Some pointers to help you find your way on your vocation journey…
It’s important to be find time to pause, reflect and pray. Whatever God’s will is for your life, you must be open to the signs he gives you, welcoming them and trusting them. The signs are there. Meeting with a spiritual director and attending vocational events can help you identify these signs.
Pay attention to what’s going on in your life
Listen to what’s happening in your life and you may notice that the Lord, perhaps for a long time, has been preparing your heart to serve the kingdom. Life has given you parents, friends, new experiences, and even times of suffering. Everything can prepare you for your future, including your interests, your education and your social activities.
The journey you are about to begin is a very serious one. You are not simply being asked to change your address, your interests or your job, but to radically change your whole inner life.
Do you have a spiritual director?
It is essential to confirm, with the help of a spiritual director, the call you believe you have received from the Lord. A spiritual director is a man or woman you can trust who has the time to talk to you. He or she may be a priest, a religious or a layperson. Don’t be afraid to dig deep within yourself and to be guided by your spiritual director.
Asking a Franciscan to guide you
You can always contact a Franciscan community and get some answers to your questions, even if you are not too sure what your future holds.
If there are no Franciscans or Franciscan communities near you, you can contact a Franciscan Vocations Director. He is available to speak with you and to accompany you as you discern God’s call.
“I want to join the Franciscans right away!”
It’s normal to want to start your vocation journey as soon as possible. But it’s best to take the time you need to prepare yourself for such a step. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)
Stay where you are as you prepare your heart and give yourself entirely to finding Christ and eventually the friars. The reasons for wanting to enter Franciscan religious life can come from normal human motivations, but it needs to become more and more clear as you go along that you are being led there by your faith: by the total gift of yourself for the love of Christ and of the poor. In other words, an authentic spiritual search must be visible in you.
It’s also good if this spiritual seeking starts to be lived out through concrete actions. Try praying every day, helping those close to you who are in need, studying seriously, earning a living, and volunteering with a community organization or at your parish as a way to give of yourself.
Discernment meetings and Vocation Days
“This is how the Lord gave me, Brother Francis, the grace to begin a life of penitence. While I was in sin, the sight of lepers was unbearable to me. But the Lord himself led me among them; I took care of them with all my heart, and in return, what had seemed to me so bitter changed into sweetness of soul and body. Afterwards, I did not wait long before leaving the world.” (St. Francis of Assisi, Testament, verses 1-3)
From the time you first hear your vocational call to the time you make a clear and firm decision that will change your life will take a few months at least… and maybe longer. During this period, your personal vocation meetings (with the Vocations Director) or group gatherings with other young people will help you decide whether your vocation is authentic and whether you have the necessary qualities for Franciscan religious life.
To help you pursue your search and your discernment in more depth, you will also be invited to experience the Franciscan way of life in person by meeting with some Franciscan friars, visiting a Franciscan friary and taking part in some activities there (prayer, meals, etc.), as well as attending vocation days for those who are discerning whether the Franciscan life is for them.
When you feel you are ready, the Vocations Director will ask you to submit an official request to the Minister Provincial, asking to be admitted to the first step in formation with the Franciscans: Postulancy.
We like to say that the period of initial formation allows “the man, the Christian and the Franciscan” to emerge. This time involves three areas of growth: personal, spiritual and Franciscan. During these years of formation, the candidate is helped to develop his personal character and his understanding of the Christian faith and the Franciscan charism. He learns to live and work as a Franciscan friar, in the Church and for the world. Initial formation includes three steps.
During postulancy (which may last one to two years), the candidate becomes connected to a fraternity and begins to engage in different aspects of its life and work. Later, he will live with a community of friars for at least six months. Through various types of formation, reading and spiritual direction, the candidate will confirm – in everyday situations – whether the life of a Franciscan is truly his call. He begins to develop the qualities he will need for community life.
As a novice, the candidate deepens his relationship with God. During a period of retreat from all outer activity, he goes through an intensive time of formation in the Franciscan charism. He gets to know Francis and the Franciscans, the life of prayer and adoration, and the history and traditions of the Order. At the end of the novitiate year, the candidate professes his first vows (poverty, chastity and obedience). From then on, he is known as a Franciscan friar.
Temporary vows are renewed once a year, which means that a young friar makes a commitment for one year at a time. After three to eight years, he makes a lifelong commitment, which we call “solemn vows.”
During the first few years, he will learn a trade – if he hasn’t already done so – or will complete his formation for the kind of work he will do in the Church and the world. Whatever his main occupation is, the friar who has made temporary vows will keep spending a lot of time undergoing Franciscan formation (weekends, readings, various sessions, spiritual direction, etc.).
The period of initial formation ends when the friar makes a full commitment within the community. The entire process, from the first request to the full commitment, takes at least six years.
Solemn Vows and Ordination
After three (or more) years of temporary vows, the friar makes a request in writing to his Minister Provincial to make a lifelong commitment to the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans). Profession of solemn vows is a formal celebration in the presence of all the friars of the Province and the friar’s family. This commitment opens up the possibility of ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood, if the friar feels called to these vocations.
Friars who are not called to become priests can then study and acquire the skills they need to better serve the Church, the poor and the world, in whatever way best suits their gifts.
The Franciscan Habit
The Franciscan habit is a full-length robe in the shape of a cross; it is made of coarse wool fabric and is brown or unbleached. It is tied at the waist by a white cord. Three knots at one end of the cord recall the three Gospel vows that are at the heart of Franciscan life.
The habit – which has rich spiritual and symbolic meaning – is worn by all Franciscans for special occasions and gatherings. Some wear the habit every day, while some wear regular clothes instead. Others, because of the work they do, wear a shorter version of the habit that permits greater freedom of movement.