Reflections - Friars in Post Novitiate
Their Vocation Journey Continues...
As part of their formation, four of our brothers traveled to Central America to explore what it means to be brother, minor, and servant in a different culture. Please click below to read more about their experience.
http://publishing.capuchin.org/Page Content Documents/immersion experience 2014.pdf
Br. Joseph Anderson, O.F.M, Cap.
As I reflect on my novitiate year, I am grateful for the gift of being able to have a full year to go into deep prayer to reflect on my past and on the present, and to discern even more intentionally God's invitation to me.
Each time we had a recollection day or retreat, at one point or another, I asked myself "How many people have authorities in their lives who provide this much time and space for prayer and reflection so we can grow in our relationship with God and to discern our path in life?" When I struggle with the extra times of silence and structure, the gift in it is a reminder to me that it is a unique opportunity and gift.
I thank God for this opportunity, the brothers in the fraternity and the many benefactors who makes this formation and way of life possible.
Br. Victor Russak, O.F.M., Cap.
As I come to the last stage of my novitiate journey, I am starting to realize just how tremendous a journey it has been. I have experienced a lot in these past 13 months, and it’s amazing to think that it is all almost over. From IPP (Interprovincial Postulancy) in St. Louis, to our first day here at the novitiate in Santa Ynez, to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and on to Boston next month, I have gained countless precious memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
That said, it certainly hasn’t been an easy year. I arrived to the novitiate with massive enthusiasm and was overjoyed and ecstatic to be finally arriving to the place where I would be invested with the Capuchin habit, grow in my Capuchin identity, and encounter God in deeper ways than I could ever imagine. At the start of the year I was a total dreamer, wrapped up in my own glorious vision of the novitiate year to come. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I never thought that it would be as challenging for me as it was.
Many of the challenges I faced during the year had to do with identity. Being in a new environment, in a massively diverse group of brother novices, and disconnected from the friars back home, it was difficult for me to enter into this new community. I struggled with my Capuchin identity, challenged by my formators to really examine and understand what it means to be a Capuchin friar in the year 2016, and what that means for my own vocation. It was also during this time that the Holy Spirit decided it was time to challenge my own sense of self. As I drew closer to God, I realized that in order to understand Him, I first needed to understand myself. That’s what I really think this year has been about: figuring out who I am in my relationship to others and in my relationship to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The greatest blessing this year came in the form of my brothers. There is no way to describe in human words the kind of bonds that formed within our community this past year. Amidst all the difficulties that presented themselves throughout the year, we stuck together and supported each other. And although several of the men I have lived with this year have discerned that God is not calling them to Capuchin life, and have left our community, the bonds that we formed in brotherhood and the memories we shared together will not pass away. It is the same for all my brothers that have remained, and who will be taking vows come July. These too, no matter where they go in their various provinces around the world, will always be my brothers. Even with the difficulties that come naturally in community life, I am grateful for getting the chance to live with these admirable men. They were there for me in my struggles, supporting me each time I felt like falling, and in that I know Christ was at work within us the whole way through.
As I reflect on the many challenges I face this year, and being at the end of the road with a massive yearning to just be back home already, it was at first a little difficult to conclude that this year has been good. But I had to look deeper than that. Surely I can’t deny that I experienced a lot of trials along the way, but I also have to recognize that it was because of those trials that this year has been so good. It is by staying firm in the face of trials that we learn and grow, and without them, the year would have been meaningless. When I first began this year I imagined it to be a year of wonderful contemplation in the lovely, golden hills of Santa Ynez. Instead, God sent me straight into the fray of answering all those difficult questions of discernment, Capuchin life, and who I really am. I look back now and see how much a blessing it has truly been.
Now it is only a matter of weeks before I profess my first vows with the Capuchin order. I am tremendously excited, and just as nervous. I am definitely looking forward to being back in my province after a year away. I know that our loving and merciful God will be with me to strengthen and guide me along the road ahead, and that my fellow Capuchin brothers will be there to do the same.
Br. Paul Fesefeldt, O.F.M., Cap.
My first year in vows has been both challenging and rewarding. It was challenging because as a lay brother with no more schooling to do this was a transitional year of looking for ministry opportunities that fit into my formation schedule. Being new to Boston this took time. Even after setting up ministries it takes time to discover how my identity as a Capuchin Franciscan informs my work.
But now that the year is over I can say it has been a real blessing. I was able to work in direct ministry to the Homeless helping the Behavioral Health Team at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) as well as getting involved in the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) – a program to offer free retreats and spiritual follow-up work to men and women on the street to help end homelessness. This work connected me to folks at the Common Cathedral who do the Chaplaincy work at BHCHP and I am getting more involved in their work next year. I was also able to do an Internship at a local retreat center, and get involved in the music ministry at a local parish, at which I will be the English-speaking Choir Director next year.
So, from a year of deep prayer in the Novitiate, to a year of very active ministry in Boston! This is truly the life of the friar: to learn to balance both of those worlds of contemplation and action. That’s what the Post-Novitiate years are about. I look forward to next year and the challenges and the rewards that it holds. Mostly, though, I look forward to deepening my vocation and identity as a Capuchin Friar; a life that I truly love.
Br. George Alvarado, O.F.M., Cap.
Novitiate was quite an experience. There were many challenges and struggles that I’ve faced throughout the year, such as being in the West Coast where things are done very differently from the East. The challenge for me was not having a formator from our province on staff or even somebody living in the house that was from our province. Thankfully Fr. Brendan Buckley from our province lived closed by and he came over regularly to hear confessions for the novices. He was very helpful to talk to and vent with over the challenges of the life. This is also were spiritual direction helped a great deal, as did talking to my brother novices. Besides all the struggles and challenges, there were also very beautiful moments and fun times during novitiate.
Our fraternity hit it off very well before even novitiate began because of IPP (Interprovincial Postulancy Program). The honesty from each brother during our vocation stories in IPP really helped build a foundation that grew even stronger in novitiate. Fraternity in novitiate was crucial to my discernment and vocation. I really have to thank my brothers who I have had the privilege of living with because if it weren’t for the bonds and relationships that were built, I would have easily left novitiate a long time ago.
Most of the beautiful moments happened when we all came together as a whole. For example during Christmas we hosted a posada for a large Hispanic community. Our musically talented brothers entertained the crowd very well, our top chefs of the class prepared great food and everyone helped in some way or form. The people left feeling joyful and loved because of the effort we all put into each individual person there. I can go on and on about Easter, Thanksgiving etc. It really was the best holidays I have ever experienced during my novitiate year. These were big moments where everyone came together but there were also smaller unnoticeable moments that made my novitiate experience worth it. Like hanging out with a brother past midnight and talking about family, struggles, fears, hopes and dreams etc. That’s where I felt the most love and the presence of God.
To read more of our brother George's reflection, please click here. http://publishing.capuchin.org/Page Content Documents/reflection George Alvarado.pdf
Br. Andrew Skonieczny, O.F.M., Cap.
The Rule of St. Francis begins with these words, “The rule and life of the Lesser Brothers is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity.” These words are challenging, but as a brother entering into my third year of simple vows I have experienced the joy that comes from this rule of life.
This upcoming year will be one of great discernment. I look forward to its many challenges knowing that with patience His Will will be made clear to me. This year I will also be entering into my final year of my undergraduate studies. I have grown in many ways from my academic experience thus far and I look forward to continuing my studies toward the priesthood.
People often ask me what makes Franciscans different, and I always say that from my experience it is our understanding of Fraternity. I am grateful to my brothers for all their support thus far and know they will always be there for me in my life as a friar.
Br. William Tarraza, O.F.M., Cap.
Since I began discerning a call to religious life, the idea of “forever” seemed to be quite daunting. What if I can’t do this? What if I make a mistake? What if… what if… the questions that arose in my head directed my heart to what I couldn’t do. As I have journeyed through initial formation, I realized how correct I was: I can’t do this. I make mistakes…I…I…
My time as a friar has given me an opportunity to realize my dependence on the love of Christ. There is nothing better in life then recognizing Christ’s unconditional love. Once I allowed myself to be embraced by God’s love wholeheartedly, I was able to listen to God’s response to my many questions… And God’s response was always 3 words: I love you. The more God answered me, the more I believed it. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my own responses… I’m also glad I didn’t heed my fears of “forever”, because as I see it, “Forever” is exactly what we are all striving for as Christians, that is, forever in Christ.
The hope of eternal life strengthens my commitment to live a life for Christ and the Church as a Capuchin Franciscan. I cannot be certain where this life will lead, but I do know that the most important part of life is the knowledge that I am loved, and that my response is to give my life for the sake of God and God’s people.
Make no mistake… we are all called to give ourselves to God as Christians; it’s simply how we choose to live it out in our own call. I’m grateful to the brothers in the province of St. Mary of the Capuchin Order, my family, my friends, and anyone else for helping me to find God’s call in my own life… I hope that in my life as a friar, I may share the love that I have encountered with each person I meet. May God give you peace.
Br. Anthony Zuba, O.F.M., Cap.
God is everywhere. But we cannot find God just anywhere. Where one person finds herself and God, another person may be lost, even though the same God abides there. Every person is different. Therefore, God prepares special places for each of us. When the moment comes, Jesus brings each of us to the special place where God is waiting for us. And Jesus gives us the inner vision and wisdom to recognize which places are for us.
Initial formation with the Capuchins has showed me how to recognize the places where Jesus will lead me to God. It has showed me how to recognize the hour of God's choosing. Initial formation has done this because it has showed me the unique person God is making me through the Holy Spirit.
Over the last four years, Jesus has brought me to several places: first to Brooklyn, then to Victoria, Kan., then to Santa Ynez, Calif., then to Boston. Now, Jesus brings me to New York City to minister with the brothers and with God's people at our two parishes in midtown Manhattan. It is less common these days for initial formation to occur outside a formation house, yet it is a testament to the friars' faith that they see Jesus leading me to live the Gospel here and now in New York City. We friars are of one heart and mind, whatever our particular feelings and thoughts, that this is an opportunity from God, and it will be for the good of the order, the Church, and for all people. And it will be good for me, too.
No one knows how this will work out. No one can foresee how God's love and mercy, and the peace and justice of Christ, will show forth through my ministry or through the evangelical fraternity the brothers and I will share. With Thomas we can justly say to Jesus, "Master, we do not know where you are going" (John 14:5); but when he continues, "How can we know the way?" we will fall silent, for we will trust that Jesus is our way, our companion and our guide through every uncertainty. Wherever we are, whatever happens, good or bad, we go and we live with God who has formed each of us uniquely and has destined each of us for glory. As an emerging Capuchin, it gives me joy to be on the move again and rebuild God's great house in a place I never expected to go.
Br. Scott Surrency, O.F.M., Cap.
One way of thinking about one’s perpetual profession of vows might be to see it simply as the culmination or completion of something, like graduating with a college degree or running a marathon (I’ve done the former several times and the latter never). But I know that final profession is not an accomplishment or an achievement for me to be proud of; rather, it is a gift to be cherished and nurtured for the rest of my life.
Looking back on the last several years of my life since I first walked through the front door of St. Michael’s Friary in East New York, Brooklyn, as a postulant, I can see just how much I’ve been formed as a Capuchin friar and imbued with the Franciscan spirit. There were times throughout initial formation when it was quite difficult to see the fruits of that process for being too close to it, too involved in it – I could see the trees but not the forest. Nearly six years later, I can now step back with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for the challenges I’ve had to face and appreciate more fully the Capuchin values that have been instilled in me.
As I get closer to full-time ministry, I can see how everything – postulancy, novitiate, academic studies, life in fraternity, contemplative prayer – has all fit together and transformed me into a lesser brother, and that’s very exciting. I am thankful for the grace God has given not only to me to stick through the tough times of my life so far as a Capuchin but also to the brothers to bear with me as I’ve moved in and out of (and occasionally back into!) those rough spots.
By God’s grace, I am not the same man I was when I first joined the Order, and I hope I will be able to say the same thing in another five years. I am both enthused and humbled by the prospect of ordination to the priesthood a year from now - God willing! – once I’ve completed yet another college degree. I am genuinely curious to see where my Capuchin vocation will take me in the future and what kind of people and places and situations I will encounter.
Our Capuchin Constitutions speak of our way of life as “a daring adventure of love,” and I feel like I’m finally beginning that adventure. Initial formation laid the foundation for such an adventure, and I am convinced that this “daring adventure of love” will continue to form me in surprising ways if only I remain open to the Holy Spirit. In many ways and for various reasons, I know that I am utterly underserving of a Capuchin vocation, but at the same time, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else with my life. Deo gratias!
Br. John Koelle, O.F.M., Cap.
Matthew 25:36: “I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.”
I reflect on my vocation journey with gratitude to our Good and Gracious God who has blessed me with an incredible life. Since I returned to formation to study and discern the priesthood, I’ve been touched in so many ways how God has put people in my life who have blessed me with their presence.
This past academic year I returned to St. John Seminary as a first year theologian. The excitement began with a fraternal barbeque with my classmates; catching up on summer ministerial experiences along with meeting new men who were equally eager in discerning God’s call for them in their lives. More importantly, however, was greeting our brothers who returned from novitiate professing their first vows along with the friars who renewed their vows. God is certainly good when all is well.
A frustrating experience which truly became a blessing for me was trying to find a ministry where I could visit the sick. It took longer than I expected but after prayer and discernment with my formation advisor and fellow friars, I accepted a student chaplaincy position at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Brighton, MA. The supervisor and the 2 Catholic priest chaplains could not have been more supportive, loving and generous with me as I was “learning the ropes”. My time visiting patients and family on 2 floors presented me with a multitude of experiences: from a young Russian Orthodox man realizing that life is short after surgery to comforting family when a loved one dies. I’d like to share briefly one beautiful experience.
I was finishing a visit with a Catholic patient when I heard a woman in the next bed move into a chair. Knowing that I may have been a little loud, I popped my head around the curtain to apologize. The woman was young, middle aged to be sure, and seemed quite anxious. Suddenly, she burst into tears. I couldn’t leave her so I came around and asked what’s going on. The patient, not Catholic, shared that she has to make some life changes if she wants to stay alive. A mother of a couple of young children and a wife, she suffered a major heart attack which requires her to undergo open heart surgery. She was frightened. I allowed her to share with me what she was feeling while at the same time I was asking our Blessed Mother to listen to the patient’ heart. We chatted about faith, assuring her that the hospital is one of the best for heart surgery and she can place her faith in God and the staff who will care for her. We said a prayer and promised to speak after the procedure.
I went to see the woman a couple of days later. Although she didn’t have the procedure because of other complications my friend was certainly lighter and in better spirit. It was as if another “thing” was not going to bother her and with the Lord, her family and medical staff they will get through this!
When I was a candidate discerning religious life with the Capuchins I remember talking with many friars who were chaplains in jails, hospitals and mental institutions. They shared that the core of chaplain ministry as a Capuchin is one of presence; being there for those who need someone to talk to or pray with at a time when they are most vulnerable. My experience at St. Elizabeth helped deepen my vocation as a Capuchin Friar Minor; giving thanks and praise to God the Most High for the opportunity to serve Him and His Church.