Monday, September 21, 2009
The Vow Crucifix
Before novices--at least in my province--take First Vows, a multitude of Jesuits gather together the night before Vows for the Vow Crucifix ceremony. The novices take a few days of silence before Vows to ground themselves in prayer and to prepare themselves for the celebration ahead. They also use this time to pray over a number of vow crucifixes that have been gathered over the years and to choose one that speaks to them. Almost all of the crucifixes that the novices consider are ones that used to be owned by Jesuits who have since entered into a new life. These now-deceased Jesuits probably spent much time in prayer and petition with their crucifixes, and we younger Jesuits are gifted with a crucifix imbued with their many years of prayer.
Since coming back to the Bronx, I have been finding my prayer highly enriched by the use of my Vow Crucifix. It was something I hung on my wall last year but never really used for my prayer. Part of my inspiration comes from the Vow Crucifix ceremony that I attended this past August. During the Vow Ceremony, the novice director reveals to the community the Jesuits who used to own these Vow Crucifixes which the novices now choose. The community, upon hearing the name of each Jesuit, is invited to share stories of each one, to remember the lives of these men who have lived before us. I was struck by the remarkable nature of their lives, of their love and devotion to God and to the people whom they served. These are men I would have wanted to meet but only know through stories.
Fragments of these stories have stuck with me. The Jesuit who, deep in prayer, was asked what he was praying about and replied: "I'm praying for all of those people with whom I will ride the Greyhound bus today." I have thought about that sometimes when I ride the bus or the subway. The Jesuit who, while watching Bill O'Reilley (not because he liked him), remarked seemingly out of nowhere in crude, Oregonian fashion: "If this Jesus is real, he's f****** incredible!" The Jesuit who, after listening intently to the spiritual problems of a Scholastic, mentions: "I think you need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."
I realized during the Ceremony that I had completely forgotten the name of the Jesuit whose crucifix I had inherited. The only thing I remembered was that I certainly wasn't choosing the crucifix simply by the name of the Jesuit. As I thumbed through our book which has the names and dates of all those Jesuits in our province who had passed away, I finally stumbled upon his name: Ralph Sudmeier. Ralph Sudmeier...
I never knew him, but his crucifix is now a huge blessing in my life. I have held it close to my heart, asking for Christ to instill in me his wisdom and his love, to form me into the person He desires me to be. I have reached for it when I have been worn and weary, asking for strength and perseverance. I have gazed upon it with awe and thanksgiving, thankful for all that I have been given.
Perhaps Ralph did the same.
To my brother Jesuits: may your Vow Crucifix be a way in which you draw closer to Christ, growing ever deeper in imitation of his life. And may you be inspired by the prayers of our men who have held these same crosses before you AMDG