Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward - The Call

It doesn't seem that long ago that I followed my gut and chose to enter into a way of life that is amazingly foreign and other to the way most live their lives.

Of course, one of the most common questions Jesuits are asked are our reasons for entering religious life. I've always struggled to answer that question, because it's not like I literally received a call one day from God telling me to drop everything I was doing and to follow Him. To truly answer that question honestly and authentically takes a lot of vulnerability, especially when you're being asked by those suspicious of religious life in general and who hold negative views of the Church. It also takes a lot of time to answer if one wants a full answer and not a canned response.

It's hard to pinpoint just one reason why I decided to become a Jesuit. It was probably the culmination of influences of those who threw their seeds and sought to nourish them with their time and love. My parents labored long hours for countless years to put me and my four siblings through Catholic education. An incredible hardship, to say the least, and completely a sacrifice on their part--a sacrifice, I believe, that shaped my own desire to offer my own self for others. The friends and teachers I encountered from Kindergarten up through college who taught me what it meant to be a person of faith and who challenged me to do that authentically and openly. Schooled in Catholic education all my life, the way I see, view, and interpret the world around is inextricably linked to my faith. In a lot of ways, my faith is who I am--a self shaped and molded by the embrace of God. I also encountered in high school and college those Jesuits who were both uncouth yet also some of the most Holy people I have met, who through word and example helped to enkindle a fire in my heart, and who challenged me to find God in every moment and place. When I met them, I wanted to be like them.

As a feeler, I place a lot of value, both consciously and unconsciously, on my emotions when processing. In my prayer life, I feel that God has always invited me to own that aspect about myself, as my emotions can very much be conduits of grace in my experience. Looking back before I entered the Jesuits, I remember a lot of hurt and emotional suffering. Painful as it was, I always remember how that inner hurt and suffering was integral to my vocation as a Jesuit, and I truly would not be the person I am today without having gone through those experiences. I remember moments such as my Kairos retreat in which I felt that hurt to be healed in a powerful and transformative way thanks to those who mirrored the love of Christ--a love I wanted to extend. I think back to moments of learning about and seeing injustice that fueled a desire to make an impact in society. I also think about how I wanted to live my life in a much different and radical way than the typical get-a-job-and-raise-a-family route. I saw, and see, these inner movements as a call.

It's rather ironic that I did decide to enter religious life because I hated going to Church growing up. I thought Mass was the most boring thing in the world, and it seemed silly to me to engage in rituals which I felt had no bearing on my life. My experience of going to Mass was not lifegiving. It was simply a duty that one had to do because that's what Catholics do on Sunday, which I thought was stupid. It was the same damned thing week after week, and sometimes even the priest looked like he was bored. I needed good reasons for doing things, and I never considered the reason "doing it because you had to" as a good reason. My doubts and questions, though, were essential to my vocation, because they led me to question why we do things the way they do, and I realized that Catholics actually have damn good reasons for doing the things they do.

So, during my time at Seattle University, I decided to pursue my desires and to see where they took me. For most of my time in college, I had a Jesuit spiritual director whom I saw on a fairly regular basis. I had the opportunity to get to know the Jesuits much more at that time through weekly masses, Campus ministry retreats, and vocation retreats. I also remember when I visited the novitiate for the first time, and I just remember feeling quite at home with the men there. Once my senior year came along, it just felt right for me to apply to the Society, and so I followed me gut and went for it.

In my mind, it wasn't a life commitment. I was simply applying to the novitiate. Nothing more.

Although I was quite open about my desire to become a Jesuit with my friends, I was much more secretive about it with my family. The way I told my parents about this desire is rather strange. A number of months before I entered, I called my parents and told them that I had "big news," and that I would call them the following day. In my mind, I felt I had to prepare both myself and them for what I was going to share. When I did, they asked the typical questions that concerned parents would ask: "who's forcing you to apply?" "how will you make money?" "what if they send you to Africa?" I had always been surrounded by people who were super supportive of my desire to enter the Jesuits. I actually can't think of one person who told me that they felt it was a bad idea for me. Well, that changed with my parents--at least for a while. They are now proud parents who have no problems telling others that their son is a Jesuit. I think it was my First Vows and the way they saw me profess them that changed the way they saw it.

I feel extremely blessed and grateful for all of those who helped to shape the person I am today. It's very possible that I literally would not be here alive and doing what I am doing without their love and support. They imaged the love of Christ for me in a real way, and perhaps unknowingly, they imaged the voice of God who beckoned me to come and see where He wanted to lead me. AMDG


Robin said...

As a mother of three young people, one of whom did not make it, this was very moving to read.

Two things strike me: One, the sheer and mysterious grace of your responsiveness to all those who sought to influence and encourage you. A much greater gift than you know.

And second, your "wanting to be like them." I often describe my embarking upon the Exercises -- and I truly had no idea what I was doing -- as "wanting whatever it was that he had," he being the Jesuit who was one of my professors and became my director, and it, I eventually realized, being a radiant joy in his relationship with the Lord.

I think that now if I had only one piece of advice to give parents, it would be to help their children develop relationships with people whom they want to be like. Preferably people who exude that particular joy.

Great series so far!

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

I'm glad you found the post worthwhile =) Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom