Sunday 2 June 2019

The Holy Spirit and Vocation Discernment

When I was discerning a vocation to the Capuchins I was assigned a friar with whom I met on a monthly basis. This friar acted as spiritual guide for me as I tried to figure out what the Lord was calling me to do. I was still working full-time and traveled from the city centre by bus to meet him. The bus journey was a time for me to think about what I was going to say to him about how things were going. It also gave me a little time and space to move from 'office' mode to 'discernment' mode.

When I arrived he usually had tea made and this was always welcome. We sat down in the friary parlour and talked easily as we drank tea. One day I remember asking him 'What more do I need to do? I mean what do I need to do to help me figure out what I'm supposed to do?' I remember without losing a beat or a breath he said 'you're doing enough, the rest is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you want to do something, move out of the way and let the Spirit do His work!'
On the bus journey back into the city, my head settled on the words 'move out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do His work.'

Over time I came to realise that one of the most important elements of any discernment process involves creating space. When we are discerning God's will in our lives, we are essentially trying to pay attention to a still, small and gentle voice that echoes within a busy and noisy world. To even have a chance at doing this, we need to introduce some silence and stillness into our daily lives. This can be difficult to do - it takes time, practice and patience. However, it is within this space that we experience the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Creating a space in our lives for vocational discernment also takes courage - recall the disciples huddled together in fear before they allowed the Spirit the space necessary to operate and create. One step at a time - one space at a time.

Today I am the Vocation Promotor for the Irish Capuchins and I'm the one often asked this same question - what more do I need to do? This question comes from a well meaning place. We live in a world where we have to be the powerhouse behind getting things done. If we don't put the effort in, then we have only ourselves to blame if things don't work out - right? When it comes to discerning a vocation it's a little different. Of course there are things that we need to do - we need to pray, seek spiritual direction, reach out to others, open our hearts, read certain things and meet certain people. However, behind all of this - driving all of this - is not our power but rather the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to vocation discernment - less is very often more!

The Holy Spirit is central to any kind of discernment - we discern things all the time but probably don't use this term. The old phrase is that 'The Holy Spirit is the real Vocation Director' and this is true. The Holy Spirit also works through opportunities, challenges, disappointments and successes. St Bonaventure (The great Franciscan Saint and Doctor of the Church) speaks of this movement of the Spirit as 'desire'. It's not the same desire that we have for pizza or chocolate or whatever - but rather a deep seated longing and yearning for God in our lives. It is in and through this affective action (movement of the heart) that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. To feel and to hear this we need to create some time and space to allow ourselves to feel and to hear . If we are caught up in 'doing mode' all the time - we'll miss the good stuff.

As we approach the great feast of Pentecost we are once more presented with the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we allow the Spirit to work in our lives and the ways in which we prevent the Spirit from working. To aid our reflection we could ask ourselves:

  • In what ways do we remain locked behind our own doors of fear? 
  • In what ways do we have the courage to open these doors and allow the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit fill our lives? 
  • How can we create a sense of spaciousness in our lives that better allows us to hear and feel the movement of the Holy Spirit? 
  • What must decrease so as to allow the movement of the Spirit increase?
  • In what ways do I notice my desire for God in my life?
  • In what ways do I need to move out of the way of the Holy Spirit to let Him do His work? 

In my own life I often go back to those wise words - you're doing enough, the rest is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you want to do something, move out of the way and let the Spirit do His work!'- and as I do I pray that I have the courage to have a heart open to the possibilities that this brings.

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Br Martin OFM Cap.
Vocation Promotor

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with your Love.

Come so that we may have life and bring life.

Come so that the world may be illuminated by Love, Peace and Joy.

Come Spirit of Transformation - so that we may be transformed.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Living Authentically in the Spirit of St Francis

This evening in Dublin, people are gathering in the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People to pack 3,000 food parcels. These parcels will be distributed to the poor of Dublin tomorrow morning. People will queue outside the Centre from early in the morning in whatever weather tomorrow may bring. 

The people who will come tomorrow do so to receive practical help; food to tide them over the Christmas period. Many also come to wish Br Kevin and the staff of the Day Centre a happy Christmas and to thank them for all they do over the course of the year. 

I worked as a volunteer in the Capuchin Day Centre before I joined then order and again as a Capuchin student. The 'back packing', as it is known, is one of the highlights of the year. The atmosphere is friendly and festive; a mix of music, mince pies and Christmas jumpers! 

Behind the festivity is the deep rooted desire to help others. This desire is in all human hearts and not alone the property of us Franciscans! However our founder St Francis took this desire to a new level as he ministered to the needs of the poor ( usually lepers) in his time and place. As St Francis was dying he told the Friars 'God has shown me what was mine to do, now let him show you what is yours'. 

We can't be exactly like St Francis and that's not the point anyway. What we can be is authentically ourselves as God calls us to be. I we aim to do this we will discover that when we live authenticity we begin to find within us the desire to reach out to others as St Francis did; in live and without need for anything in return. 

Every bag that is packed tonight is a living put of the gospel call to help those in need. It's very Franciscan, very Capuchin but mostly, it's very human. 

May the Lord give you Peace!

Br Martin OFM Cap. 
Vocation  Promotor for the Irish Capuchin Franciscan Friars. 

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Stop and pray at the tomb of St Francis

 Above is a link to a live webcam which allows us to visit the tomb of St Francis in Assisi and spend a moment in prayer at any time. During the day you will see the thousands of pilgrims, many of them young people, who come to visit St Francis' tomb.

In the busyness of the Christmas season it is important for us to take time to stop and pray. Let us join in prayer with our Holy Father St Francis for our needs and the needs of the World: 

Lord, Light the darkness of my heart and give me
a correct faith, certain hope and perfect charity.
Sense and knowledge Lord, that I may carry out your Holy and True command

(St Francis Prayer for Enlightenment)

Pax Br Martin

Tuesday 18 December 2018

The Christmas Crib: A Franciscan Story

This time every year in schools, churches, homes, hospitals, hospices and shopping centres the Christmas Crib stands as a tangible reminder to us that God is real and God is with us. Cribs come in all shapes and sizes and often reflect the cultural context they are in. A crib is an important part of Christmas symbolism and a doorway to deeper reflection and prayer.

The formation of the first Christmas crib is attributed to St Francis of Assisi. In 1223, just three years before his death, Francis went to visit the Friars living in the remote mountain village of Greccio. St Bonaventure tells us that in order to excite the people of Greccio to celebrate the birth of the Saviour with all solemnity, Francis brought together all the elements of the stable in Bethlehem into what would become the very first Christmas crib.

Francis used real people, straw and animals to bring the Christmas story to life for the people of Greccio. People came from far and wide to see this spectacle. The night was aglow with candlelight as hymns were sung in praise of the God who is with us.

Francis was very real and very practical.He understood that as human beings we often need to see, hear and even smell something before it can enlighten our minds and ignite our hearts. As Francis

carefully brought the characters of the Christmas scene together, he also skilfully brought the people of Greccio together; uniting them in prayer and praise around a living and breathing expression of God’s connection with the human story. The crib remains a beacon of peace, hope and reconciliation and offers an opportunity for us to reflect upon the deeper message it represents.

(Picture: 'Peace' and St Francis at the first crib at

Greccio. Stained glass windows, St
Francis College Chapel, Rochestown,