Encounters often lead to relationships, and sometimes these relationships are life-changing. In 1977 I had a Franciscan friar, Daniel Manger, as a student in my English Composition class and from that relationship I met the Conventual Franciscan Friars in St. Louis. I went to the friary to check out the Conventuals as I had a desire to be a part of religious life. That evening with the friars changed the course of my life–for the better.
As a staff member of Mt. St. Francis Retreat Center in the mid-1980s I served as a liaison between a group called the “Covenant Community” for three years. The people in this Covenant Community were mostly Methodists and Disciples of Christ. They came to Mt. St. Francis four times a year over the course of three years to deepen their spiritual lives through weekend retreats which would focus on different aspects of Christian Spirituality: prayer, the environment, stewardship, etc.
During their last retreat at the Mount, one member of this group, Jill, exited her car and looked at our beautiful grounds on a glorious fall day and sighed, “I am so going to miss this place.” As I helped her bring her suitcase into the building, she stopped and told me the following. “You know, Br. Bob, when I came here, I did not have a good experience with Catholics. I grew up in a neighborhood where I was one of the few non-Catholics and I often felt picked on by the Catholic kids. I don’t feel that way anymore and that is largely because of you.” I was startled and humbled. “What did I do to help change your heart?” I asked. “You always greeted me by name. You always listened to me so attentively. You always did your best to meet the needs of our community and most of all, you always made me and all of us feel welcome.”
What a difference an encounter can make in the lives of people! How dramatically can hearts and minds change when we begin to know one another, listen to one another, and welcome one another. In the ensuing stories you will read about how people’s lives were profoundly affected by their getting to know a friar or a community of friars. The friars are not perfect by any means; we share the same wounding of sin that affects everyone else yet, in our imperfections, God can and does work wonders through us.
Recently, friar Carlos Trovarelli, OFM Conv., our Minister General, preached on this topic:
“It is these imperfect people, whom Jesus encountered and invited, that then carry out the mission to encounter, invite, and to love as God loves. We are called to continue Jesus’ work on earth. We are perhaps just like the early disciples, simple people with complex lives; not professional missionaries, but people who have had an experience with the love, the mercy, and the tenderness of Jesus Christ. If we are honest, we too follow Jesus because someone has shared with us the love of Jesus, His words, His mercy, His tenderness.”
The following stories show how two of our friars have shared the love and tenderness of Jesus.