By Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M.
Men: This Calling Is Like No Other
If you’re a young man with dreams of bringing others closer to God, I’ve got some good things to tell you.
It’s about a noble calling in life that will take you to unequaled heights.
First, a backstory…
More than eight hundred years ago, a young merchant founded a religious Order that sought freedom for Christians who had been captured by Muslims and made into slaves.
And in today’s Western world, that same religious Order seeks to set people free from certain kinds of psychological and social slaveries that have led the world astray.
The Vision of St. Peter Nolasco, by Francisco Zurbaran, shows Nolasco dreaming of the heavenly Jerusalem from the Book of Revelation.
And all this ties in with becoming a “privileged partner.” That phrase comes from the Vatican document Vita Consecrata (Latin for Consecrated Life), and what it calls acting as a “privileged partner” in bringing Jesus Christ to the world.
Let me explain.
First I’m going to tell you the story of the foundation of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy in 1218 by St. Peter Nolasco in what is present-day Spain. And then I’ll tell you about how a consecrated life as a religious friar can place you in the driver’s seat of bringing the Gospel and its values into the world.
Kidnapped By Saracens
Let’s begin - who was Peter Nolasco?
Imagine what it would be like to have a friend or neighbor suddenly disappear, only to find that they had been kidnapped.
This was the world faced by Peter Nolasco in the tumultuous time of Spain of the 1200’s.
In those days many Mediterranean lands were captured by Saracens. The captors were driven by the religious and political beliefs of Islam, which had conquered much territory around the Mediterranean Sea and Arab lands. Those whom they captured were either sold into slavery or forced into converting to Islam.
The young Peter Nolasco, moved by compassion for his fellow Catholics, was motivated by the idea to buy back the freedom of the captives. He gathered other men around him who were equally determined and collected alms for the redemption of the captives.
In Peter’s mind, the threat of these Christians giving up their faith and thus endangering their eternal souls was the greatest danger, of all the personal losses, that the captives were facing.
After 15 Years – Is This Working?
Peter’s redemptions went on for 15 years. But in those years, the capture of Christians grew excessively. Undaunted, Peter prayed fervently for divine inspiration to be able to continue God’s work.
At that point, our historical record states that,
“[D]uring the night of August 1, 1218, a special intervention of Blessed Mary occurred in Peter Nolasco’s life: an amazing Marian experience which illumined his mind and stirred up his will to transform his group of lay redeemers into a Redemptive Religious Order which, with the Church’s approbation and the protection of the king of Aragon, would pursue the great work of mercy which had started.”
The record continues,
“On the next day, Peter Nolasco went to the royal palace to explain his project to young King James I and his advisers, the first of whom was the Bishop of Barcelona, don Berenguer de Palou. Peter’s plan, inspired by God through Mary, was to establish a well-structured and stable Redemptive Religious Order under the patronage of Blessed Mary. The proposal pleased the king and his advisers….
“On August 10, 1218, the new Religious Order for the Redemption of Captives was officially and solemnly constituted…. Bishop Berenguer de Palou gave Peter Nolasco and his companions the white habit that they would wear as characteristic of the Order; he gave them the Rule of Saint Augustine as a norm for their life in common…. After that, Peter Nolasco and the first Mercedarians made their religious profession right there before the bishop.”
Thus our religious Order was officially founded under the approval of both the bishop and the King of Aragon.
The historical record continues,
“Finally, it is clearly specified that the purpose of the Order is “to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up his for us.”
This promise of the Order of Mercy to give up one’s life, if necessary, is known today as the fourth vow, after the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Our Order then grew over the centuries, and Mercedarian friars travelled with others to the Americas, beginning at the time of Columbus to carry out their apostolic work.
Today, the Order is present in 23 countries, in not only Spanish-speaking lands, but in places such as the United States, Italy, India, and Mozambique.
How the Order of Mercy Redeems Others
The purpose and inspiration of St. Peter Nolasco has been followed within the Order of Mercy through the centuries. However, we now recognize “other forms of captivity,” as referred to in a 1985 letter to our Order from Pope St. John Paul II:
“In the first place, we are pleased to note that in a prudent way, while times and conditions of Christian life have been changing, the Mercedarian Order has been able to adapt properly and successfully the Founder’s project of liberating Christians from the shameful captivity of the body, and other types of human liberation from other forms of captivity which still oppress people today….”
The Holy Father then went on to list today’s forms of captivity:
- Lack of respect for human dignity
And he said that these are related to:
- Ignorance of the Gospel
Thus, in the Order’s work today in the United States in parishes, hospitals, schools, and prisons, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy carries out its initial mission of redeeming others from various kinds of slavery.
Who Are “Privileged Partners?”
Now, let’s get back to your calling, or vocation in life.
Can you carry out the noble goals of religious orders on your own - as a layman in the Church?
But why not put power in your punch as a consecrated person who is a member of a religious Order such as the Order of Mercy?
And what is this “privileged partner”?
The Vatican’s 1996 Apostolic Letter Vita Consecrata talks about this term:
“Because of the very nature of their choice, all who embrace the consecrated life, men and women alike, become privileged partners in the search for God which has always stirred the human heart and has led to the different forms of asceticism and spirituality.” [emphasis mine] N. 103
Thus the consecrated person stands like a candle in the darkness of a world that either dismisses religion in life, if not to actually deny it.
Longings of People Today
Vita Consecrata goes on to say,
“When consecrated persons live consistently and fully their freely assumed commitments, they are able to offer a response to the longings of their contemporaries…”
The document goes on to say that the solutions that the secular world seeks are for the most part:
- Illusory, and often involve
- A denial of the saving Incarnation of Christ (cf. 1 Jn. 4:2-3)
The Letter continues,
“[T]he consecrated person points to Christ loved above all things and to the mystery of the Trinity as the response to the profound longings of the human heart and the ultimate goal of every religious journey sincerely open to transcendence.” N. 103
Specially Equipped As Friars
Thus, a friar in a religious community such as the Order of Mercy is specially equipped to carry on Christ’s mission of redemption by not only what he does, but by what he is.
When I think about the long history of my fellow Mercedarians of more than eight centuries, I am awed, humbled, and moved toward carrying out the high calling that I and my fellow friars have been given. And that means daily giving up our own lives, like our Savior Jesus Christ, in redemption for the lives of others.
Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy
Have you thought that God may be calling you to become a Mercedarian friar?
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, also known as the Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 in Spain. We have friars who are priests and brothers.
In the United States, Mercedarian friars serve in parishes, prisons, hospitals, schools and other institutions in Ohio, Pennsylvania New York, and Florida. As part of their charism of redemptive love, they have a sincere devotion to Mary and to the Eucharist.
Single Catholic men age 18 – 40 who think they may have a Mercedarian vocation are invited to visit the website of the Mercedarian Friars USA at OrderofMercy.org. Contact me, Fr. Daniel Bowen, vocation director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or test your call to the Mercedarian Friars.
Learn more about the friars at these sites as well:
YouTube: Mercedarian Friars USA