Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of Canada - Franciscains du Canada
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
If someone had told me when I was 17 that I would become a Franciscan, I would have burst out laughing! Nothing had prepared me for such a choice for my life: I had a beard and long hair, I was a drummer in two bands when I was a student, and I acted tough sometimes. No, nothing had prepared me for this. The road was long and at times I faltered, but in that amazing year of 1998, I made a commitment for good! I will be a Franciscan for the rest of my life!
My life was turned upside down one weekend. At CEGEP (junior college), I used to say hi to the pastoral associate, an Italian priest named Antoine. He only knew I played music. One day he asked me, “Do you know anyone who plays percussion?” Of course I said I played it sometimes. So he invited me to come and meet a group of musicians that really needed a drummer. I didn’t mind, since I already played in a couple of bands. So I went to meet them.
What was my first impression? These people were nuts! There were around 10 musicians, guys and girls, and they were talking about faith and God. Plus they kept wishing each other the “peace of Christ” and hugging everybody. I couldn’t believe it. Then, after prayer (that was quite an experience for me!) they started to practise. “Not bad,” I thought. “It lacks rhythm, but it’s good.” I started to see them every two weeks, to practise a bit, without much conviction. But that was about to change…
A flash that changed everything!
Father Antoine, the priest I mentioned before, started telling me I had to go on an Easter retreat. I didn’t really know what that was, but I found out. On Easter weekend, a dozen or so of us found ourselves winter camping near Rawdon, Quebec. I say winter camping because there was snow, and one night it went down to -30°C.
I had an unpleasant surprise there: they were talking about faith. I wasn’t interested. So I started the weekend with a closed mind. Beginning on Thursday evening, we lived the final moments of Jesus’ life: the Last Supper, the sadness of being abandoned, the trial, the crucifixion, etc. It would take a long time to describe everything. But I started to realize something: there was a lot of love in the life of this man. That shook me out of my mood. I said to myself, “It’s only a weekend. It can’t hurt me….”
Early Saturday morning, before sunrise, they woke us up. All I can remember from that night was my teeth chattering. We climbed to the top of a hill in the darkness. From there I saw the sun appear. “Just as the sun rises in the morning and brightens the night, today a great light has risen. From the tomb itself, the life of Jesus has reappeared! He is risen! He is alive! Alleluia!” Everyone started singing a joyful song; I stayed quiet, gazing at the horizon.
A little while later, we walked down the mountain in silence: I still couldn’t believe it. Then we looked for a spring. Suddenly, behind a rock, we saw it: crystal clear and gentle. Father Antoine said: “Those of you who would like to can tell me their worst sins and I will forgive them in God’s name.” I vaguely remember reflecting for a few minutes. But what I remember really clearly is the moment when Antoine, with a little water, forgave my sins. I began to weep, there on my knees in the snow. I was afraid of looking like an idiot, so I glanced around me: there were twelve other teenage guys like me, crying and celebrating God’s goodness! What a sight! A little ways away from the group, I started to pray…
I remember it as if it was yesterday. I looked around: the same trees, the same hill, the same snow, but everything had changed. Everything was different: the world, to my eyes, was filled with God. He seemed so close I could almost touch him. I even held out my hands. I had lived my whole life without knowing that the world was inhabited by Someone whose goodness knew no bounds. My whole life, he had been there, but I hadn’t listened to him.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and one of the most painful, too. In my joy, there was one thing I couldn’t accept: I had walked past such a good being without making the smallest space for him. God had been so near and I had ignored him. It was Easter Saturday 1982.
For three years, I played music with this group of young believers. I became one of them. I gave more and more of my time to music and other things that were about God. Then I realized something: God wanted more than my musical talent. He wanted me to give my whole life to him: all my skills, all my abilities. I decided to follow him wherever he wanted me to go. But I never thought I would become a Franciscan…
During this time, I dated two women. I loved the second one very much. We could have gotten married. For me it was clear that I could have lived this amazing life of faith as part of a couple. My girlfriend had the same ideas. We talked at a deep level and made room for God. I never seriously thought about living a celibate lifestyle. That seemed impossible.
My girlfriend and I went to visit a few communities where couples could live a religious commitment and have a family. We visited four or five. But the more I explored this kind of life, the more a question kept rising in me: what if I lived this as a celibate single person?
For over three years, I struggled “to neither see nor hear” this call. I didn’t dare believe it. “Not me! Someone else, maybe, but not me!” I was sure that it couldn’t be for me: I found women too attractive for celibacy to be a serious option!
Then Francis of Assisi struck me in the heart!
Let’s go back a bit. When I was 19, someone had given me a small book: the writings of Francis of Assisi. “What a strange way to put things!” I said to myself. Francis had lived during the time of chivalry and knights. But even if, overall, these words of wisdom didn’t reach me, some went straight to my heart. Here are a few of them:
“Blessed is the servant who would love and respect his brother as much when he is far from him as he would when he is with him and who would not say anything behind his back which in charity he could not say to his face”. (Admonition 25)
“Blessed is the servant who, when he speaks, does not reveal everything about himself in the hope of receiving a reward, and who is not quick to speak, but wisely weighs what he should say and how he should reply.” (Admonition 22 )
“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.
Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor disturbance.” (Admonition 27)
These words, and many others, became important guideposts in my life. But the most important one of all was definitely this one:
“God is. That is enough!”
(Francis, in The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi, by Éloi Leclerc, Franciscan)
Learning how to see God in the world; rejoicing with my whole being at the simple fact that God, who is so good and so great, exists; celebrating God’s presence by my entire existence. And learning to be satisfied with little. Because God is “my Everything,” as Francis of Assisi prayed, nothing else can take the place of such an Absolute. Everything else is relative to this one source of goodness.
I could tell you a lot of other things. About the two amazing years I lived in the Canadian Arctic, about my trip to Assisi in Italy, about my work with the marginalized and God’s little ones since the beginning of my journey, about my search for unity with other Christians, about my formation and commitment to proclaim the Word of God, and more. But all these aspects of my being are rooted in that single statement: “God is. That is enough!”
Becoming a Franciscan…
From the moment I felt called to become a Franciscan and the moment I actually became one, six years had passed. I had so many fixed ideas and so much anxiety. But slowly, this conviction grew stronger. I began the process after my trip to Assisi. Then I lived one of the best years of my life: the novitiate. Now I am a Franciscan.
Sometimes I feel a little fragile. Sometimes I feel like I am not being faithful. At times I think I don’t deserve to wear a habit that makes me a son of Francis of Assisi. But at other times I shout to the Lord: “Thank you for introducing me to this family!” When I am tired and feeling empty, a little tenderness from God almost always reminds me how much I am loved. How much we are loved.
Really, life is simple. I tend to make it complicated. Still, just a few things make me happy. Celebrating God’s presence and goodness with my whole being. Not worrying about tomorrow. Loving my neighbour as best I can. Serving the littlest ones and the marginalized.
It takes so little… to be happy. May the Lord keep reminding me of this.
That is where I find happiness in being a Friar Minor.