To the Communities of St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul in Wellesley, pax Christi!
God and I have been doing a lot of work leading up to my time at the Jesuit Novitiate in Syracuse. As I was walking around the LeMoyne campus reflecting on my life up to this point, I was overwhelmed with the potential I feel is about to be unleashed. My parents always told me that I could go anywhere and do anything, and now I feel that that is true in a very real way, not just in my thoughts or attitudes. The freedom to do anything God might call me to do — what a gift! I have finally found the place and the group that I’ve been seeking since I was young yet never really knew existed. I feel at peace but also exhilarated on a daily basis. I have thoroughly enjoyed the classes I’m taking on Christology, Ignatian Spirituality, prayer, the history of the Jesuits, and the current mission of the Society of Jesus. I feel comfortable in my own skin here, seen for who I am, valued for what I have to offer, and humbled by the company of so many other thoughtful, gifted, intelligent, caring, authentic men. I attend daily Eucharist, pray at least 3 hours a day (not necessarily all at once, and not necessarily alone), and work twice a week at Upstate Hospital as a chaplain intern. I feel immense gratitude that this dream of mine has actually come true, and I am so happy that I decided to answer God’s call. I don’t think I’ve ever known with such certainty that a choice felt so right. I needed to be ready to accept this gift, though, with my faith having been tested, and having undergone many other life experiences since graduating college 10 years ago. Jesus said, “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Mt 13:52). We are all unfinished works of art in God’s studio; every day our new life is added to our former life, and we become a new creation. I bring all my experiences of teaching foreign languages and directing music with me here, and I get to share them with others as they become transformed into something entirely new. What a blessing!
I love the rhythm of life in the Novitiate, and I love the genuineness I sense from everyone around me. It’s amazing to be in a place where everyone cares so much about everything they say and do. God is a verb, an action. God is love. God is found in relationship, in the interaction between us. Indeed, Jesus tells us, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt 18:20). The more we converse with others on a spiritual level, the more God reveals Himself to us. We engage frequently in this kind of spiritual conversation, so I know I am getting to know God more deeply. Because of this, a new sense of wonder at the mystery of creation and the mercy of God has surfaced in me. I feel like a child again — everything is novel! As today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). I think I now know better what Jesus means by this: children are curious, imaginative, creative, unconcerned about “adult” problems, dependent on superiors, and the opposite of self-conscious. My prayer has become more personal, more simple, more energizing once I let go of my tendency to judge its productivity. Children are also intensely present in the eternal moment of “now.” Children naturally know how to be — where they are, as they are.
I see a lot of myself in St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order — in his stubbornness, his desire for “more” and “greater” things, his yearning for challenge, his feeling that he’s destined for something great, his need to serve and give of himself, his deep emotional experiences, his passion, his obscenely high standards, his extreme self-awareness, his desire for a personal relationship with God, the way he throws himself completely into whatever he’s about with almost reckless abandon while also being ready at any moment to move on if deemed necessary, the way his education led him to desire to make the world a better place, his need for community life, and his desire to rid himself of fear. The Jesuit way of proceeding suits my personality and temperament.
Jesuits aim to be people of hope and joy, bringing God’s mercy to the world, helping souls to find God through ongoing conversion, uniting tensions, collaborating with the outside world, always in the midst of growing and changing and reframing, searching for fervor, going where the need is greatest, being free for whatever mission is entrusted to them, finding God in all things and in all places, encountering and appreciating others for who they are, promoting justice, and defending the Catholic faith. I am filled with consolation and hope for the future, and I look forward to continuing to share my story with you all.
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!
Chris Holownia, n.S.J.