Ryan Box

I genuinely believe that even now, at the age of 22, my life is a testament that our Lord Jesus is always and has always been perusing us in love from the very first moment we were born. While I was unaware of His Presence for most of my life, I am so grateful for the formation and healing I have received in my four years of Diocesan seminary because these years have allowed me to see my life from His Perspective.

There are so many memories and experiences in which Jesus has come to me in prayer to show me how He was right there with me all along. He has proven that I am and have never been alone. While many of these extraordinary graces have come from different struggles and wounds in my life, this story will focus primarily on my vocation call to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. In order to understand this call, however, we must backtrack a couple of years.

My childhood was filled with many seeds of a religious vocation, such as being voted mostly likely to be a priest in eighth grade and especially my early relationship with my extremely holy grandma, who passed away when I was ten. Nevertheless, I never took this call as a serious possibility or reality. While I loved learning stories from the Bible and I was interested in religion classes, my faith was not a real relationship until high school. Coming from a relatively small grade school, with only twenty-eight graduating in my class, I was very nervous entering high school, where my class was one hundred and fifty students. It is so clear to me the worth and value I put into being popular and establishing myself in a solid friend group freshman year. Soccer was my avenue to do so, and it was through this sport that I was able to meet many new people who I thought were funny and cool. Nevertheless, the innocence and fun of these friendships did not last long as we soon began to enter into sins of drunkenness and impurity at the start of my sophomore year. This poverty and brokenness, however, was eventually the crack in which God would break through into my life.

One of the graces I am most grateful for is realizing the effects of mortal sin in my life very early on. Even though I ‘thought’ getting drunk and high was ‘fun’, I always was left the next morning with a boulder of guilt on my consciousness and in my heart. This guilt and shame led me to a deep sadness and curiosity about the meaning of my life. I remember distinctly asking myself, “If all I’m living for is the party every Friday, is that all life has to offer me?” Fortunately, this guilt led me to a place I would never desire to go to on my natural desire – the confessional. One random day sophomore year, I met Father Zac Povis the Sacrament of Confession at my high school. This encounter was the first time Jesus began to show that only He will satisfy my heart, and yet it was such an ordinary moment. Father Zac soon became an amazing father figure for me, especially in his radical availability to receive God’s Mercy, but even more, he became a brother in Christ. He was not so interested in my sin or brokenness but rather cared about my interest such as reading and watching movies. While he began to walk with me on my journey of faith, the double life was deeply engrained in me. I knew that only Jesus and a life of holiness would fulfill me, but I still had these friends and a girlfriend in which mortal sins were a normal part of life. Thus, Jesus needed to give me a whole community to show me my possible vocation and call to holiness.

In the second semester of my junior year, I began attending youth group at a nearby parish. This place, the place where I was baptized before my parents moved out into the country, was where the Lord and I really began to talk on a daily basis. His grace flooded my life through the motherly power of the rosary and freed me of so many habitual vices. At this time, I met seminarians for the first time on the pro-life march in Washington D.C. In these men, I easily saw the joy and fulfillment I desired so deeply, and I knew in my heart it was because they were giving their lives to God. For this reason, diocesan seminary started to become a concrete and powerful desire in my heart, because I knew it was the place where men went to learn how to love and live as Jesus. This desire only increased and became clearer as I attended come-and-see retreats. It is important to note, however, that this desire was not initiated by a call to the priesthood. Rather, I was deeply aware of my own interior poverty and littleness, and I remember Jesus giving me the knowledge that whatever vocation I am called to, I am not ready for that commitment and the depth of love until I go to seminary. For this reason, I could not deny the call, made some necessary sacrifices along the way, and applied to be a seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

It would be impossible to account for all the graces of my four years in seminary, but overall, this place has given me the grace of freedom. I have come to realize different parts of myself that are not always so pretty, such as anxiety and co-dependency that were instilled from early memories of my childhood. Nevertheless, in recognizing these wounds, Jesus has come and shown me a love that is greater than anything I could imagine. There are obviously the mountain-top moments of formation, such as silent retreats or summer assignments, but most of all the greatest joy has been this experience of being truly faithful to Jesus as if I were already consecrated to Him. No normal college student can wake up with thirty young men and make a Holy Hour and Mass before the rest of the world is awake. No normal college student can receive spiritual direction, formation, and counseling on a bi-weekly basis. In today’s world, it is hard to find a community of such virtuous and zealous men who are on fire to be an Image of Christ. I believe it is only in this place, in which I learned the joy of freedom of being a beloved son of the Father, that I could be able to hear the voice of Christ calling me to belong to Him completely in chastity, poverty, and obedience.

Besides listening to the “Poco a Poco” podcast, I had never met a CFR before my first come-and-see at St. Joseph Friary. For this reason, I can see how St. Francis has been at the center of my discernment, and that he is calling me to this life just as much as Jesus is calling me. I first met St. Francis in the summer of 2020 when I read the Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure. I distinctly remember this being the first time I encountered Francis as a real person rather than just the holy animal guy. In hearing the stories of Bonaventure, I realized I have never met anyone who lived the Gospel so literally, and so perfectly as our Holy Father. This was the beginning of a great friendship and sonship with St. Francis. For over the next two years, Francis revealed to me that completely belonging to Christ requires that I become little and poor. He also began to show me how many of the significant moments of his life can be reflected in my own life. One example is the classic image of Francis stripping himself in the town square. When the bishop cloths Francis, this image became an immediate sign of my time in seminary in which I have been stripped in many ways, but the diocesan priesthood has taken so much care of me. Throughout these first couple years though, I was very aware that the radical desire for religious life can often reveal an unhealthy sense of wanderlust for college seminarians. For this reason, I chose to surrender these desires for radical poverty and Franciscan life, trusting that the desires would remain over time if they were from God.

Before the start of my junior year of college, I spent six weeks at LifeTeen camp Hidden Lake, and through the many graces I received the summer, I knew my formators, and I needed to start discerning this call more seriously because it had been very present for over a year at this point. A huge gift to my discernment that year was going to soup kitchens in St. Louis for our Tuesday apostolic. This was probably the first time I had been able to encounter and walk with the poor. Through these conversations, I felt so free to simply receive and love these people, who were naturally willing to invite me into their struggles more than anyone had ever done in my life. Furthermore, I was able to see how the poor, without even being Christian or Catholic, taught me what it means to depend on the Lord and to truly suffer with Jesus. A lot of my own sufferings in life have come through my relationship with my older brother Thomas. In the homeless and the poor, I saw my brother and was able to speak truth into their lives the way I have always wanted to do for Thomas. It seemed like every week I was blown away and surprised by what the Lord had in store for me at the soup kitchen. During this time, I also first realized that the Church was beginning to support my discernment as well. My formators made it very clear that a call to religious life is a call to a specific charism, and without even knowing I was discerning, many of my classmates as well as those we ministered to told me I have a real gift for loving the poor.

If there is any moment that has convicted me of the Lord’s call the most it certainly is my five-day silent retreat my junior year of seminary. One mediation was on John chapter 15, where Jesus says: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you”. Then, with great boldness and freedom, I simply asked the Father: “In the name of Jesus, let me know my vocation”. The response I heard has probably been the clearest message God has ever given me: “You will be my Friar”. With that being said, I knew that I had to make an official visit to New York to truly see if the life of Francis that I desired and heard for so long on the podcast was legitimate and real.

During my first visit, which included two and a half weeks at St. Anthony’s Shelter and five days at St. Joseph’s, the Father showed me, once again, that He is never outdone in generosity. Leading up to the visit, I intentionally had a very open mind, but the three weeks in New York were filled with so much consolation and joy that it was almost too good to believe. Just two quick graces from this trip were praying about the baptism of Jesus. With the sirens, car horns, and yelling pedestrians of New York heard so clearly from every chapel, it felt as if I was entering into the murky waters of the Jordan River. Nevertheless, it is in this place of raw humanity that Jesus hears his sonship affirmed so clearly. There are so many more graces I could share during this visit

My final confirmation of this great gift came in October of my senior year. In coming to a new freedom and confidence in myself, I simply heard Jesus ask me: “Why can’t you just accept what I have been trying to give to you for over two years?” In this time, Jesus affirmed that the grace of clarity I received on my silent retreat were not vain words I made up in my mind, but truly His Voice. He has shown me that I can believe that I know His Voice and His Heart. I have never felt more child-like joy and love from the Heart of Jesus as I now do when He continues to show me how blessed I am to be called to be a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal. I hope that this somewhat brief telling of my vocation story truly reveals the gratitude and joy I have for the Lord’s Love in my discernment. I also hope that in examining my application for the St. Joseph grant, whoever reads this may know the confidence I have in His Love for me.

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