By Brother Donald Sukanek, S.C.
“I HEARD GOD whisper my name.”
At first, I didn’t think I was hearing it quite right. But there it was, the heart of the vocation call, in a line from a song, heard not in Church but as background music on a prime-time TV show. It brought to mind another favorite image of mine, this one in the Bible: the call of the prophet Elijah. Remember, he was told to leave the cave for the Lord who would be passing by. And he waited. The Lord was not in the strong wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. Where does he find God? In the tiny whispering sound. That’s how God has been dealing with me throughout my life, and that’s what I can most identify with as I try to capture my experience of being called to the religious life as a Brother of the Sacred Heart.
It was about 49 years ago that I left home in Whitestone and traveled about eight miles to East Elmhurst where I began my postulancy at the Brothers’ Residence at Msgr. McClancy High School. It’s a journey that began long before I knocked on that door. My first encounter with Brothers was as a third grader at a Vocation Rally held in Holy Cross High School. It was packed! The Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn had a display that caught my attention. The holy card they handed out included a prayer for vocations along with an address to request more information. I faithfully corresponded with the vocation director – whose name just happened to be Brother Donald – until I received a letter saying, “I have sent you every piece of literature we have, and you’re only in the sixth grade! After eighth grade consider our high school program.”
So that vocation idea was put on hold. It wasn’t until high school that I actually saw brothers in action – at Bishop Reilly High School in Fresh Meadows. A pretty good student, but a shy kid in the back of the room, I looked at the brothers from afar. One thing was clear: They loved what they were doing. As a junior, I found the courage to ask a brother I admired some questions about religious life. I don’t remember his answers, but I do know that brother gave me what was most precious to him: his time. He had a way of making me feel like I was the most important person in the world. Even before I had ever heard about the charism of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, I knew that was what I wanted to be for others.
That desire brought me to the front door, but that alone was not enough to keep me going. Long ago, I was told that a vocation is from a community for a community. I didn’t arrive empty handed; a whole support team had accompanied me along the journey: a faithful and faith-filled family; the Amityville Dominicans in the lower grades at St. Luke’s and then the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. Mel’s, all models of love fueled by the Gospel. Then there are my Brothers, each mentoring me, most often through their ordinary everyday witness, as men of prayer, patience, compassion, availability . . . topped off with a healthy sense of humor (Brothers do laugh a lot in community). Together, they whispered God’s love for me and others, the root of all vocations.
A pretty common understanding of “vocation” is a call from God; I like to think of “vocation” as your response to the many calls from God. The Lord continues to call me; I hear it through my work with high school students. Our students at McClancy, typical of all students you’d find across the diocese, tell it like it is, and they are not impressed by our degrees or performance in the classroom, but by our presence. They don’t want us only to talk about the love of God, they expect us to live it. They want us to “put on Christ,” challenging us to hang out the welcome sign and be compassionate, patient and forgiving. Every day, they remind me the world needs brothers. This awesome mystery we call vocation, for me, has been a love affair with the Lord and with so many others who have let me – and God – into their lives.
How is God calling you? Start with the advice that Pope Francis offers. It’s where the story of Elijah leaves off: “Listen to God’s still, small voice in your heart where God loves to talk with us and embrace us in His Love.”
Brother Donald has served as campus minister at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst. He is pursuing courses at Catholic Theological Union to prepare for formation work in his community.