Jesuit Novitiate
Novitiate of the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus

But when do the swallows arrive?

by Christian Lefta

Suddenly, at last, almost on the verge of resignation, we saw swallows a few days ago. So many and so fast with their unmistakable slender silhouettes, in a blindingly bright, cloudless early afternoon sky. Cloudless, that is, without the shadow of a doubt that was beginning to become insistent: but when are they coming? And then: are they really swallows? Even if the eye sometimes deceives, swallows, as everyone knows, are the unequivocal sign of the arrival of spring, which finally brings with it the thaw and the explosion of life.

From the viewpoint of the novitiate, which is often a privileged vantage point for observing phenomena, it was actually not too difficult to see this: the climate of silence and a certain amount of training in contemplation somehow help the gaze. In any case, it is still a great challenge to be able to look. There is, in fact, a mysterious correlation between meteorology and the life of the spirit: there is, in other words, almost a meteorology of the soul to which Jesus refers in the famous passage in Matthew 16, 1-4: “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to test him and asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he said, ‘When evening comes, you say, “Good weather,” because the sky is red; and in the morning, “Stormy weather,” because the sky is dark red. Do you then know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, and do not know how to distinguish the signs of the times?”.

The spring of the year we are going through, 2022, seems far too full of signs, unfortunately not all of them of life, but rather of death and destruction. Where, then, are the swallows? Where is the explosion of life in a world devastated first by pandemic, now by war? We share this question, in faith and hope, with millions of men and women around the world today who, just like us, lift their eyes to the same sky, looking for signs of life and resurrection.

It is interesting that in number 236 of the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius proposes exactly this exercise, which not by chance is offered at the same time as a spiritual exercise but also as an exercise of observation of natural reality: “to consider how God labours and works for me in all created things on the face of the earth […] Thus in the heavens, in the elements, in plants, fruits, herds, etc., giving being, preserving, making vegetate, giving the senses, etc.”.

Nature, with its mysterious speech made up of sounds, scents and colours takes us back, with this spring 2022, to that truth that only with the eyes of faith can we recognise as life, a life that against all appearances never ceases to reappear, and to reassure us of its victorious return: “for, behold, the winter is past, the rain has ceased, it is gone; the flowers have appeared in the fields, the time of singing has returned, and the voice of the turtledove still makes itself heard in our countryside” (Ct 2:11-12).


When prayer becomes…preparing breakfast

by Alessandro Di Mauro

During novitiate life it happens, on a rotating basis, that we have to prepare breakfast for everyone before starting individual morning prayer. In such cases, one of us needs to wake up a little earlier than the others to be able to reconcile preparation time and meditation time. I have sometimes wondered if it is really necessary for us to be present when doing this service or if there is a deeper reason for doing it.

For some time now, when the alarm clock rings in the morning, I often feel, in my heart, the desire to meet the Lord during my personal prayer and in the Eucharistic celebration that we live daily. I have, however, realised that even when I have to anticipate the alarm clock for breakfast, the desire does not change and it almost seems to me that this also enters into the dynamic of meeting Him.  A question then arises for me: is it possible that even the act of preparing breakfast for everyone is somehow part of a form of prayer? To answer this question, I immediately ask myself another: what is the meaning of Christian prayer? I believe that prayer is an encounter with the Lord to deepen more and more the communion of life with Him. As St Teresa of Avila used to say, it is the moment when I meet the Beloved. On the other hand, if we read the Gospels, Jesus himself often stopped to pray alone in the intimacy of dialogue with the Father, so much so that it triggered the Apostles’ desire to understand how to pray: ‘Lord teach us how to pray’. What needs prompted them to make this request? Certainly the example of Jesus must have been a driving force: as the Master prays, it is good that we also pray; but I believe, first and foremost, they had the desire to experience the same encounter as Jesus with God the Father. In prayer, therefore, two freedoms meet, that of the believer who seeks the Lord and that of God who has the desire to be heard by those who pray to him. This is also the reason why it is, often, complicated to pray, because on the one hand there is a supernatural dynamic, whereby prayer is a gift from God, for which one’s heart must be prepared; on the other hand it is a human encounter that takes place in ordinary life, a challenge to recognise God’s voice that is often covered by the din of everyday life.

But back to breakfast! What does this have to do with its preparation? Nothing, if one approaches preparation thinking that the purpose is to have some milk, coffee and tea ready on time. But if one lives this operation savouring every single moment of it – from picking up the coffee pots to preparing them, to hearing the whistle of the coffee ready and enjoying the heat that the vapours give off when it is poured into the thermos – thinking that this gesture will be of help to the brethren, to those whom the Lord has placed beside him, something changes. By living the preparation in this way, even these gestures can become an encounter with God the Father, for whom I recognise in the other a brother for whom it is well worth losing half an hour of sleep.

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