AS far as vocation stories go, St Francis of Assisi had a wild one.
“Francis was one that was going after everything the world told him and all the young people were dreaming of – wealth, social status, nobility,” Capuchin Father Thomas McFadden said.
“All of a sudden, he realised he’d been heading in the wrong direction … that shook him.
“He went back to Assisi and started to really ponder; ponder things, ponder life, and pray and then God turned things upside down.”
And Francis did something radical.
“He embraced the leper,” Fr McFadden said.
“He wouldn’t go anywhere near lepers, but he had this encounter with the leper and it transformed him.
“He realised this is where Jesus is … in the ones (who are) discarded and left out.
“He left everything to spend time with the lepers and with the poor and showed the world that it’s about Christ.”
This is the message the Capuchin Franciscan Friars continue to share.
“(We are about) brotherhood with Jesus in the centre, an apostolic life and prayer and mission together,” he said.
Fr McFadden was at Ignite Conference 2019 in Brisbane recently, manning a stall on his order to stoke interest in vocations and inspire young people to live the Gospel.
He was hard to miss; his brown habit was a standout.
“I love the habit,” Fr McFadden said.
He said it reminded him every day to take up the cross.
“If I put my hood on, if I put my arms out, it’s the shape of a cross,” he said.
“It’s every day, it’s taking up the cross to follow Christ.
“He says, ‘if you wish to be a follower of mine, deny yourself, take up your cross every day and follow Me’.
“Mind you, He wasn’t talking about clothes but this is a good reminder every day this is what I do and if I do it with clothes, I might be able to embrace the cross of my life too.”
The habit was a prophetic sign of things to come and, from experience, Fr McFadden said it was a chance to evangelise too.
He said the habit could change attitudes.
“I particularly like, especially when you see some people, they see me in a habit, their face becomes a little embittered … that’s an opportunity to give a nice smile,” he said.
“Hopefully that shakes a little bit of what their experience of the Church might have been.
“Everyone’s had a different experience.
“We want to contribute and try and bring people to love Christ and His Church.”
The friars certainly were a smiling bunch.
Young people from across Queensland and beyond sought out their stall across the four days of Ignite Conference.
Fr McFadden said being at Ignite was a good way for young people to encounter some friars and realise, “‘Hey, while we dress a little funny, we’re pretty down to earth’, is what I hope”.
“They realise we’re joyful and love the Lord,” he said.
“They feel comfortable knowing that religious life’s part of the Church and a viable option for them.”
It was something Fr McFadden had to learn.
He was 14 years old and did not know there was such a thing as male religious.
“I didn’t learn about male religious life until they moved into my parish and all of a sudden, I realised this was an option in the Church,” he said.
“I think it’s very important for young people to see the variety of vocations that exist in the Church so they can really open their hearts to what the Spirit’s inspiring.”
Many things about the Capuchins drew Fr McFadden, but one of his great loves was their prayer life.
“(I love) the fact that every morning we head to the chapel together as brothers before the Blessed Sacrament and pray the liturgy of the Church, listen to the Word and play music to praise God and from there we go out and do all sorts of things,” he said.
“One thing I like about our way of life is our ministries are various – we do all sorts of things, as long as we do them as lesser brothers, as humble brothers.
“And so we can do things like preaching, parish stuff, especially ministry of the homeless.”