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God First, God Alone: Choosing to be a Brother

Updated: Oct 12, 2023


We had the pleasure of sitting down for a phone call with Br Martin Buganski back in August.
This is a transcription of our conversation. It has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. In this interview, he shares about his journey navigating the Lord's call to enter into religious life with the Brotherhood of Hope.
1. When did you feel called to discern with the Brotherhood of Hope and what did that look like for you?

I think my first real moment where I felt I should look at the brothers more happened in 2016, I was just about 23. I had been a missionary, and it was at least a six-eight month period where God was just doing a lot in my life in a really powerful way. I was a missionary with SPO in Kansas and I had a powerful experience on a retreat that March. It wasn't a vocational experience per se, but it was a powerful experience. Then I went with the brothers on their Kolkata mission trip in May, which was a vocational trip, but that trip didn't have a super big vocational impact for me necessarily. But, in June, I lived with the brothers for the month in New Brunswick, so the Lord was doing a lot and the brothers were around at all of those events.

But I wasn't thinking about checking out the brothers until July. I moved back to my parents for the summer. The brothers had gone on brotherhood vacation like they do every year, and I remember sitting on my parent's back patio praying and doing my normal morning personal prayer, and I just had this thought of "man, I just really wish I was with the brothers right now." Which actually was pretty shocking because it was that experience of "wait, where did that come from? I've never had that thought before." So that was the first moment that I felt I ought to look more at this because there was a desire to want to be around the brothers. I think one of the things that first most attracted me about the brothers was the way they prayed. Not necessarily the type of prayer or a form of prayer--because I was pretty much used to all of those-- The brotherhood is charismatic and, the way that they interact with the scriptures... I grew up similarly and prayed similarly.


But, I was struck the most by the motivation: where the brothers hearts were in prayer. That moved me the most and I felt I was beginning to resonate with that. So, really, the kind of main motivation for becoming a brother, if I could say it this way, is that my relationship with Jesus is the thing that's going to satisfy me.


So their particular desire for the Lord [struck me.] The way that's expressed for the brothers is, that they give their whole life to the Lord, particularly in the celibate life, so that Jesus may satisfy them. I don't know how much I thought about the celibate aspect of it at the beginning, but really this kind of relationship with the Lord captured me.


Way before I had the thought I should be a brother, the first thought was, “I want to be around these guys more.”

I remember at that time, St. Teresa of Avila's famous prayer, the "Nada te Turbe" prayer that ends with, "God alone suffices or God alone is enough" resonated with me. There was something about that that resonated with me, and I started to see that the brothers really believed that and experienced that in their life. So yeah, that was the very beginning of that kind of experience of: “I want to be with the brothers.” That and also the way that they prayed, I think, were the first things that made me want to be around them more. Way before I had the thought I should be a brother, the first thought was, “I want to be around these guys more.”


2. So after that first initial experience, how did you get from there to discerning to be a brother?

So in 2016, that fall of the beginning my second year with SPO and serving at Benedictine in Kansas. And the first step in our discernment process is being an Associate. So, weeks after I had this experience of "I want to be with the brothers", I saw the brothers at SPO training when it used to be in late July, and I just went for a walk with Br. Ken Apuzzo.


Funny enough, he had kind of offered to me in March on this retreat, this powerful experience, he was like "Hey do you want to become an associate?" And I was like "uhhh not right now, no."


But then in July I said, "Hey how do I spend more time around you guys?" So I became an associate.


So that's the first step for us. And it really just means there's more access for a guy to look at the brothers. So, for me, what that looked like was, I was still living in Kansas, so I didn't live with the brothers, but I would talk with Br Ken on the phone once a month just about spiritual things, and he would give me spiritual book to read. A couple of times during that year, I drove up to Minnesota to visit the brother’s house there. I think I was there for Holy Week and Easter that year just to spend more time with the brothers and see the brothers more. So that January I was just talking with the brothers and I was the one was asking, "hey, what's the next step and how can I do more?" It became clear the next step would mean that I would have to move and live with the brothers. I was far away from any brothers and our life in the Brotherhood is so familial. It's really tight knit. You can't discern it from afar or on your own. You really have to live with us and see it and the Brothers need to see you.

So that January I decided, okay, I'm going move in with the brothers back in New Jersey and I ended up continuing working with SPO. Not long after, in the fall, when I moved in with the brothers, I made the next step in discernment: Candidacy. That means that I would live with the brothers and it's actually a formal application to religious life. There's a psychological evaluation and there's medical stuff, there's an interview, there're forms you got to fill out, all this church document stuff. It's a formal application for the brothers to look at you. Because really when you become a candidate, it's the process of discerning: "should I become a novice?"

Soon after I became a candidate in New Brunswick. It's required that a guy lives with us to do that. And then really it's just: live with the brothers. You're not a brother, but you live with the brothers, pray with the brothers, start to spend the time together that the brothers do.


I remember I spent Easter morning and prayer time with the brothers, but ended up visiting my parents later in the day. I just began to live the way the brothers do, and kind of prayerfully discerning the next step that should happen.


I think this is probably true for discerning all vocations, like the priesthood. You really can’t live it without being all in.

I think this is probably true for discerning all vocations, like the priesthood. You really can’t live it without being all in. Like for married life, obviously you're dating a person and in an engagement it's the spending a lot of time around each other –but you obviously can't live like you're a married person in order to discern; of course there are lines there.


So that's the unique thing about religious life that you can really live it before you have made a lifelong commitment.

Then in December I took time to discern and decided to apply for the novitiate program and was accepted. The name of the program is Novitiate, the name of the year is your Novitiate year, the person is a novice.

So, it's December. I made a decision and finished my time with SPO and then the following year, in July, I made my novice commitment, started being called Br. Martin and moved down to Tallahassee, FL where our Novitiate program had been for the last couple of years.


Novitiate is really a unique time. It's a time away from any mission work. It's a year uniquely focused on prayer and formation and discernment.

Novitiate is really a unique time. It's a time away from any mission work. It's a year uniquely focused on prayer and formation and discernment. So it's a totally unique year where you're in the house a lot and there's daily teachings. There's a lot of readings, a lot of prayer, service, chores and an openness to the Lord. You make retreats like once a month, there's a lot of time just to listen to the Lord. But it's not really until the end of the year in May, when you make a decision to request first vows or to discern out of the Brotherhood.


3. How would you describe that (Novitiate) year as being pretty crucial in your discernment? And you're pretty secluded as well, correct?

Yeah, good question. You're right, it is a year more set apart and there's greater distance from communication with family. It was nice to see people at church (laugh) like, "oh, new people! I'm with the same people all the time."


I think probably every brother would say a novice's experiences includes being stretched and there's a difficulty to the year because you're being purified. I think all of us guys are who continued to become brothers and those who didn't, would say it is a totally unique year of grace that you're never going to get again. And it was just a powerful year.

I think everybody thinks about novitiate as just a graced moment. And it's because you give the Lord that kind of space, so He really blesses you. It's absolutely critical. I remember having a moment in the middle, when I thought, "At the end of this year, either I'm becoming a brother or I'm leaving, you know?" And I was like, “Wow, okay this is a big year.”


I think everybody thinks about novitiate as just a graced moment. And it's because you give the Lord that kind of space, so He really blesses you. It's absolutely critical.

That year for me was very purifying and like an emotional rollercoaster, swinging between the extremes of, “I love this and I want to do this the rest of my life" and "I don't want to do this, get me back to New Jersey right now.”

But the Lord spoke to me many times about that throughout the year and often the refrain that I came back to was the Lord asking me, "What are you here for? Are you here because you hoped this would be enjoyable? And now that it's not fun right now, you just don't like this? Or are you here because you really wanted to seek what I wanted to say to you?" The Lord often brought me back to that many, many times and there have been moments in my life when I have gone back to that question. Whenever I feel Lord asking me that question, I kind of go "Oh, dang it, here we are again." I know the answer. I know the answer. “No, Lord, I'm here because I want you. I want to know what you have to say about this.”

So it's a very purifying year and can be difficult as any purifying moments can be. But I think each guy looks back on that, myself included, with fondness, it was a really graced year.


4. After your novitiate year, what does it look like after you have discerned to become a brother but you're still in your temporary vows? Are you fully living the life of the brothers while in temporary vows?

When a guy makes first vows they are temporary vows that last for one year. And there's a lot of church wisdom from a lot of experience that you're not allowed to make lifelong vows right away. Perpetual Vows is the technical name for lifelong vows.


The church law, canon law, says that you have to at least do three years of temporary vows before you can request perpetual vows. So in the Brotherhood, our minimum is three (years), according to church law and then our maximum is five years. So a guy would do between three and five full years in temporary vows. Each year a man in temporary vows makes a discernment retreat usually in the spring, discerning "should I petition to renew my vows for another coming year?" So that's all part of the process.


So for first vows you get assigned to your first assignment to live in one of our houses. I was assigned to a house in Orlando, and the mission that I was given was to work as the campus minister at the University of Central Florida - UCF here in Orlando. I'm still here, and I lived here my whole time of temporary vows.

So to answer your question, "Do you live fully as a brother?" Yes. And only minimally no. So yes, you are treated as a brother. You are called brother. In our households, you have just as much of a voice and a say as any other brother. You wear the same habit. The only difference is that perpetually vowed brothers wear a ring on their right ring finger and a temporary vowed brother doesn't, but otherwise you wouldn't be able to tell the difference looking at us. And the only difference in terms of life is that a temporary brother cannot serve in Brotherhood government. So, as a leader in our brotherhood. No younger brother, myself included, would want to (laugh) and the brothers wouldn't let them anyway, even if they could, just as a young guy. So really there's no difference.


Something that was very striking to me as I was discerning perpetual vows, was that it wasn't a new "Yes" I was making it. The "Yes" wasn't new, it was just permanent.

But in terms of the way we pray or the responsibilities we have in the house and things like that, as a young brother, a temporary vowed brother fully lives the life of a brother. And that's really helpful because it let's you know what you're saying "yes" to when you renew or when you petition for final vows.


Something that was very striking to me as I was discerning perpetual vows, was that it wasn't a new "Yes" I was making it. The "Yes" wasn't new, it was just permanent. I knew the life that I was living because I'd been living it for four years in temporary vows and my year as a novice. I knew what I was saying yes to, I knew the (brotherhood) life. So it wasn't a new yes. And that's really helpful. For me there was a lot less anxiety because of that. I know what I'm saying yes to.

5. So now onto your perpetual vows that you made this past July, can you share a little bit about what it was like making your perpetual vows. What were you feeling? What was the Lord saying to you? What was your experience, maybe leading up the months, weeks before, and then your experience of that weekend?

Kind of connected with what I was just saying, some of my most profound spiritual experiences were leading up to the day itself.

There is no doubt this feeling of "oh my goodness, I'm going to make a commitment to something for the rest of my life." I've never made a commitment like that. Yeah, I suppose one you could say to follow the Lord, yes, but it's different, it's very different. When you get married, you know the experience of: “I'm going to commit to this person for the rest of my life.”

Well, I don't have any other commitment like that. So it's like, "Oh, okay, the big gulp here, we're going to do this." So I definitely had some of that. But I think the word the Lord gave to me was the one I was just saying.


That was really peaceful for me that it wasn't a new yes. All of the graces that I've been experiencing for the past four years, all the fruit that I'd seen in my life in the past four years– I was saying yes to that, I was saying yes to that life– those graces, that fruitfulness.

I was saying yes to the Lord for something that I was confident that I knew something about. And I was struck by that.


I think any person can be like, "wow but what's the future going to be like?" I think certain friends who are less familiar with the church, but also less familiar with religious life, would ask me questions like "what if you don't like it?" It's a very fair question. But again, similarly to being married, the answer that I would give to them is, "well, you know, I'm going to be faithful."

No one ever knows what the future is going to hold and we all make those kinds of headfirst plunges in life, any person who gets married, you just never know what life is going to hold. Will my spouse get dreadfully ill? Will we be able to have kids? Will we lose our jobs? Will we need to move to another country? You just don't know what life is going to throw at you.


I think any person can be like, "wow but what's the future going to be like?" I think certain friends who are less familiar with the church, but also less familiar with religious life, would ask me questions like "what if you don't like it?" It's a very fair question. But again, similarly to being married, the answer that I would give to them is, "well, you know, I'm going to be faithful."

But I think what we do know is, and this is a consolation for me, is I'm going to be faithful. There is going to be grace because I'm confident this is the Lord and so I'm going to be faithful. These were some of the things that were leading up to my making perpetual vows, which were very consoling and helpful. For the days themselves, it was a whole weekend for us. My family was there, there was an honoring night the two nights before, and the vows mass itself. And then we had some film crews there and were filming the vows and they were doing some other filming. So (it's) probably not unlike getting married. It's a little crazy and there were a lot of things going on.


I think I felt like how I imagine a bride and groom feel. I think that the thing that stood out to me the most during those days was just gratitude. I experienced a lot of gratitude to the Lord. I've said before, I just feel like I hit the lottery on life, through what the Lord has given to me and the life He's given to me.

I was full of gratitude, my family was there– they were obviously going to be–but I have so much gratitude for my own family being there. And I was surprised by how many people, certainly people from the People of Hope as well, who came and drove like five hours, and friends from Florida who flew up for this. And I was surprised, you know, when people showed up. "What are you doing here? I had no idea you were coming up!" And I just felt really loved by the people that came.

I want to say thank you to the people who came and the people who prayed for me that I felt so loved, and particularly by the People of Hope and members of the People of Hope.


I want to say thank you to the people who came and the people who prayed for me that I felt so loved, and particularly by the People of Hope and members of the People of Hope.

So during that whole time and particularly during the Mass of Perpetual Vows there was just overwhelming gratitude to the Lord and for so many people in the circumstances of my life. So it's just the sublime mixed with the normal, you know?


6. What does life look for you after you've made you perpetual vows? Are there any practical or spiritual changes that you have seen since making your perpetual vows?

There's not too much, practically, that changes for us and I think that is one of the real differences from say, ordination or marriage. I'm not celebrating Mass and I'm not, like, living with somebody new. So much of my life is the same.

I think that maybe the biggest change that I've experienced is, it's simple, it's actually not necessarily very profound, but, just a more settledness in the fact that I'm doing this for the rest of my life, you know? Just the way I can talk about that now or I can think about certain things like, “Well, I'm going to be around forever, you know, or I'm saying to a brother ‘"Well bro, I'm in this until one of us dies’" (laugh). That simple recognition of "yeah, this is what my life is going to be like for the rest of my life." And I'd say I'm pretty peaceful about that, I'm pretty settled in that.


I think there's a healthy way that the door is closed, in a good way. Somebody who is not familiar with religious life or our particular life asked me something like "what are you most excited for after you make Perpetual Vows?" And I just said, “I'm excited to never have to ask the vocation question again.” Like, that question is solved. It's done, you know? Maybe the natural kind of worry or anxiety that comes up with that it's done, it's over. I never have to ask that question again and I never have to discern that again. And anything that makes me think I should do otherwise is just temptation, because it's clear that my discernment was good. And so I can live it joyfully and peacefully. So, that's nice. I'm done.


I think there's a healthy way that the door is closed, in a good way. Somebody who is not familiar with religious life or our particular life asked me something like "what are you most excited for after you make Perpetual Vows?" And I just said, “I'm excited to never have to ask the vocation question again.” Like, that question is solved. It's done, you know?
7. Is there any final thoughts you wanted to close with?

I would love to just express my gratitude for the People of Hope, in its entirety. And for so many people who are like my friends' parents who I grew up with. I just think they were some of the best mentors and examples of Christian living that I had. I'm almost emotional as I think about it.

Yeah, wow, I don't, I don't know where I would be without the People of Hope. I'm not a part of the People of Hope, I'm far from the People of Hope now geographically, but I think my life is a testament of gratitude. My life is a testament to the grace, the goodness of covenant community.


I would love to just express my gratitude for the People of Hope, in its entirety... My life is a testament to the grace, the goodness of covenant community.

Certainly my family has probably the largest role in forming me. But then, after my family, at least before I became a brother, it's the People of Hope and the many people who just loved me and were great examples in their married life and their family life and their individual discipleship. So yeah, I'm filled with a lot of gratitude. And certainly one of the things I miss about New Jersey is the many people in the People that Hope.


Br. Martin with his whole family at his Perpetual Vows


 

Pictures from Br. Martin & Br. Austin's Perpetual Vows in July, 2023. This article is the continuation of a bulletin series which will seek to highlight the many ministries and communities around the world which we are blessed to call friends.

If you are interested in learning more about the Brotherhood of Hope, visit their page at brotherhoodofhope.org

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