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

by Carmine Carano

Departure… is a word that in the life of a Jesuit novice recurs often, sometimes even overcrowding it. Departure… a word that expresses a double movement, or rather two intertwined movements: the ‘other’ who goes away and I who remain with myself and my interior life, or on the contrary, I leave with the baggage of my interior world and the ‘other’ who stays put watching me disappear. I think everyone has had the experience of getting on a train, turning around, glancing at the station from which you left and noticing that he or she is still there watching you go away, watching you as the deaf train inexorably drags you elsewhere.

Departure leaves an open space, a space in which roams free the absence of who is not there, or rather who is not physically present. This absence can provoke and lead to the discovery of a new way of being in relationship, guarding the other beyond the corporal. The child thinks that if he does not see his mother, she is not there and that’s it. Life takes you by the hand and accompanies you one step at a time to mature a different dimension in which to welcome and preserve the presence of the other, it’s the garden of memory. An interior place, vast, where presence is remembered and looked after.

The latest absence the novitiate community is experiencing is that of the first-year novices, who are busy these days in the intense gym of the Spiritual Exercises. I’m not talking about the week, but about the entire Month. We were sixteen at home and now we are in six, plus three formators. The house is emptier and more silent. My second year companions and I decided to react to the absence by realising the possibility of prayer, favoured by the climate of the house that in my opinion seemed to invite us to this choice. It was a time of rereading the past three months, but not only. Our reaction was not just a ‘look at things past’, it was a responsible gaze towards the present, so that it could let itself be rooted in the present. They are there to do the Exercises, and we have decided to accompany them with prayer, to support them in the arduous crossing. The signs chosen come in two. The first. Each of us, on the day of the week assigned to him, dedicates to the ‘retreatant’ novices his hour of morning meditation, and during the community Mass dedicates to them an intention in prayer. The second. On Friday, at 7 pm, we pray the rosary together for the same reason.

These are two experiences of intercession that give new significance to departure and to relative absence. They, those who have left, are not simply absent, but found again in prayer. Closing your eyes, concentrating, breathing slowly, keeping silent or articulating an elaborate intention during that silence or pronuncing the repetitive words of the rosary become the places in which you discover that in God the other – the companions in the Month of Exercises – is found in a new way. They become places where you can experience a different and fertile relationship, of fraternal help. Distant, but in God reunited.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWcyIpul8OE

Re- create

by Nicholas Cassar

One of the cardinal points in our formation as novices is to be moulded into “men of community”. A metamorphosis – or, a blossoming of that which was latent – which takes place through grace, prayer, commitment, learning, reflection. And, of course, the concrete events and rhythyms of everyday life.

One of these concrete tassels is in fact “Recreation”: a daily appointment after dinner in which, before concluding a day of lessons, household chores, apostolates/service in a parish, prayer, study, we regroup to relax together. We chat, play board games, discuss, swap jokes, watch a film… Some particularly tiring days, when the voice of one’s bed beckons earnestly, recreation can seem more something to put up with than an opportunity to unwind! But it’s truly worth the commitment to put community first and to value these short but golden daily encounters with brothers.

Every now and then, we come up with new ideas to re-create recreation, much to the Maestro’s chagrin… And so it was that, finding ourselves only in three one evening (all the others being out on Apostolic work, whilst the first years were still doing their month of Spiritual Exercises), and feeling in the mood for music beyond the limited repertoire of CDs in our collection (mainly a bizarre medley of Norah Jones, classical music, and Bob Marley), we decided to play some music videos off YouTube, each one choosing in turn.

And so it was that a new melody was born. Our characters revealed themselves in new ways, the rhythyms of our heart found new expression… subtle details previously overlooked were woven into the great patchwork that is our community through the notes and voices of Ennio Morricone, Mumford & Sons , Ex-Otago, Imagine Dragons, I Ratti della Sabina, The Staves.

A moment even of personal discovery, of how I have been ‘re-created’ during my time in the novitiate, when I saw the music video of Bon Iver’s  “Holocene” for the first time since crossing Villa Sant’Ignazio’s threshold over a year ago.

I remember when I first entered the novitiate, I couldn’t understand why so many of my co-novices were so enthused by the idea of discussing films in ‘CineForum’: in my experience back then, films were just (as one Romanian novice put it) ‘to consume’, a simple if enjoyable form of entertainment rather than a form of art. And yet, immersed in a context of prayer and ‘seeking God in all things’, and having been slowly converted to seeing beauty and culture where I previously sought only cheap thrills, “Holocene” presented a completely new interpretation.

A video which previously pleased me ‘just’ for the ethereal beauty of the Icelandic landscapes, suddenly became a film describing my relationship with the Creator…a little boy, led by the Spirit (0:50, 4:34), gleeful, smiling, in sheer wonder before the great vastness and beauty that surround him, contemplating it all in silent joy. A child who is not terrified by the great, empty expanse that surrounds him, but feels serene, secure…because he sees, he feels that his Father is near, is there.

Almost certainly, Bon Iver didn’t have this interpretation in mind. But I’ll allow myself a certain licence to re-create.

 

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