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


From metaphysics to the chicken coop and back again.

19 Mar 2018

A few weeks after entering the novitiate, the novice master assigned to each of us novices of the first year a community service to be carried out throughout the year. Among the charges to be conferred there was also that of looking after the chickens. Father Agostino didn’t take long to sense my lack of propensity for manual work and so he baptized me with the responsibility for the henhouse. In the initial period of Jesuit formation, it is common practice for novices to engage in experiences contrary to their personal tendencies and tastes. And this not out of masochism but to discover unknown talents and abilities.

You must know that, before my entry into the novitiate of the Society, I studied philosophy, graduating with a thesis in metaphysics. I have more than just a suspicion that the novice master entrusted me with this task to bring me back to earth from the platonic world of ideas in which I often hide myself. On receiving my new role, I didn’t exactly jump for joy. However, even after a few days of tête-à-tête with these feathered friends, I discovered the gratification that can derive from manual work. But the pleasure of a humble and ordinary service however was not the happiest surprise. I discovered, with some wonder, that work in contact with nature can be the source of different moral and spiritual teachings. The anecdote below should convince you of what I tell you.

One of my daily tasks is to give the hens the food waste of the kitchen. As soon as they see me approaching the henhouse with the bucket overflowing with “delicious foods”, they begin to shove each other to take a place in the front row at the food trough. At the same instant when I pour food into the container, the battle becomes even more fierce and they begin to fight for the best pieces to the sound of pecking. The total nonsense of this daily drama appears clear at the next morning’s visit in which I punctually observe that food has been leftover. At the beginning, being a victim of the collective imagination and of the easy irony with which hens are accused of poor intelligence, I did not care much about what happened. One day I began to reflect on the fact that we human beings do not behave so differently. Even we humans do not think twice about creating conflicts of all kinds to grab the best part of the gifts that the Father has abundantly poured onto this earth. They are more than enough for the sustenance of all but, because of our selfishness, someone always remains deprived of the necessary. In addition, we insist on painting neo-Malthusian scenarios knowing full well that the shortage of goods, which some of us endure, is not due to a natural scarcity but is the result of the voracity of many.

The chicken coop continues to be for me, after more than five months, a treasure chest from which to draw small spiritual treasures, an aid to “seek and find God in all things”.

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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