06 Apr

“No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9,62)

My name is Nicolas Abou Anny. I am 26 years old and I am a Lebanese Friar with the Friars Minor Conventual, in the Order’s Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land.

I was born into a Christian family with few means. I did not have much while I was growing up, but I always wanted to become someone who lived out his dreams. I attended a German boarding school and spent my childhood far away from my family and from my home. I grew up feeling a lack of love and peace…, and this emptiness created within me a very strong relationship with the Crucified One. I identified my sufferings with those of Jesus on the cross, and this relationship helped me to understand that Jesus was near to me and that He was taking care of me. When I would cry out to Him in prayer I would hear His response through the words of the Gospel. It was in this relationship that I found the serenity to carry on with my daily life, and despite everything, I found the tools I needed to grow in His love.

Take my peace to the world”: these words continued to echo within me when, at the age of 12, I would pray before going to bed.

As I got older, I discovered that I needed to take medication in order to grow physically. Added to this suffering were new difficulties that my family was facing. They were no longer able to support my university studies nor guaranty my serenity. Financial difficulties were accompanied by relationship problems within the family. I endured and even accepted all of this pain, which did nothing more than to bring me even closer to the crucified Jesus Christ and to His sufferings. In these times of trial I learned not only the importance of prayer, but also its efficacy. Desperation and pain, through prayer, were transformed into peace and serenity. I never felt alone nor abandoned.

At a decisive moment Jesus made Himself present to me through the Friars Minor Conventual as well as through members of the secular Franciscan order. The Franciscans helped me and my family to find solutions to my health problems and to make my studies possible. With their help I became a man who was able to reach his dreams. I completed my biology degree and at the same time began working. At last I was able to fulfill certain desires that until only recently I had not even been able to dream of. Newfound success and stability in my work allowed me to be a significant support for my family. I eventually became marketing manager in the company where I was employed. I had many friends and at this point I lacked nothing. I continued living this life for four years, but slowly something began to change. I no longer suffered as I had before, but I also was not praying as I had before. I went to mass on Sundays but nothing more in the way of spiritual activities. Something inside of me had changed radically. I had everything but I began to feel that I lacked everything. I had begun to accomplish my dreams but there was a deep emptiness inside of me and I did not understand what was happening to me. I entered into a dark period, a time of continuous, agitated and tiresome searching… I was not well. I could not understand what it was that I lacked.

One day I accepted an invitation to attend Holy Thursday mass at the Saint Francis Friary in Zahlè. During that celebration I discovered that which I had been lacking, or better, that which I had lost! An inexpressible peace and a measureless joy filled my heart, especially when the Friars invited me to come and help serve the poor, along with several other families who were already collaborating with the Friars in this ministry. During the Eucharistic celebration I felt peace settling within me, to the point that everything became clear: I had a deep need to stay with Jesus crucified, He was my salvation, and it was He who could fill my emptiness. With Him, crucified and risen, I had also been raised to life. I felt free, so free that I was ready to leave everything in order to following Him, the one who had saved me. I asked Him what I should do with my life. Only He could give me the wisdom necessary to understand what path to take in order to live the good life, a life worth living. Should I leave everything behind in order to follow Jesus? Or should I continue my career and start a family? These questions could finally find a clear and peace-filled answer.

I did not receive an extraordinary sign or hear something totally new. Rather I simply reexamined my life, noticing how the Lord Jesus had always guided me and how much joy I had received during moments of intimacy with Him. When facing the question of what I should do with my life, only one response came to my mind: “take my peace into the world.” This phrase illuminated my mind and my heart and I was able to see everything and everyone in a new light. “Take my peace into the world,” this is what God was asking of me. In fact, it was not a new request. Already, long before, at the age of 12, I had received the same words. It was to this that God was calling me: this was, and is, my vocation! I remember feeling the same joy as when I was small and needy and had felt myself being sustained by God who had shown Himself through the charity of the Franciscan family. It was time to begin giving back for all that I had been given, time to decide, and time to accept God’s call as my vocation, and to live it out fully, working for His peace and His love to reach everyone.

I did not waste time. As soon as I learned that I too could become a friar, I spoke with Friar Cesar, head of the community in the Middle East, who accepted my request with a huge smile. In that moment I felt like I had made the quickest decision of my life. I no longer felt any desire to study or to continue my career. These desires had also changed!

During my stay in the friary, my convictions were reinforced, and my understanding of my vocation also became more profound. I sought to live with love wherever I could. The most beautiful and biggest discovery that I made was that I cannot bring others peace unless I have the peace and love of God within me. It is necessary for Him to live within me. For this reason the words of the Gospel and daily Mass, during which Jesus humbles himself and comes down to enter into my body in order to change me and make me into His image, became vital for me. Only in this way can I take His peace into the world. Saint Francis of Assisi was a great master on this path. In his desire to live out brotherhood, he made his own the words of Saint Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2,20).

I do not know my future, where I will be, what problems I will face. But the one thing I know for certain is that I want to always live in union with God, and I want to be able to see Him in every moment, even though I am a weak man and full of sin. I don’t want to lose this pearl that I have found and I do not want to look back. I only want to continue living the Gospel each day, to live out true charity in order to enter into the Kingdom of heaven and to help others to see God and help them draw close to Him.