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