Order of Friars Minor in Great Britain

A Time of Struggle

  But it was after completing my degree that three things happened to me that changed the direction my life was heading in. The first thing that happened was that during my degree I had come to realise that a job in engineering was not for me, so I made a complete career change and got a job as a trainee chartered accountant working in Central London. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the social life in Central London but as I began to earn more and more money so I was becoming more and more materialistic and money obsessed, and I was becoming more possessive of the things I owned, unwilling to share even with my brothers and sisters. I had more money than ever before and I could buy all the material things I had always wanted but it did not seem to make me happy. And I found myself caught up in the illusion that if I continued to earn more money for myself, for me, then eventually I would find happiness.
The second thing that happened to me was that I got engaged to be married to my girlfriend at the time. She was not from a Catholic background and sadly this created a lot of tension in our relationship because some of her family and many of her friends in particular did not approve of my being Catholic. For years I had not taken my Catholic faith seriously at all and yet now, during a difficult engagement, I began to hear a huge amount of criticism being directed at the Catholic Church and Catholic faith, and it made me question what my Catholic faith actually meant to me; was I prepared to just sit back and ignore the criticism directed at the Catholic Church.

Turning Away from Materialism, Turning Towards God

  And then the third thing that happened to me was that for one week of the year I began to go to Lourdes, the shrine of Our Lady in the south of France, on a pilgrimage with sick and special needs children and adults, people who suffered from health problems and various disabilities. It was this experience in Lourdes with the HCPT Pilgrimage Trust that completely changed the direction my life was heading in.
Working in Central London I was becoming more and more materialistic and money obsessed. And even though it is obviously important to have a job and to earn money in order to live and to support and raise a family for example, I noticed that many people working in London had great jobs and careers, lots of money, nice houses and cars, good health and social lives, and yet deep down there was often something missing in their lives; they often did not seem genuinely happy and content. And then for one week of the year I would meet people in Lourdes who never had any money and no chance of getting a job let alone having a career. In Lourdes I met people who had been in wheelchairs for most of their life. They seemed to have absolutely nothing, not even their health, and yet they always had a genuine smile on their face. Those who seemed to have everything were often unhappy, whereas those who apparently had nothing seemed to find happiness.
The people I met in Lourdes taught me a different set of values, they showed me by their own example that true joy and everlasting happiness is not to be found in money and materialism, but rather true joy and everlasting happiness is to be found in our relationship with God which is then expressed in our relationships with the people around us, our family members and friends. And the people I met in Lourdes also made me realise that I will never find fulfilment in life by only doing things for myself, for me, but rather they helped me to realise that we find our fulfilment in life by doing things for others, by helping others and by giving ourselves to others; it is in giving that we receive.

Lourdes Grotto (1)

A Calling from God

  My fiancé and I eventually broke off our engagement. The breaking up was the most difficult thing to do as it led to many tears from both sides, and yet I think it was the right thing to do because apart from the struggles over religion there were perhaps other signs that we were not compatible with one another.
It was later, during my final year of the accountancy exams, as I was really struggling to focus on my studies in my bedroom back home when for no particular reason I reached out without looking and took a random book down from the shelf behind me. It happened to be an unused Bible that my Nan had given me for my Confirmation. I placed the Bible on the desk and it fell open at a random page and for some reason my eye was drawn straight to the bottom left corner where Jesus says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). I looked at it and read it again and then I placed the Bible back on the shelf behind me intending to forget about it.
But that event and the words of Jesus would not leave me. I kept on asking myself, why did I pick a random book down from the shelf behind me, was it really just coincidence that the book happened to be the Bible, was it just coincidence that it fell open on the Gospel according to Matthew, and was it just coincidence that my eye was drawn not to the start of the page but to the bottom left corner? And I began to question whether this was God’s way of reaching out to me and calling me, asking me not just to leave my own home and family for the sake of Jesus’ name, but to give up the possibility of raising a family of my own.
At the time this was such a tiny insignificant event but it had a snowball effect so to speak because the thought of responding with generosity kept on coming back to me and it became ever more intense as I began to question whether God was calling me to a vocation in the priesthood and consecrated religious life. It was the moment when I first became aware of God’s calling.
I believe that God calls each and every one of us continuously through life but there is a moment when we first become aware of it, a moment when we first tune in so to speak. I can compare it to a radio station. A radio station is continuously broadcasting a sound but we are totally unaware of it. It is only when we tune in to the right frequency that the sound becomes clear. Likewise God is continuously calling us but we are often totally unaware of it. However, there comes a moment when we first tune in, a moment when we first become aware of God’s personal presence and calling in our life. For me that moment was when I opened the Bible. And in times of difficulty and doubt and struggle I remember that moment because it is like an anchor that holds me firmly in place especially during a storm.

Rome St Peters (2)

Joining the Franciscans

  When I first felt that God was calling me I immediately felt drawn to the Franciscans. I was named after Saint Antony of Padua, one of the greatest Franciscan Saints. My mum and dad had a great devotion to Saint Antony and they encouraged me to pray the novena prayers in his honour. For my confirmation saint I chose Saint Francis of Assisi having been attracted to him partly through the example of the Franciscan brothers I met whilst still at Secondary School. The chaplain of the pilgrimage group I went with to Lourdes each year was also a Franciscan, and he was a great support and a great friend as I tried to understand and accept God’s calling.
In many ways I simply felt at home with the Franciscans; it just felt right and so I never felt the need to shop around, I never felt the need to consider diocesan priesthood or any other religious order. As a comparison, if you try to read every label on a supermarket shelf before deciding which brand to buy it can confuse you, you can waste so much time looking at the labels, studying the small print that you end up dithering, drifting from one product to another, never actually buying anything. Likewise if you try to study every single religious order before deciding which one to join it can confuse you, you can waste so much time trying to find out everything about them that you end up dithering and you begin to drift from one religious order to another. The danger then is that you do not actually commit to any religious order, and then you end up losing the moment, losing sight of the vocation, forgetting that it is God who is actually calling you.
I once heard a comment that the largest religious order in the Catholic Church is the Order of Perpetual Discerners; those who drift from one religious order to another, asking countless people to pray for them on route because it makes them feel special, those who love the idea of religious life but are never really prepared to commit. If God is calling us to religious life then the only response we can give, in imitation of Our Blessed Lady, is a firm yes: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Admittedly it took me over a year to respond to God’s calling. At the time I think I questioned whether God was actually calling me. But when I look back I think I kept God waiting partly because of my own lack of generosity in responding wholeheartedly to God, and partly because of my lack of trust in God. I had a lot of fear and anxiety about what lies ahead and about what people would think, especially my peer group and work colleagues, but when I finally said yes to God not only were my family members and friends and work colleagues incredibly supportive of me, but I felt an enormous sense of peace that has never left me. There have been some wonderful moments that I have experienced as a Franciscan Friar and admittedly there have also been some difficult times and challenging moments, but it is this sense of peace, a peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27), which reassures me that God, Jesus Christ, walks with us in our vocation, in both the good times and especially in the difficult moments.

Statue of Saint Antony of Padua Woodford parish
Antanas and Antony