I remember being 14 years old, and I can still see the priest coming out in the procession with his green vestments on. There was something inside me was saying, “hey Kes this is something I'd really love to do”. I can remember being asked to become an altar server, this was something special to me as is meant I would be serving God in a more personal way. It was during this time while training to become an altar server I started to appreciate more and more the beauty of the mass.
I was born in Lithuania and for the first six years I was living with my grandmother, who is an Orthodox Catholic, and who is very into her faith and the values of Christian life. Afterwards, I moved to England, where my experience was very different as I found it a secular society where God and faith are not the “pressing matter in life”. I went to a public school where many of the children did not practice any form of religion, so I felt very much alone and isolated on the faith front. At times I felt afraid about being open about my faith and sharing my experiences (going to mass and serving mass), and I felt that I had to hide the amount of joy I got from my faith.
When I finished high school and started college I began questioning why other young people didn't go to church! What was I missing out on? At this point I prayed and told God; “hey God, I need to get away and experience what these other young people are doing - there must be something that they know that I don't!
I wanted to join the Parachute Regiment in the army, so I began training and made my application. I have always had a desire to help other people, and I wanted to join the humanitarian aid aspect within the army. However, when I started working my desires in life changed to those of more worldly ones e.g. the latest fashions, latest technology, and following popular culture.
While all this was going on, I felt that deep down my life needed to take another direction. I decided to move back to my home country of Lithuania and when I was twenty years old, I had a desire to join the police force.
Again, during the first few months back in Lithuania, I began to feel quite lost as I had a desire to help others but not knowing how I should go about doing it. It was my Nan that suggested I should go and stay with some Monks and to “give God another go”.
Initially, I felt that I had been there and done that, but something inside me was telling me that I had to go, that I had some unfinished business. It was whilst living in the community that I had an encounter with God, and over time I began to change my views and life direction. I began to understand that in me coming closer to God - following his words & his will, I would be helping others directly or indirectly, and therefore fulfilling my ongoing desire to help others too.
Even though I felt called to God and a vocation, I realized that it was not with the Monks with whom I had been living with. One day, one of the Brother Monks said he was going to visit some Franciscan Friars. While I didn’t know anything about Franciscans, once I heard their name, something stirred up within me and I wanted to find out more about them.
I decided to go and meet them and if it were possible, I would stay with them. I was met in a café by a Friar who had a big smile on his face and he seemed so gentle, that I felt at home in his presence right away. As time went on I started to meet more of these cool guys wearing brown habits and experiencing their way of life.
Over time, I began to fall in love with the Fraternal life that they shared and I had a sense of belonging. The more I learned about St Francis of Assisi, his charisma, his spirituality and his love for all forms of creation I felt deeply moved and inspired.
I decided to return home to England, where I decided to make contact with the Franciscan Order. Over a period of meetings with the vocations director, discerning what God has planned for and making sense of my life’s direction, I decided to apply to join the Franciscans.
As I write this reflection, this journey has taken me to Killarney, Co Kerry in Ireland, where I'm a Postulant with the Order of Friars Minor. To-date, I have many blessings in my life and one of these is that I now realize that even in life: God is so generous and forgiving with an unconditional love for each of us – waiting to embrace every person, regardless of their story - with open arms, like the father who embraces his prodigal son.