Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Opening the Door of Mercy: The Capuchin ministry of welcome

The monotony of waiting to collect someone from the airport was broken by whoops of joy as 'Martha and the Gang' (according to the 6 foot florescent banner) arrived home. Long before their arrival that banner, and others like it, had brightened the eyes and widened the smiles of the travellers who walked through the doors. They knew they were home. It may not have been a welcome specifically coloured in and shimmering just for them, however it was a well received welcome none the less.

We all need to be welcomed and we all need to feel like we belong. One of the oldest Capuchin ministries was that of 'Doorkeeper'. The Doorkeeper, most often a Friar not ordained to sacramental ministry, was more than just someone who opened the door. They were the face of welcome and mercy to all who called to the Friary seeking help, consolation and support. Not alone where they the 'face of the Capuchins' to those who called but also, and more importantly, they were the 'face of Christ'. They were holy men and many of our Capuchin Saints and Blesseds were Doorkeepers.

As Capuchin Friars, regardless of whether we are ordained or not, we are called to be Doorkeepers. We are called to be men of welcome, mercy, compassion and consolation. We are called to both open doors for others and also to help hold doors open for those struggling to hold them open by themselves. As Capuchin Franciscan Friars we are called to be ministers of the Lord's welcome; ministers of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.

Today our society often slams doors shut and refuses a welcome. Not us. Our welcome is an extension of Christ's welcome. It's the welcome of the forgiving father to the prodigal son and the welcome of Christ to the repentant thief. It's expressed as a compassionate and non-judgemental welcome to the lonely, poor, isolated, sick and homeless. It's God's welcome, we merely have the privilege of sharing it.
Br Martin OFM Cap
(Vocation Promoter)

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Saint Clare of Assisi

Tired of all the Bad News
Fr. Bryan Shortall ofm.capuchin
Thursday, 11 August 2016
St. Clare of Assisi...

Chiara Offreduccio was born into a noble family in Assisi on July 16th 1194. Her father was Favarone Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and her mother was Ortolana. 

From a young age it was assumed that Clare was to marry in line with family tradition but at 18 years old she heard Francis of Assisi preaching and asked him could she follow him and live after the manner of the gospel. In March 1212 Francis received her into the order and placed her into the care of the Benedictine nuns of San Paolo. Her father made great efforts to get her out of the cloister and leave the order. Later she moved into a small church at San Damiano where she and her sisters stayed.  They soon became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano and they lived a life of poverty and enclosure according to a rule given them by St. Francis of Assisi. This vow of poverty was something that was for Clare non-negotiable. It was called the ‘Privilegium Pauperitatis’ which meant that for the Poor Ladies, they guarded this grace to live in absolute poverty and not having to take possessions.

As a way of guarding the life they had chosen, a Roman Cardinal, Hugolino, was appointed ‘protector’ of the order. He later became Pope Gregory IX. As pope, he visited the Poor Ladies and was concerned about living such a hard and austere life and suggested relaxing the vow to live this privilege of poverty. Clare was a tough lady and was having none of it. She told the pope “I wish to be absolved from my sins, but not from the obligation of following Christ.” For her and her sisters, poverty was just that, a privilege, which well lived, freed them from distractions in order to focus on following Jesus Christ.

Francis of Assisi guided the order until he died in 1226 and after his death, Clare became abbess of San Damiano. She took Francis’ spirit as a good benchmark for the living of the religious life with her sisters in poverty and enclosure and she fought off any attempt by church leaders to dispense her and the sisters from it. In 1224 the army of Frederick II came to plunder Assisi and the story goes that Clare came out of the enclosure and faced the Emperor down by holding the Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in her hands. The sight of this tenacious woman standing up to the emperor was enough to scare him so much that the army fled – terrified without harming anyone in the city.
On August 9th 1253, Pope Innocent IV, in a papal Bull, a document given to Clare called ‘Solet Annuere’ confirmed that her rule would serve as the governing rule for the Poor Ladies way of life. Never would anyone in the future be in danger of watering down the rule of the Poor Clares. Clare died two days later on August 11th, she was 59 years old. She was canonized Saint on September 26th 1255.

In 1958 Pope Pius XII named St. Clare the patron of television.
Brother Bryan Shortall OFM Cap.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The challenge and opportunity of words..

When I first started seriously researching if I had a vocation to religious life I was faced with a wall of words; religious jargon really. Words such as discernment, charism, vows, profession, formation, postulancy, novitiate, ministry, minority and fraternity all seemed an alien language to someone with little or no gift for learning languages.
I'd like to demystify these words and try to tell you what my experience of these words has been.
Discernment: Simply means to figure out. It is a process (I like processes a lot!) by which a person creates the space necessary to listen to the voice of God. It partly takes place alone and partly with the help of a vocation and / or spiritual director. Someone to bounce emerging thoughts and feelings off to help you figure out what's going on. The Holy Spirit is the primary director of all discernment.
Charism: The charism of a religious order is what makes the order what it is. In other words it's what is at the heart of the order; it's motivations. As Capuchins our primary charism is Fraternity  (brotherhood) for another order it may be educational or medical or preaching. As individuals we all have our own charism (our uniqueness) and so with religious orders. Our charism is our collective response to God's invitation and call to be witnesses of God's presence in our world.
Vows: This may seem an obvious one to some. Vows are the commitments we make before God. Commitments to leave our own claim on people, places and things (poverty). Our commitment to love inclusively rather than exclusively (chastity) and our commitment to live as part of a community, attentive to the voice and needs of that community (obedience). It takes a lifetime to grow into these as we learn how to integrate the gift of ourselves and others with these great gifts.
Profession: As religious we profess (speak out) our Vows in public. Just like at a wedding we declare our commitment in front of others who are representatives of the wider community of faith and of the world. During our time of training we take temporary Vows and towards the end of our our training we profess perpetual (life) Vows. Our profession binds us to our community and to the Church. We profess these Vows freely assured of God's help.
Formation: Formation is another process! It is our time of training so to speak. It is a very special time whereby we work, in conjunction with our Formators  (those responsible for accompanying us), to integrate more deeply our initial call to religious life. We study theology and philosophy as well as learning more about what it means to BE a Capuchin Franciscan today. Formation is a life long process and is divided into three stages: initial formation, special formation and on-going formation. Initial formation, as the name suggests, covers the time up to perpetual (life) profession. Special formation allows us to prepare for ministry and on-going formation, well, continues for the rest of our life as we work to deepen our love of God and neighbour.
Postulancy: When a man makes a decision to join the order he applies to become a Postulant. Literally a Postulant is 'one who asks'. Postulancy is a time whereby a man lives within the fraternity and experiences at a tangible level what life as a Capuchin Friar is really like. Postulants have classes in human development, spiritual development, Franciscan Spirituality and scripture. They also contribute to the life of the fraternity and wider community through their pastoral work. In the Irish Capuchin Province Postulancy lasts an academic year from September to June.
Novitiate: This is a very special year (366 days to be exact!) whereby the Novice takes time, in a very structured environment, to deepen their vocation through prayer, study and community life. At the end of Novitiate the Novice takes their first Vows for three years.
Ministry: Ministry is more than what we do or what we work at. It is how we bring the merciful and healing presence of Jesus Christ to others. This can take many forms and usually does. As Capuchins our call is to be 'Brothers of the People' and to be men of 'reconciliation, peace and forgiveness' (Pope Francis, 2015). We minister to those in need in hospitals, hospices, in parishes and in our Friaries. The important thing is not so much what we do but rather how we do it; as men of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and peace.
Minority: For us Capuchins 'minority' is a driving force. Minority means walking side by side with others, as brothers. It's why our official title is 'Brother' and not 'Father'. Minority means to enter into the lived experience of those we share our 'common home' (Pope Francis, Laudato Sii) with and to bring Christ's healing presence to these lived experiences.
Fraternity: Last but not least, Fraternity. Fraternity means brotherhood and is the core charism of the Capuchin expression of Gospel living. We are brothers to each other and Brothers to those we minister to. We live in fraternities. These are both schools of prayer and of service for each Friar regardless of age or experience. Our fraternities are homely and welcoming places. They are places of prayer, of mercy and of peace. In and through living in fraternity we learn who God is and who we are in light of this great mystery.
In the end only one Word is needed; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. He calls, he guides and he supports all vocations.
If you would like to hear more of our story and share yours please contact me.
For now, may the Lord give you his Peace!
Brother Martin OFM Cap.
Phone / Text: 085 1188468

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Old Habits die hard

Habits get a bad name: leaving the toilet seat up, speaking with your mouth full or flicking through Twitter while someone is talking to you, are just some examples. We all have our own.
In medieval times for something to be virtuous it needed to components: 'habitus' and 'actus'. Habitus was the state of mind or intention that we put on and actus the behaviour that came from the intention or, in other words, how we made known to the world our inner state of mind and motivation. Just to be clear, vices operated along the same lines! All sounds very philosophical, I know but bear with me.
As someone who has the privilege of wearing a Capuchin habit everyday, this medieval approach has sparked my imagination. It has called me to ask myself to what extent am I aware of WHAT I am putting on when I put on my habit? To what extent is it an automatic process for me? To what extent am I tuned into how this outward symbol projects my inner motivations?

Behavioural habits can be good or not so good, depending on what they are. We often do things and say things 'out of habit' and don't give them a second thought. Today's Gospel (19th Sunday, Year C) calls us to awareness and vigilance. It calls us to be people who are awake and attentive to the sound of God operating in and around us, ready to respond when our surprising God allows His Presence to be felt.

Our Capuchin habit is an outward sign of our inner motivations, values and desires as Brothers of St Francis and Brothers of the People. It lets others know who we are and lets us know who we are too. It is a visible sign that there is more to the story. A sign that we are part of an immense mystery far beyond our comprehension and a sign that there is another way; the way of peace, of reconciliation and of hope. The way of Jesus Christ.

I always get a great sense of purpose and joy when I pull my habit over my head. For a couple of seconds I am plunged into the dark space that this action creates only to emerge once again into the light. In doing so I am reminded of my Baptism and of my religious profession. I am reminded of the opportunity and responsibility that comes with wearing this habit and I am reminded that I am not alone. I am part of a brotherhood dedicated to preaching the Gospel and serving the poor as 'Brothers of the People'. I thank God for it and pray that more men and women will be attentive to the sound of our surprising God, the God that brings us from darkness into light, together.

Brother Martin
(Provincial Vocation Promoter)

If you would like to share your story and hear some more of ours, please contact Br Martin on 085 1188468 or email

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Greetings from Brother Martin, Provincial Vocation Promoter & Co-Ordinator of Vocation Ministry

Over 800 years ago, Saint Francis of Assisi began to answer a question. The question: 'Who are you Lord and who am I?' The answer: to live a life centred on Christ. Francis lived a radical life of minority, prayer and service that changed the world forever; the effects of which can still be felt today.

My name is Brother Martin and I have the privilege of ministering as Vocation Promoter and Co-Ordinator of Vocation Ministry for the Irish Province of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars. As Franciscans we live a life centred on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as laid down by St. Francis of Assisi. As Capuchin Franciscans we do this in a particular way. Gospel life for us revolves around the core principles of fraternity (brotherhood) and minority.

I joined the Capuchins as a Postulant in 2008 leaving behind a career in the corporate world. I joined because I felt deep inside that God was calling me to something more. Today God continues to call people to all sorts of careers and ways of life. He continues to invite people to respond to this call in ways that draw on and utilise their gifts and talents.

As Capuchins we respond in a way that allows us to enter ever more deeply into the unfolding mystery of God in the world around us. We respond as brothers, walking with those most in need. We respond as men of faith and men of prayer. We respond as tireless preachers of the Gospel and promoters of Gospel living. Our response is radical, countercultural, transformative and intentional.

As Capuchins we minister in many ways; as chaplains in schools, parishes, hospitals and hospices. We minister in and through our nine Friaries in Ireland providing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, counselling and spiritual direction. We minister to the poor and homeless through the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People in Dublin and the Kilkenny Food Project. Wherever you find us and whatever we do, we do so as 'Brothers of the People'. 

My job as Vocation Promoter is threefold: to promote vocations to the Capuchin way of life, to support those discerning a religious vocation and to promote a Franciscan approach to modern life and how this approach can help us live authentically as Gospel people in our modern world. The message of the Gospel as lived by St Francis, St Clare and the early Franciscans is as relevant, and as necessary, today as it has ever been.

Speaking in Rome to Capuchin Friars at the beginning of the Year of Mercy (2016) Pope Francis reminded us Capuchins that 'you are men of reconciliation, of forgiveness and of peace. God has given you a great gift for forgiveness: be generous with this gift'. Today the world needs people of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace to pour the ointment of God's Mercy onto the wounds of our troubled and hurting world. As Capuchins we need men of courage, of faith, of mercy and of love to join us our mission to be 'Brothers of the People' and to keep the flame of St Francis alight. 

I'm here and available to listen to your story and to share ours. You can contact me by in a number of ways:

Phone: 085 1188468
Post: Brother Martin Bennett OFM Cap., Capuchin Friary, Rochestown, Cork.

Wishing you every blessing

Brother Martin