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

How to make God laugh

15 May 2021

We Jesuits are about to celebrate a misfortune; more precisely, a leg smashed by a cannonball. It is the wound of St Ignatius of Loyola, during the battle of Pamplona, which he acquired on 20 May 1521, i.e. 500 years ago. That ball, which broke his dreams of gaining honour and fame, led him to find deeper joys and higher ideals. It thus proved to be an experience of grace and not misfortune.

There are certainly disasters without positive fruits, which must be avoided at all costs. One should not idealise misfortunes. But St Ignatius’ experience shows that even the most dramatic trials can be opportunities for growth and enrichment. Failure and humiliation are among the best friends of human maturation.

As a young seminarian, I had to plan a bicycle pilgrimage for a group of young people. The priest who was to accompany us told me that we would have to calculate a few extra kilometres each day, because we would also sometimes take the wrong road. My answer was: “But that mustn’t happen!”.

15 years and many kilometres in wrong directions later I can say that I am no longer so afraid of the unexpected. When our plans are interrupted, something good often happens. Just don’t get too hung up on what you have missed.

Recently, I missed the trip to Spain with the other novices because I did not get the result of my Covid test in time before departure. But, in these few days, I had some extraordinary experiences: a visit to some old palaces in the city, which I did not know; moments of fraternity, such as celebrations or meals; a wonderful walk along the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri; the vision of a painting, depicting St Ignatius in glory, made by the Jesuit novice Giuseppe Castiglione, in the old novitiate in Genoa around 1710 (on the photo).

A character in a Woody Allen film says: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”. We should start laughing too, when our plans are ruined, because it does not necessarily mean misfortune, but probably a time of grace. Ignatius teaches us this, and that is why we want to celebrate his injury.

2021-05-15 Daniel Nørgaard – second-year novice

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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