As he begins life a Capuchin friar, Br Matthew Timonera is sustained by a commitment to daily prayer and Mass attendance, and by the conviction that as part of God’s creation, each of us is deeply loved.
On 16 September, before his family and friends, Br Matthew professed solemn vows at St Anthony’s Capuchin Friary in Hawthorn. It was the culmination of a long journey, and the beginning of a new one. Reflecting on how he first came to discern his vocation to religious life, he says, ‘At the time, I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to be part of this, or even if this was something that I was being called to necessarily.’
Br Matthew was in his early twenties when he first felt the call to consecrated life. He remembers attending a talk on the Eucharist at All Saints Parish in Liverpool, Sydney. The talk was part of a program that ran for a week, with Mass and adoration. ‘In this particular Mass, I felt something very moving’ he says. ‘When it came up to the point of the consecration, when the priest was holding up the Host in his hands, saying the words of the consecration, I felt that I wanted to be part of that.’
When he got home that evening, ‘that sense of deep movement was still there.’
‘I just felt drawn to pray in response to what I had experienced,’ he says. He knew in that moment there was something ‘different’ from what he usually experienced. ‘It came to my mind, “Am I being called by God?” And the response was not yes necessarily, but “keep coming further.”’
Feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension, Br Matthew started his discernment process by talking to Fr Gregory Morgan, who asked him two questions: ‘Do you practice mental prayer?’ and ‘Do you go to daily Mass?’
‘I said no and no,’ says Br Matthew. So Fr Gregory encouraged him to spend time in mental prayer and to engage in intimate conversation with God, without necessarily using words.
At the time, Br Matthew was studying for a master’s degree in secondary education. As he started going to daily Mass, though, he noticed that his experience of God was being transformed. ‘It affected everything, from how I would receive the Eucharist to how I would meditate on the words said during Mass. I would try to pay close attention to the words, because these words are inspired by the Lord, if not words of the Lord himself,’ he says.
After two years of ongoing discernment, Br Matthew met the Capuchins, an order of Franciscan friars, when his parish choir were asked to sing at the ordination of one of the friars to the diaconate. Br Matthew had never seen men in religious habits. ‘I thought, “That’s different.” That really started sparking a bit of that curiosity towards the priesthood, but now it took a turn in a particular direction towards religious life,’ he says.
When he accepted an invitation to spend a weekend with the friars, he found ‘they were personable in a different way that I could perhaps relate to a bit better,’ he says. It was Br Matthew’s first time praying the Divine Office and attending to the poor.
It changed my idea of [service] from ‘We are serving the poor’ to ‘We are serving Jim, we are serving Bob, we are serving George’—as in not just seeing it as an activity but as an encounter with the actual person.
After this experience of community life, Br Matthew began to see more clearly the vocation he was being calling to. ‘I was seeing that I was being called to be a friar; to that identity of men who literally roll up their sleeves to serve yet men who are also grounded in that service through their prayer life,’ he says.
‘That resonated with me. I remembered my parish priest who would give his life serving the community but also have a very profound life of prayer—simply sitting there before the tabernacle when no one else was around.
‘I found myself being able to say, “Perhaps there is a way that I can also be like that with the Capuchins.”’
Br Matthew made the decision to join the Capuchin friars as a postulant and undertook a nine–month residential program before formal acceptance into the order. He then travelled to Santa Ynez, California, to begin the novitiate and be formed in the Capuchin way of life. He spent most of his time as a novice in contemplative prayer, as well as learning about Franciscan traditions and theology.
One of the most challenging aspects of his time as a novice was learning about the complexity of human relationships. ‘If I accept that I am a flawed and sinful person, then that is the first step to allowing the Lord to bring about conversion. The formation program is everyday conversion … Conversion, in the fuller sense, is turning towards God. We turn to God everyday by choosing to do things that are virtuous, things that bring us closer to the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.’
To illustrate the Capuchin practice of ‘fraternal correction’, Br Matthew tells the story of St Conrad and the bread. In this story, ‘one of the brothers was in charge of baking the bread and the bread got burnt. St Conrad came up to the brother and said, “If only you had been praying for the souls in purgatory! They would have told you to get the bread out of the oven.” That is what Capuchins are like.’
Despite all the challenges, Br Matthew says his fellow brothers ‘have been great examples of what it means to be a Capuchin.’
To call them brothers—and I don’t just say that lightly—to have them there witnessing me making my final vows, I think, speaks volumes [about] that journey with them along the way.
On the day of his profession, the most ‘moving’ part of the liturgy, he says, was during the Liturgy of the Saints. ‘It was the only moment when I could be silent before God ... Mental prayer, the priest before the tabernacle, and my own experience of religious life—it is nice to see the constants in this whole journey.’
The next step in Br Matthew’s journey is ordination to the diaconate. He is currently undertaking studies in philosophy and theology at Catholic Theological College and serves as sacristan at St Anthony’s. When not busy with his studies or duties at the friary, he enjoys leather crafting. This hidden talent emerged as he was trying to find a way to repair the cover of his breviary, which had been damaged.
When others saw the finished work, they asked if they, too, could have a custom design. ‘It started off very simple,’ he says. ‘As more people asked me, I was able to buy more things and become more intricate with the designs.’
Br Matthew also likes painting and drew the image on the holy card for his solemn profession of vows. To explain this image, Br Matthew wrote:
It was in the morning about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross that, while praying, St Francis saw a seraph come down from heaven and appear before him. Then, he saw the image of the crucified one in the midst of its wings—his hands and feet nailed to a cross. It is after this vision that the wounds of the stigmata appeared on the hands, feet, and side of St Francis.
Venerable Fulton Sheen’s image of Christ crucified is one that resonates deeply with Br Matthew. As part of his preparation for solemn profession—and for the priesthood—he read The Priest Is Not His Own. ‘He really paints the picture of the priest as the victim—the victim in the sense of Christ as the willing victim who went to the cross,’ Br Matthew says. ‘Priests are called to be men of God: there at the altar but also in every other sphere of the priest’s life. The humanity of the priest is something that is set apart for the service of everything he does.’
Br Matthew sees this desire to serve others reflected in his ability to create.
I really believe that as we are made in the image and likeness of God, something of God as a creator is passed onto us. We are ‘creators’ in inverted commas. When I do that in such a free and joyful way, I am reminding others of God’s presence through my own lesser act of creation.
‘At the very fundamental level, being created by God makes you a creature. One is in relationship with all creation because everything else is created by God. Ultimately, I am created by God; I am called to be in relationship with God as his creature,’ Br Matthew says, ‘to be created by God implies that one is loved by God. It implies then that God has a plan and something ordered for that person.’
Christian Bergmann03 May 2023
Fiona Basile04 August 2023