October 16, 2019 Duration: 32:40:00 Guests: Fr. Ben Owusu & Fr. Charlie Smiech
Listen Listen to “Becoming a Student of Faith” on Spreaker. Episode Description
In episode 11 of Following Francis, we welcome back Fr. Ben Owusu who is joined by Fr. Charlie Smiech, two Franciscan Friars who live here at the Monastery in Washington, DC. Throughout this episode, Fr. Ben and Fr. Charlie discuss their path to the Franciscan brotherhood, and vocations of all kinds – to be called to live a life of faith, to be called to the single life, married life and consecrated life.
“I never felt like I missed out on anything. If anything, I felt greatly blessed and unbelievable experiences have come my way because of my vocation as it does for married people, as it does for single people. Do we miss out on things? Of course. But what you choose in itself is countless rewards.” – Fr. Charlie
Chris Dwyer: [00:00] Hello and welcome to Following Francis. We’re recording today at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. I’m Christopher Dwyer, your host. And today we’ll be discussing vocations, not just religious vocations, but also vocations to the single life and married life as well as consecrated life. We’re fortunate to be joined by Father Ben Owusu and also, Father Charlie Smiech. Both are Franciscan Friars of the Holy land living here at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington. And so I want to welcome Father Ben and Father Charlie, thanks for joining us today.
Fr. Ben: [00:45] You’re welcome.
Fr. Charlie: [00:45] It’s great to be here, thank you.
Chris Dwyer: [00:45] So in my intro here, I mentioned that there’s multiple vocations. Vocation doesn’t mean religious vocation. And, so maybe we can open up a little bit with what a vocation actually is.
Fr. Charlie: [00:59] It was certainly a calling from God to live a certain lifestyle. You’re very correct. You know, there’s all sorts of vocations. I remember the vocation of my mom and dad, the vocation of married life. My nephew has never been married, so there’s a vocation to a single life. I’ve chosen to live as a Catholic priest and been that my entire life. I think I received my calling actually through my family. When I saw the sacredness of marriage, I saw the sacredness of a single lifestyle. And I knew they were called by God to be faithful to that. I was inspired by who they were. They’re all now with God and heaven I pray, but their strong commitment to be husband, to be wife, to be dedicated and faithful to the single life that inspired me so much to then as they did listen to the deeper voice within the voice of God. And that voice invited me to think of priesthood. And of course it was always inspired by the parish priest that I grew up in, along with the Sisters of Mercy and my godmother, who was a strong Catholic and truly devoted to prayer.
Chris Dwyer: [02:31] And your vocation took a little bit of a twist here. It took a little turn cause you started out as a Diocesan Priest, correct.
Fr. Charlie: [02:38] I was a Diocesan Priest for the Diocese of Buffalo for 10 years. And I was always drawn to the Franciscan community even as a child. But throughout my life as a diocesan priest, I always maintained a spiritual director and it was a Franciscan who was my director, always encouraging me to think about becoming a friar. And I toiled with the idea for a number of years. I was very happy as a Diocesan Priest. I felt very fulfilled in my ministry. I felt that I was serving God’s people the best I could in a parish community, but there was something missing. And what was missing was fellowship, a community to belong to and being inspired by St. Francis, even as a child and the rather superficial way getting to know him over the years of studies and getting to know the community, made the decision to leave the Diocesan Priesthood then begin formation all over again to become a friar.
Chris Dwyer: [03:56] Terrific. And then Father Ben, you and I had spoken a couple of weeks back about the vocation to the married life and we seem to be seeing at least a delay among our younger folks in terms of taking that vocation up. What are your thoughts on that right now?
Fr. Ben: [04:15] Well, you are right. We cannot limit vocations to, you know, religious or priestly life alone. The family plays a very important role and in fact the family is the nuclear of the church and as well as vocation. There’s something that I do say or sing in my mind that, if there is no family, we don’t have children and no children, you cannot talk about priestly vocation. So before we could go to priestly or religious vocation, we need to solidified the family vocation, the marriage, vocation. And it’s very important, especially in our time today. I grew up in a family and we are six and I remember quite well when we were there in Liberia. And we used to go to church every Sunday. And when we go to church, I would see one priest, I call them priests, we’ll be saying mass. And another priest will be playing the guitar with the kids down, you know, on the side. And that was in Patrick Church. And that image remained with me till now. So all along we will go to church and the kids, I see them going for communion or I ask my mom, why are we not going? We’re not taking communion. So when you reach the age you would get to, you know, do that. So when we came to Ghana, the first thing I did was to make sure I get my communion and everything. So, it starts from there. The family life, you know, connected to the church. Will give room for the child to experience the atmosphere of the church. And through that, you know, there are some who will be altar boys and so on, but the contacts and you see the priest all along in your life and you ask yourself questions and so on and so forth. So it is connected, priestly vocation. And family life is always connected. You cannot separate them.
Chris Dwyer: [06:48] And I think every religious who has come through here to Following Francis has mentioned at one point or another, some role model, somebody was out there and you just gave a beautiful image of what that looked like at NAS. And Father you did through even your parent’s vocation. So these stick with folks and help drive. So I guess that’s the voice of God speaking to folks so they shouldn’t ignore those voices. Right?
Fr. Ben: [07:14] No.
Chris Dwyer: [07:15] And I want people who are listening to be comfortable with their own vocation cause I think folks try and force themselves into vocations that they think others want of them. And I worked as a career counselor for almost 20 years and during that period of time I saw people in horrible situations cause they went into a direction to please somebody else. How would a young person or person of any age actually, hear that call and know that it’s actually a call from God? How would you, where would you direct them to do Father?
Fr. Charlie: [07:53] I think the process of discernment takes a long time. And I think it would be important for a young person or a person of any age to have a spiritual direction, to have someone to go to regularly and to share with them what they’re feeling deep within that they might be called to a single life or to marriage or to the ministry. And I think the spiritual director would be able to help them discern, is this truly a call from God or is it something that you’re entertaining for a while. It might be a stepping stone to go further, or maybe just to wait and pray and to see where the spirit guides them. I often believe that, you need to have your parents, you know, support. You need to have a spiritual director to walk with you and you have different icons, my icon was a parish priest long ago. And, he would always encourage me, but he would always say, make sure you’re doing this of your own free will, that you’re not living being somebody else’s vocation, your mother’s vocation or your father’s vocation, that it has to be of your own free will. And if it’s not, then perhaps another way of life would be best for you.
Chris Dwyer: [09:24] And with religious vocations, we had a young priest with us a couple of episodes back and when he first entered seminary the first day, the rector of the seminary said, you know, whoever is here because they love the church should leave now because you really need to be here because you love God and Christ. Cause the church can disappoint you as we have seen. And I think that’s a big part of why, you know, folks hesitate to enter into religious life now, but if you’re there because you love Christ, that makes it all right and you can get through those rough spots. How have the rough spots been for both of you?
Fr. Ben: [10:08] Well, I think, before that I would want to shed a light on, you know, discernment we have when young people of today, want to see the, the results of our vocation the next time. If I leave, what would I get? How, what is my security and so on and so forth. It’s, you know, the work of the Lord has to do with risking your life for it. If you go back into the scripture, you see Abraham risking his life to leave his, you know, his people and all the security. He, he had to go to an unknown place. What sort of God is that? You know, he calls us and to respond you need to risk. And this is why the individual will have to, you know, have on the back of his mind, I’m not going there because at the end I’m going to get that immediately. And if you able to persevere, you will see the joy of your vocation and you’re responding to God’s call. And, and, and coming back to the question was the rough spots, the rough spots is something that has to do with responding to God’s call. And I mean responded to God’s call, be it single marriage or religious of vocation because live in the moment was sometimes you feel abundant. Why did I come here? You ask yourself those questions, you know, so many things happens and that is the moment where you want to know this is what you want to do. Because loneliness is everywhere. You could be in a family and you could feel lonely. And so those moments are moments where we are strengthened, especially when we take it into prayer. And if you read the life of the saints, they all have those rough spots. Peter and his friends were afraid when the wave was strong. You know, so these are realities of our faith. Either way, you a married person, there will always be a rough spot. But the bottom line is faith and commitment. If you commit to God, you have faith in him. Every aspect of your life come, what may you will stand. And so it is not just the priestly life or the leigh or married life. It is a reality of us as Christian and Jesus himself, had rough spot in Gethsemane when he was in Jericho, when he was tempted. And so he taught us. So we don’t just go to always depend on what somebody would tell us or not tell us. And sometimes we could be misled. But the faith we have is what will keep a strong true, you know, the moment of waves. And this is how I think I’ve been able to stand up to now and I hope we’ll be going forward with because we always depend on God as you put it. If you love the church, you better go. If you love God and that is it. And so God also, you know, does his work, he gives us the support and so on and so forth. Why would Mary and Joseph have to walk in the desert and along land going somewhere because they run in that way. They believed in the front of the first place.
Chris Dwyer: [14:14] Well, just when you mentioned Joseph, I always marveled at the idea of him having a dream and picking up his whole family because of a dream and racing off to Egypt. I mean, that’s a risk. Huge risk. So we, whether you’re choosing married life and you have to risk whether it’s gonna work or not, and hopefully through God’s intervention, it will work. Married life, the person was, but how would our life be? Where would we get money to do these mostly is, you know, the time is money. How are we going to survive? But if you base it on faith, you could make it through life because there is no guarantee that this person you’re going to marry is the ideal person. Unless you are a person of faith who says, well, I’ve accepted the challenge. I want to stay with him, knowing him very well that he’s not a saint and neither are you a saint. But your fate would take you on. And then over the years, this is our 30th anniversary. Oh, I met a friend and he was telling me this is our 40th anniversary, but look, we don’t even look like. You know, so you need to risk.
Chris Dwyer: [15:37] Well I think it’s fascinating then we try and building guarantees right now for something that’s 20 years down the road, who knows what’s 20 years down the road.
Fr. Ben: [15:47] This is the mentality of economics. When you start in your business, you project yourself to the profit. And so when how do you call it, the…
Chris Dwyer: [16:02] Risk and reward ratio.
Fr. Ben: [16:05] So that mentality had taken us all the way to that point. But we are people of faith and people of faith walk with nothing.
Chris Dwyer: [16:18] Well, there’s also a particularly among, the younger generation and they’ve reported on it many times on Following Francis, is this fear of missing out. In fact, they call it FOMO, you know, and it’s this fear of missing out. So if I choose to be a priest or I choose a religious vocation, what am I missing out on? Or if I choose married life, what am I missing out on? That really is an equation that takes risk out. I mean, you can’t do that if you’re going to risk something and try and jump in. If he keeps saying, what am I gonna miss out on? You’re always gonna miss out on something.
Fr. Ben: [16:58] You cannot, you cannot gain everything. But of course, it’s rewarding and the reward comes, you know, somewhere in the latter days when maybe you will less expect.
Fr. Charlie: [17:12] I think I can remember my parents going through some tough times, but they were always an icon of faithfulness. They were faithful to one another. I think I can remember them arguing about finances. Can we afford this? Can we do this? And, you know, we couldn’t always do the things we wanted to do as a family, but as much as they argued, I do remember them making up. And I think when you’re faithful to someone, to some commitment is religious life or ministry or a single life, you’re committing yourself to good times and bad times and sickness and health, you know, those are the vows that married people take. But it’s also the vows that we uphold. You know, we’re in the community for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. And I think faithfulness is such an important element to have in any vocation that one is looking at or already in. I think they took a lot of risks and watching my parents taking risk, really kind of supported me to take the risk of saying, I’m going to dare and try this for and see how it feels for a while. Of course, you know, four years in formation is like a long engagement. You know, it may be for me, it may not be for me, despite be the person, it may not be for the person, for me, but usually you come to the point where you have to make a decision. And, whether it’s, a solemn vow celebration or wedding commitment. The minute you say yes to a person, you’re saying no to everybody else. If a man is saying yes to this woman that he loves, you’re saying no to everybody else that you meet. And that’s true for her. You know, she’s saying, this is my husband. This was the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. So I’ve got to say no to everybody else. We say yes to celibacy. We say no to marriage. I never felt like I missed out on anything. If anything, I felt greatly blessed and unbelievable experiences have come my way because of my vocation as it does for married people as it does for single people. I think we just have to count our blessings. Do we miss out on things? Of course. But what you choose in itself is countless rewards. And I, I’ve always found a blessing, as a Diocesan Priests or as a Franciscan Priest, not without risk, not without problematic areas, but you love it. You stick with it. You just don’t leave something because something not being right. You know, I think the church right now offers us a fine example of being in such a bloody mess because the sexual abuse, from the top on down and we are right in the spotlight of it all. And it’s so much easier to say I’ve had it. I’m going to leave and start something else. Perhaps I see that in marriage life. You know, I’ve had it with him, I’ve had it with her. I’ll get up, leave and try this all over again. My brother’s done that a number of times, but you know, we’re at home I pray and if someone’s hurting, if someone’s ill, you don’t abandon them. You stay with it. You love them. And I think we, I love the church. I love God. Is it a mess? Yes. I couldn’t think of anything worse than God’s little ones suffering from sexual abuse from priests. I think it’s a God awful thing we’re going through. But at the same time, I think it’s the best time to be Catholic because we can love the brokenness, pray for healing and move on. That’s risk taking. And we’re all caught up in that as we see our vocation continue to develop.
Fr. Ben: [21:45] If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to make a little reference from this experience of the apostle Jesus had, you know, multiplied. These guys have had enough. And then he went on to Capernaum talking about John chapter six where Jesus was teaching them, I am the bread that came down from heaven. If you eat my bread, my flesh, you will live for eternal life. And you know, his followers started, you know, agitating. How can this man give us his body to do eat, you know, so they couldn’t understand what he was talking about and they started leaving one by one and Jesus didn’t oppose to anybody going away and even tend to his apostles telling them, do you also want to leave? He gave them the option. But what I’m arriving at is the response of Peter. Peter said, Lord, to whom should we go? You have the word of eternal life and we’ve come to believe it. And this is exactly in the moment where we see the church in this area, moment of turbulence. We think going away will be the solution. Jesus would give us the freedom to go, but Peter responded, to whom shall we go? Christ has the word of eternal life and therefore it reflects every aspect of our life. If we are religious, if you are lay people, it reflects our life because we are people of faith. And as far as our faith is concerned, there will be crisis. A lot of things will happen. But to whom do we go? And so one wanted to become a religious, one wanting to get married. We need to abandon our self to God. We need to throw out our life to God, not the thing that somebody has to get the house ready for me to go and stay there. Because if we do that, we will never make a move. We will never leave our homes. We’ll always be afraid to risk. And if we don’t risk, we can’t really, find out, our path in life. So, Franciscan Vocation, Priestly Vocation, Religious Vocation is a call that every young person is invited to embrace equally married life. God is still calling us. The church needs people to get married. Because we need the kids. We need kids. We need children to run around us. They are the church. The family is a nucleus in the church. And therefore if we get, we live in a world where we don’t want to risk our life, we don’t want to lose, then how can we get it? We can’t gain without losing. And so, we need the courage, faith, commitment to respond to God’s call.
Chris Dwyer: [25:12] And the church is wise in the way that she sets up the system. It isn’t, I make a decision today and tomorrow I’m a priest or today I’m a, you know, a single person.
Fr. Charlie: [25:22] When I was being trained to become a priest as a diocesan priest, it was nine years. It was four years of philosophy, four years of theology, and then a year as a deacon before I was a priest. And each year had a number of challenges, academic as well as spiritual and people do challenge you. And it is a good challenge. I think it was difficult for me to leave my own apartment, to get rid of my car, to get rid of my belongings. I thought, what am I doing in my life? And yet I’ve never been without any of these things. And I felt my call being really, fulfilled. So that was as a Diocesan Priest and I thought now my formation is all over until I decided to become a friar. And then they added a year of candidacy, a year postulancy, a year of novitiate, three years in temporary vows. So I was going back to square one and began all over again the fine art of the formation, you know, I was, I had a secretary, I had people taking care of all of my needs as a Diocesan Priest and here I am giving all that up. You talk about risk taking, I’m doing this and my first day as a friar, I’m on my hands and knees cleaning the bathrooms. You know, I’m thinking there’s something not right here. You know, I’m in my thirties, and most guys in their thirties and women are breaching their peak in their profession. And I’m on my hands and knees cleaning toilets and thinking, why am I doing this? And perhaps everything we do in formation, popular or not, it helps us make clear our vocation. And as much as I dread those days, they were the best days because it stripped me from what I thought was right to be a priest and, I had a lot to learn. So doing all this manual labor and formation over again, was most instrumental. So sometimes I meet Diocesan Priests who are thinking about becoming a friar and it’s a wonderful leap of faith, a great risk, but it’s most fulfilling.
Chris Dwyer: [28:18] And you have to do it at the station you’re in now. Don’t, be trying to plan for what it’s going to look like 10 years from now, 20 years from now. God is calling you now, so listen to what he’s saying at this moment as we can’t plan for the next 25 years.
Fr. Charlie: [28:36] Oh no, not at all. I always tell people, don’t live your life before it happens. You know because people are thinking about, Oh, I can’t wait to be married and have the dream house and have the dog and the children and cat. Enjoy the journey and enjoy formation. You’ll complain. But we become people who like to complain. And if you get beyond that, you’ll find a treasure.
Fr. Ben: [29:08] You talking about race come think what comes to mind? The disappearance of Saint Francis. When he had his call and he started giving out things and his friends, the immediate friend thought he was getting out of his mind and the worst thing came when he started turning out his Father’s belonging. You know, everything. The Father could not understand him. So, vocation is really like q charismatic figure. You alone understand what you’re going to go through. And so you need that tenacity to stand on your ground. This is what I’m going to do, even though it does not equate to how the world thinks. Because it will never be the same if you’re going to do, why are you mind this guy and not that one? You know, there is always somebody who will want to tell you what you are doing is wrong.
Chris Dwyer: [30:11] Well, even when you go back to Francis’s time and you see St. Clare who was looking at Francis and so inspired and wanted to do this or herself, her family thought she was crazy. And tried to kidnap her and bring her back. But she was, as you say, tenacious and said, Nope, I’m gonna stick this out and do what I know God is calling me to do. So. Great advice. Well, thank you gentlemen. I think this has been certainly enlightening for me, inspiring, that both of you folks have lived all these years and your religious vocation.
Fr. Charlie: [30:43] Yes. I’m creeping up in those years and never regret anything. I made some good choices. I made some very successful mistakes, but I think through it all, it’s been nothing but a blessed life and thank you for your vocation.
Chris Dwyer: [30:59] Oh, I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Fr. Charlie: [31:02] I think, I look around and see all these guys in Brown habits and thinking, Oh yeah, this is really good. I encourage anyone to come and see us and, think about, visiting us and, and see what life’s all about.
Fr. Ben: [31:21] Attending our masses or our program activities around here, you know, or even coming to visit and see what we have or showing interest is just fantastic.
Chris Dwyer: [31:34] I do really appreciate you coming by today, this has been very, very, nice for me and I hope it was for you as well.
Fr. Charlie: [31:41] So much fun to be here.
Chris Dwyer: [31:45] If you are contemplating a religious vocation in particularly with the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Land, please check out our website, myfranciscan.org click on the link for vocations, and you can also email us, certainly Father Ben or Father Charlie, I’m sure would be happy to get back to you. So for information about vocations or any of the activities of the friars, go again to myfranciscan.org. You can also find out more about the friars on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. And I ask you if you would please subscribe to the podcast and share the link with your friends. And thanks again for joining us. I’m Christopher Dwyer and I appreciate you listening. On behalf of the friars. I extend to you the Franciscan blessing peace and all good.