shop at their desk talking about their weekend plans. Your coworker Paul says he is going hiking in the mountains on Saturday and enjoying a barbecue on Sunday. Another coworker Suzanne says she is going back to her apartment to watch Netflix catching up on The Crown. Your other coworker Ryan is going to the park for a picnic with his girlfriend Theresa. As for yourself, you don’t have plans this weekend, and like other weekends, you will go back to the apartment, take care of laundry, find a local bar, watch some Netflix, and browse social media.
While this is meant to be a fictional story, it is meant to represent the American workplace. Some people’s lives can be exciting. Others desire to be low key. Others desire to have relationship with others. In my personal opinion, I prefer being in relationship with others seeing who is the real Paul or who is the real Ryan. But at the same time, the story above was meant to be superficial. I intentionally left out what each of the coworker’s aspirations are. Some may not want to work 9 to 5, 5 days a week. Some may want to live out a different vocation.
When I use the word vocation, I mean a personal call that each person receives in life. In the Catholic perspective, a vocation is usually understood as a call to the priesthood, but that doesn’t give it justice. Some people are called to be married, some people are called to be single, some people are called to be priests. That is part of the equation. Each one of us has particular gifts and talents. Some are talented in art such as drawing. Some people are gifted musicians. Some people are great at math and science. Some people are great in medicine. Some people are great with interpersonal skills. Some people are great being social workers. Some people are great offering a helping hand at a soup kitchen. These gifts of ours are not to be wasted. They are not to be ignored. They help define who you are.
At the same time, there is one option I have not mentioned yet. This is the call to religious life. Some people may ask, “What is religious life?” I could give the stereotypical answer of “You live out the evangelical counsels more fully.” What does that mean? It means you recognize that when you read the Bible when Jesus says “Come follow me” you want to take that challenge. I intentionally use the word challenge, because it is not an easy journey. Nothing in life is easy. But I can assure you, it is one of the greatest gifts one can receive. That still doesn’t answer what religious life is. Religious life is where one lives in conformity with Christ with the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Each community is unique in their particular charism, but in most cases, they follow this general formula. In case people are not familiar with the word charism, I will use the word mission instead. Each community has a mission to fulfill in life. Each individual member is called to fulfill that mission to the best of their ability.
I think now is a good time to introduce myself. My name is Brother Chris Garcia, Conventual Franciscan (OFM Conv.) I was born and raised in Southern California in the Diocese of Orange. Growing up, I was the typical kid growing up at the beach, relaxing with friends on the weekend, going to movies, travelling a lot. All of these things were good, but slowly I began to learn that something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I grew up in a pious Catholic family, going to Mass every Sunday. At first, it was out of obligation so I went with my parents and younger brother Matthew. Eventually, I made the choice to go to Mass on my own separate from my parents when I entered high school. It was not until my junior year of high school that I truly began trusting God more. It was towards the end of junior year when I had a terrible day at school when some of my friends abandoned me and left me in a distraught state. I went home and called out to God saying “If you are real, show Yourself. I am at the end of my rope.” Within a minute, I could not move any of my limbs. I was literally stuck on my bed in my room. No one physical was nearby but there was a soothing presence in the room. That soothing presence was my answer. That soothing presence spoke saying “You are not alone. You will never be alone. Trust in me.” I knew at that moment that God was real. I knew then that I had to dedicate my life to God. I did not know how, but I had to do everything in my power to answer His call. It took me until the end of my junior year of college to finally meet the Conventual Franciscans. I was accepted after graduating from Saint Mary’s College of California in 2014, but my province and I agreed to defer postulancy until July 2015 so I could work out some personal matters.
A vocation does not spring out of thin air. It needs to be fostered with all experiences that one encounters. Some typical encounters are how you address your family, how you respond to the beggar on the street, what purchases you make for the week or month, whether you decide to watch that YouTube video, whether you shirk responsibilities because you want me time. Each experience that one does is a small piece to discovering one’s identity. Each experience helps shape us into the person God calls us to be whether we want to admit or not. We are all called to greatness, it is a matter of whether we want to answer that call.
At the same time, I know it is hard to say yes to something unfamiliar. Arguably that is the hardest part of saying yes to God. I have to constantly remind myself, “It is not about you. It is about Him.” There are days when it is a challenge. I will not deny there are days when I want to tell my brother friars “You are flat out wrong.” But as I have discovered in religious life, you will not agree with everyone. Not everyone will be your friend. But we are all called to something more. We are called to imitate Christ to the best of our ability. Is it a challenge? Absolutely. Are there days when I think that I can’t get through it? Absolutely. Does that stop me? No. Each one of us is called to use our God given gifts. Each one of us is special. We are all gifts of God. We are all children of God.
With this pep talk, there is one question that must be answered. What communities are out there for me? I will admit it is difficult to answer so I will try to the best of my ability. As I have tried emphasizing throughout, each one of us has our particular gifts. We all have our different passions. In the history of Christianity, a community formed because of a founder who recognized there was a need in society for that particular charism. For us Franciscans, we saw that the monastic model was not meant for us. We were called to go out to the people, instead of the people coming to us. We are called to go out to the margins of society. We are called to meet people where they are whether they are in the cities, the countryside, the suburbs, the jungles to name a few.
Each institute of consecrated life had a founder who wanted to help people in some way. To name a few, there are the Benedictines, the Augustinians, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Ursulines, the Daughters of Charity, the Missionaries of Charity, the Daughters of St Paul, the Sisters of Life. There are hundreds if not thousands more throughout the world. It is a matter of what people are looking for. One search engine that I highly recommend is https://vocationnetwork.org/ This site allows you to search hundreds of community throughout the US and throughout the world if you wish to go international. You answer a series of questions such as background, what apostolates you are interested in, and after the questionnaire, you get a series of communities which are as close to your percentage as possible. It is then up to you to email them to get more information.
A vocation is not meant to be alone. It needs to be done in conversation with others, people that we trust. As I mentioned earlier, no vocation comes out of thin air. Conversations with others is absolutely key. This is not a one man show. This is a commitment between multiple parties. Is it hard to decide on communities? Absolutely, but I will let you in on a secret. When you are visiting communities depending on your prayer life, you get a sense of being at home. Before I chose the Conventual Franciscans, I was investigating different communities. I wanted to see what the community was offering. Sometimes you may not get the sense on your first come and see. Sometimes it takes multiple trips. But at the end of the day, no matter what community one decides to enter, you will feel at home. At the same time, even once in a community, situations may change. You may feel disconcerted with new practices. I can assure you that is common. It may not be a reason to leave. It is a matter of discernment between you, God, and others.
I hope y’all learned something from this article. There are great communities out there looking for vocations. Perhaps it will be you, perhaps it will be your friend, perhaps it may be your coworker. I want to assure you there is another option. Pray about it, and if you think you want to give it a try, go ahead and ask yourself “What do I want to do in life? How do I want to serve? What are my gifts and talents? How can they be used for good? As for myself, I do have to give a shout out to some tremendous communities within the US. Some I will mention are the Daughters of St Paul, the Sisters of Life, Nashville Dominicans, CFRs, Salesians, just to name a few. As for myself and for you, if you ever think that the Conventual Franciscans might be a fit for you, I will attach the US website here. https://www.franciscans.org/ Pray for me as I will pray for you. I wish you the best of luck in discerning your vocation. In case you have additional questions, I will also attach some of my personal social media handles. If you are on Twitter, feel free to follow me @friarchrisg. If you prefer Instagram, feel free to follow me @brochris1223.
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July 13, 2019