Year for Consecrated Life
Being a part of God’s plan for salvation of the world is a ‘pretty big deal’
Brother Mark Schenk, OFM Cap
Religious Vocation from St. Ann, Olmitz
Years in Religious Life: 34
Current Ministry: General Councilor for the Capuchin Order, Rome, Italy
How did you know God was calling you to religious life?
Initially, I was fairly sure that I was not called to religious life so I began participating in vocation meetings to prove it to myself. The plan, however, backfired! After many years of knowing Capuchin friars, sharing in their life, prayer and ministry, I found myself at peace with them. There was no bolt out of the blue; just a steadily growing realization that religious life is where I was meant to be.
What do you most like about religious life?
One of the aspects of religious life that excites me is the sense of purpose it has given me. Being part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world is a pretty big deal. On a more mundane level, religious life has greatly expanded my horizons, allowing me to interact with people from many different cultures and social strata. When I joined the Capuchin Order, I thought my world would shrink, but it has instead become much larger.
What do you find most challenging about religious life?
Losing some of my independence and learning instead to be dependent on others has been challenging. Rather than simply choosing the type of work I want to do, I must see the needs of the community and listen to what it wants of me. Sometimes what the community wants is not what I want. However, I must admit that sometimes doing things I was not thrilled about turned out to be great experiences.
Were there times when you wanted to leave but through prayer and the grace of God you remained?
I don’t think there was ever a time when I seriously considered leaving the Order, but there were times when I doubted my decision. Those were difficult times for me, and probably for those who were living with me. Prayer and the support of my brothers, however, got me through those times.
What brings you peace, happiness, and fulfillment in living out your religious life?
My best moments have been when I have seen the work that my brothers are doing among some of the poorest, most abandoned people in the world. Knowing that we are providing a little hope and human dignity to people that society has forgotten gives me a great sense of fulfillment.
How do you witness Christ to others in the church, society, and the world?
My hope is that by living humbly, simply and joyfully I can witness to the fact that we are called to something better than the empty promises offered by a materialistic world. If you were expecting another Saint Francis of Assisi, you are going to be disappointed, but hopefully I can have a small, positive influence on some of the people I meet.
We see religious life as ever changing. What have you done to keep up with the changing times?
It’s hard to keep up with the changing times! I tried blogging, but to say that it hasn’t been a great success would be the understatement of the year. I also have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but have not really found a way to evangelize with them. Mostly, I try to read a lot—the newspaper, church documents, books on spirituality and sociology in order to stay current, but also books on history, the writings of Saint Francis, and lives of the saints in order to provide a solid theological foundation for understanding the world.
What would you tell someone who was discerning a religious vocation?
To someone who was discerning a religious vocation I would say, first of all, not to be afraid of pursuing it. The time spent in trying out religious life is not wasted; if nothing else, you will come away with a better understanding of yourself. Secondly, I would say to involve others in your discernment. We are often the worst judges of ourselves; other people see things in us that we don’t see ourselves. Therefore, it is important to talk to others and get their feedback.
After your many years of following your vocation, what would you like people to know?
I would like people to know that it is worth the risk to commit yourself fully to this way of life. Joining religious life necessarily entails saying no to other possibilities, but the only way to find fulfillment in life is give yourself over to something one hundred percent.