Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Am I a Jesuit?

"It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty.
These "signs of the times" should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud-but always forcefully--we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching."
~Pope Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, S76

I've been thinking about this question of being a Jesuit recently. I find myself wracked with uncertainty and overwhelming weakness, wondering if I have the capacity and the strength to live this life amidst the challenges and the struggles that I inevitably face. Can I give authentic witness to this vocation?

There's a part of me that feels selfish about writing this post as I compare my own struggles with the suffering that the people of Haiti are going through and think to myself: "my struggle is nothing compared to what they are going through. How dare I complain about my own struggles."

On the other hand, I feel my struggles to be quite real, and it would be silly for me to ignore the reality of what is going on inside of me. It is silly anyway--almost bordering on dangerous-- to play the comparison game of who suffers more.

As I was praying earlier, I felt called to write this because I need to write this for myself more than anyone else. In the midst of this time of First Studies, I need to rekindle that fire that led me first into the Society.

Why am I a Jesuit?

I have probably referenced this well-known quote of Fr. Pedro Arrupe before, but I continue to draw inspiration and strength from it:

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything."

I was recently reading the letter that I wrote to my former provincial before I took vows during my 8-day retreat. I remember thinking that I was not going to take vows unless I truly believed in what I was going to profess.

My introductory paragraph read:

"Dear Fr. Provincial,
As I compose this letter to you, I am surrounded by our Lord’s grandeur here at Hayden Lake. I am overwhelmed by the abundance of God shown forth through the beauty of the earth and am moved with awe and thanksgiving. Here, in this most sacred place, God has touched me, deeply and profoundly, yet again. I feel wholly unworthy, yet still God beckons, invites me into a greater mystery beyond my own understanding. God has led me to this point, and as I imagine the prospect of taking vows this upcoming August, I feel at peace. I have found my home, have found where I feel I belong—in the vineyard of our Lord. Therefore, with humble heart, I ask your permission to profess on August 16, 2008 simple perpetual vows into the Society of Jesus and to be admitted into first profession."

These words were not fluff to make the provincial think highly of me. I believed these words profoundly. It is funny to read how unworthy I felt myself to be in God's sight--the story of my life. Yet, God still calls. God sees something in me worth sharing to the world, and I have to believe that because I often do not believe that of myself. That has been echoed in so many people who have been as Christ to me and who have affirmed my decision to be with the Society.

The fire, though, needs greater tending. Anyone can offer herself/himself to God without necessarily being in religious life. Why am I a Jesuit?

I don't want to answer: "because what else would I do with my life?"

As I think about this, I am coming to realize that it is absurd for me to think that I can fully and completely answer this question. Tending to one's fire is, in many ways, the task of a lifetime. I imagine that all people must necessarily ask this question as they grow in years. And perhaps what originally fed the fire must now be fed differently.

I think answering this question presumes that I completely understand my vocation. Yet, I alluded in my vow letter that I felt led into a vocation greater than my own understanding. That this life that I wanted to lead was wrapped in mystery, yet I believed that God would walk with me through thick and thin and strengthen me through His love and mercy to enter fully into this life.

I became a Jesuit, in part, because I felt the amazing power of God's love in my life, and I wanted to respond and share that with others. I saw the Jesuits as a conduit through which I could best share what I have been given to those around me. As a Jesuit, I have grown in faith and in love for our Lord, heartened by these brothers of mine who have taught and formed me into becoming more and more a Jesuit.

Yes, I am a Jesuit. But, in a different sense, I am always in the process of becoming a Jesuit. At this midway point in my time in first studies, I am called to revisit that question: "why am I a Jesuit." Do I have the grace to imitate Christ who humbly became as one of us up til death?

Only by God challenging me in this way can I really grow in my vocation, and I must be open to this challenge. And, that I can be open with this challenge is a grace for which I am thankful for. And, I know I do not enter into this challenge alone.

In my experience, religious life has been a very enriching life thus far, and I have grown in ways I never would have otherwise. But, this life is also not a walk in the park, and there are many painful graces to be experienced.

I hardly ever ask this of anyone (I have been recently), but please pray for me at this time. We religious pray for the world daily, but I think our vocations are strengthened by those who pray for us as well--that we might faithfully and authentically serve God and God's people with integrity. Please help us and support us to be the best people that we can be for the Church and for the world.


steve said...

Hi, Ryan.

I'll remember you in my prayers. I think any vocation (religious or not) is always chosen with a hint of uncertainty. That has certainly been my own experience throughout my career.

Know that the work that you and your brother Jesuits do has a profound positive impact on the world -- work that we, as lay people, are often unable to emulate. It is very much appreciated.

breadgirl said...

Hi Ryan
Hang in there! We need people like you. I will keep you in my prayers and ask a very special Jesuit, St David Lewis, to pray for you, too. God bless you.

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Thank you very much for your encouragement, support, and prayers. They mean a lot