As I write this, Padre Ignazio’s homily on this morning’s gospel (Lk 13: 10-17, the healing of the hunch-backed woman) rings in my ears: “The Lord invites us to stop navel-gazing and obsessing on our own personal failures and improvements, but to have faith in Him and consider the needs of others”. And indeed, this faith in the Lord and attention to others is essential to men in formation to be active apostles, disciples on a mission.
Life at Villa Sant’Ignazio certainly reflects this call: novices coming and going from different apostolic activities in the parishes scattered throughout Genoa; periods of summer service in different realties all over Italy and sometimes abroad; and the famous “Experiments” – so-called as they help confirm our call and strengthen our faith in the Lord’s accompaniment – of the month of Spiritual Exercises, assisting the infirm at the Cottolengo, the pilgrimage in poverty, and service during Lent in a Jesuit community inserted in active apostolic ministry. These comings-and-goings are not the fruit of a thirst for adventure, but are always chosen with great care and in a spirit of discernment: we aim to go only where and when we are useful, to serve others now and to form ourselves to serve others even better in future. In fact, sometimes it’s tempting to just stay at home and rest a while! But our mission of service to others continues even at home, here and now.
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much” (Lk 12: 48). And this even in the most everyday and personal of our ‘possessions’: the spaces we inhabit, the house where we live. Aware of the great gift that is Villa Sant’Ignazio, our formators long ago decided to put this resource to the service of many, not just novices in formation.
As a result, the house has become a constant flurry of movements: people on silent retreat (priests, religious, lay people, couples); prayer groups for families; randomly bumping into old acquaintances and new faces climbing up the stairs on their way to an appointment for personal spiritual direction; friends of the novitiate popping by to participate in community mass, meals or to have a chat; groups who come to use the grounds for activities etc… We are also in discernment to opening up the house even more, such as using our sports ground to host activities for youngsters and the homeless of San Marcellino…if the Lord desires this, he will also provides us with the resources we need to transform it from the lunar landscape it currently resembles!
Certainly, all this activity also requires a certain level of sacrifice even on our behalf. For one thing, the house is no longer only our personal space, but becomes a location of constant potential encounter with others, with strangers. The presence of people on silent retreat also demands a certain attention to the level of noise in the house (especially in the corridors and on the stairs or during moments of recreation) as well as some more household chores. And our formators’ weekends, at the end of a week packed with meetings, prayer, guiding our personal formation and work, are often spent accompanying groups of couples and families who use our spaces to meet and share a common journey of prayer, or prepare themselves for marriage.
But this is all a very light – even pleasant – load; a life of service is a life worth living, truly a gift in itself. And meeting so many people who thirst for “something more” reminds us constantly of our own true desires, and the need to always go in depth. The silent movements and intense prayer of the retreatants who share our spaces cultivate an atmosphere of constant intimacy with and search for the Lord, and are a daily and vivid reminder of our need to turn to Him in everything we do. The commitment and energy of the young families and couples we meet give us great hope, joy, new perspectives, and new friendships. The zeal and love our formators pour into giving of themselves in every way and every moment to the service and formation of others edify us, encourage us and motivate us to do the same. And it seems that we novices too give testimony in our way of life: it is not the first time that retreatants have commented that seeing young men pray as we do, work as we do, helps them to pray, and gives them joy.
Truly, sharing the gifts of the Lord is never a loss, but always a multiplication of the joy received, and the creation of something new.