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.

“Would they be French?”

by Filippo Carlomagno

A group of us novices, for one of my usual jokes Pietro looks at me and laughs, and showing us a group of tourists, he tells me: “imagine if they hear us!”.
But I had tried to understand what they were saying and, for having heard the French accent, I justify me by saying: “but they are French!”.

Humor is part of our everyday life, just think that if the adjective “witty”, in italian “spritoso”, comes from “Spirit”, and for those who is living a spiritual life it can only be a familiar attitude.
Also K. Rahner, reflecting on irony, said: “God laughs, says the Scripture. And, with that, he states that even the tiniest pure smile, which comes from no matter where, from a heart righteous, in front of any idiocy of this world, reflects an image and a ray of God. It is a trace of God whose smile shows that, after all, everything is good in the end”.

The humorous attitude serves to relativize, to look critically at positivity and negativity of the adventures of life, brings with it a sense of proportion, and to take lightly and with elasticity yourself and others.
“In a word, he knows how to live within contradictions and it is considered as lubricant or as an abrasive that unlocks rigidity and closures, it is a tension relief valve and, finally, it is a liberating experience” using the words of the Barnabita father, Gentili.

You can experience how irony and a sense of humor are an attitude that helps, rather, I would say, it teaches us to transcend all that is not God, continuing to live it in the experience of God, finding meaning in the circumstances that you are living.
It therefore helps to see all the situations that surround us and to contemplate in it the profound umanity and creatureliness and consequently arousing a attitude of love and compassion,by participation, in the world and in the history we live.

“This look of tenderness and indulgence gives us grace – because it is a true grace – to laugh on ourselves: at our failures, at our broken dreams, at our missed flights. The Christian who has a sense of humor, when he clashes with disillusionment, understands and smiles: he understands his limitations and smiles at the collapse of his illusions. If on the one hand humor, as sense of the relative and of the limit, it leads to detachment from itself and is established in humility, by another it is an invitation to trust, rather to audacity “(from the Editorial of Civiltà Cattolica Year 137, vol III, Quaderno 3265 – 5 July 1986, Humor and Christian life).

In the end, even St. Ignatius looking at his story and telling it in the Autobiography, looking to the pilgrim he was, he could not hold back jokes or ironic reflections on situations he lived. And it is not even difficult to notice a certain irony, charged at the same time of an incredible depth of his personal and spiritual experience, in the advice: “Pray as if everything depended on God, work as if everything depended on you”.
And because “the smiling mouth reveals what man is” (Sir 19:27), for us this attitude of irony and hilarity is also witness and symbol of the experience of God that we do.

Then a few days after that joke, always with a small group of novices around Genoa, I said another on joke, and this time, maybe they even heard a group of boys that was just behind us, and looking at us we asked ourselves: “would they be French too?”

Filippo Carlomagno, first year Novice

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