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Fr. Robert Biryndo O.F.M.
In the history of my vocation, looking at it objectively, there is nothing extraordinary. But subjectively assessing my way to religious life, I can say, that God cleared up my doubts, using dogmatically clear definitions – or for me miracles - in which He contained His plan for me.
Thoughts about religious life accompanied me since my childhood. I suppose much influence can be credited to a seminary of the SVD Fathers in Poland, located only about 500 meters from my childhood home. Exactly, thanks to friends from that seminary, God’s Providence taught me to make sense of the meaning of the hieroglyphs of His intentions, hidden in my doubts and questions.
The first time they appeared was at the beginning of my education in a secondary school. I remember another group of students who came to the seminary at the beginning of September; they had just finished a course of philosophy and wanted to study theology. In that group there was my good friend, who undertook a task of taking care of a group of acolytes, who gathered at the seminary. I was one of that group, and to give our friendship a good start, we played football together on the seminary field the first day. After that I started talking to him. From very general subjects we moved into more private ones. I shared with him, that for a few months an intuition was torturing me, which I could not define precisely. I felt a huge need to give a name to that insight… I had a feeling that I had to say something loudly, but did not know which words I should use. So, we arranged our meeting for the next day…
It was in the evening. My friend gave me a small slip of paper, on which were written passages from Holy Scripture. A fragment from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy caught my attention: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
(1 Tim. 4:12-16)
He told me that the day before our meeting, he spent a couple of hours in the chapel, asking God for an answer for me. He asked for a particular way of receiving an answer, by Words of Holy Scripture to show that: “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4: 12)
I was stunned by such precision of the answer. Everything was clear; objectively – naively simple… I felt like St. Paul falling from the horse as he rode to Damascus, hearing the voice of Jesus –but with this exception: that I was able to see, while St. Paul was blind.
I was more amazed when, participating in the evening Mass, I heard the same words during the reading of lessons. In addition, that same day was the day of my patron: St. Robert Bellarmine SJ.
A few years later, I met another SVD student. Through him I came to know the person of St. Albert Chmielowski (1845-1916). St. Albert, even though he had a great talent to be a famous painter, left everything to live with derelicts and the poorest homeless ones of Cracow. I still admire his painting “Ecce Homo”, which was an inspiration for his spirituality and the product of his mystical experience of God’s Love in His suffering Son. Moreover, I recalled his provocative testament, left to his followers: “You should be as good as bread, which rests on the table for everyone and from everyone; if they are hungry, may they cut a piece to feed themselves.” Through St. Albert, I started to be interested in Franciscan spirituality. Without sermons, angry moral admonishments, intense efforts to make everyone holy, and with fleas on his Third Franciscan Order habit, which he called pearls; he could change the whole society of Cracow. Even Lenin, whom St. Albert met in Poronin and to whom he gave a safe place of refuge, when he had to escape from Russia, was amazed by St. Albert’s understanding of methods, giving freedom to the social class which was suffering the most. Even now, people in Poland speak with respect about the work of his two congregations…
My contact with Albertines decidedly weighed on my Franciscan vocation. But I did not enter the Albertines, or the SVD Fathers. With a nostalgia to monastic life, with a longing to the Albertines` transparent and honest poverty, with the SVD`s examples of mission, I entered the Franciscan Order. Here, I can say, I discovered what I was looking for; I could find it in the history of my Order. We have so many people similar to Br. Albert, so many people brave in searching for a prophetical way to find God like Thomas Merton, so many inspired poets like T. S. Elliot and Boris Pasternak. The history of my Order showed me, that our charisma is universal: we have hermits, writers, social workers, teachers, mystics, missionaries, world - outlook rebels, heretics, and those defending and offending the life of Christians and so on…
To take a risk, to fall in the abyss of faith, to trust more in my doubts than my answers - I think, I feel it makes me happy. I still do not know what God has prepared for me, but I make the effort to trust Him. I believe in what Thomas Merton once wrote, characterizing the way of his vocation and putting words in God’s mouth, who seemed to tell him: “I will give you everything, whatever you want. I will lead you along the way, which you cannot absolutely understand - because I desire for this way to be the shortest…”
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