Thursday, July 28, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward - The Novitiate

On August 19, 2006, I entered the Jesuits. I sometimes get some strange questions like: "how long does it take until you become a Jesuit?" Well, it's not like I should expect everyone to know everything about our lives. When men choose to enter that door to their respective novitiates on entrance day, that is the day they become Jesuits. Of course, we are always growing more and more into that identity, but we are technically considered a part of the order at that time.

Some Jesuits look at me funny when I mention that I actually enjoyed my two-year experience as a novice. Well, maybe enjoy isn't the right word, but for me, that time as a novice was an essential time for my own growth and development as a human being.

Practically speaking, I feel in a lot of ways that I truly grew as an adult in developing life skills important for anyone. For example, I entered without my driver's license, and a few months in, my novice master out of obedience told me that I had to get my license, which I was more than happy to do. I learned how to cook, and not the sort of cooking where you learn to boil water and heat some ragu sauce. I also came to highly value the importance of cleaning and taking care of the place I lived (which is a good reminder for me, since I can be a slob still. This also reminds me of something a speaker said to the guys at Ciszek some time ago, that she was truly impressed that grown men were talking about properly cleaning the kitchen at community gathering). It's kind of true for me that the state of my room is similar to the state of my mind.

Novices are sent on a number of experiments during their two years, and for me, I found my experiments to be important in challenging and stretching me. I probably would never have done most of the things I did as a novice in any other context, nor would I have traveled as much and gotten the opportunity to visit so many different cities. For example, I spent some time on a native reservation. I was privileged to live in a L'Arche community for a few months. I also had the unique opportunity to visit Colombia. Though challenging in their own way, I thought it was awesome to be able to do things I never would have considered doing otherwise, and I truly learned a lot from those experiences.

Spiritually, it was as a novice that I truly began to develop my prayer life and an authentic relationship with God. As someone who is typically unstructured with his time, I appreciated an external schedule (what in Jesuit lingo we term as an 'ordo') that helped me to order my day. One would hope that I would learn how to pray with all of this time structured in the day for it. I also learned how to be silent and to listen and discern the movements of God in my life (literally, for more than 30 silent days praying with the Spiritual Exercises).

I also learned how to faith share under the Oregonian model. We have a reputation with other Jesuits for 'oversharing' because as novices, we would faith share every week, and there would be a double round. I like to think we simply learned how to share honestly and authentically, which fostered and challenged us to have relations of depth. In the first round, everyone was invited to share their consolations and desolations of the week and how they experienced God. Unique to our province is the second round, in which after everyone shares, we go off for twenty minutes to pray over what everyone has shared, and then we reconvene to share the fruit of our prayer. Sure, the sessions might have seemed drawn out and somewhat painful at times, but I think these sessions helped to develop a level of openness and trust I think is important in Jesuit communities. We weren't simply sharing at one another, but we were encouraged to share and to be able to have a dialogue with one another about our lives in a meaningful way.

The novitiate was also a very important time for me because, with all of this time for prayer and reflection, a lot of old demons began to surface that was necessary for me to face. I found myself wrestling with a lot of old emotions that my novitiate experience brought to the forefront of my consciousness. I remember feelings of uncertainty, wondering, as I mentioned earlier, what the heck I had gotten myself into. Wounds from my childhood that I thought I had gotten over a long time ago resurfaced in unexpected and surprising ways. Sometimes, I felt the darkness so strongly that I wanted to kill myself. Of course, that wouldn't look too good on the Jesuits =p Through these times, I am extremely grateful to my formators who gave me so much love and support during those times and who allowed me to be open and honest with what I was going through. It was especially in these shared moments that I felt my love of the Society truly deepen and grow. These men were not afraid to confront that darkness that I faced, because they believed much more deeply in God's healing light.

On the day of my First Vows, I remember feeling so much joy and consolation on that day. I truly believed that God had given me so much, and that God was truly inviting me into this way of life by sharing the gifts I have been given in this unique way. I prayed over the vow formula we had to recite, and I felt strongly that I would not recite those words unless I truly meant it. When it came my turn to recite my vows, I had a difficult time getting through the first line. Not for lack of belief, but for how moved I felt in proclaiming my vows before God. I started to tear up, which got my mom to tear up, which got another mom to tear up. Of course, it was a huge shock to everyone that I got emotional =p

In one of the lines, Jesuits profess that God will give us the graces we need to live our lives. In other words, we acknowledge that this life is truly impossible without God, and it is in God that we must necessarily place our trust. That is why our prayer life is so important for us. If we are not connected to God through our daily prayer, then we begin to lose our connection to the One who truly makes our life possible.

I remember sharing my vow picture with one of the philosophy students here at Fordham, and she remarked how happy we looked. At least for myself, I knew that was true at the time that picture was taken. It has remained as my desktop wallpaper for quite some time. It's good for me to be reminded from time to time.

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