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Safeguarding absence

04 Feb 2019

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.

Coronavirus and community in good Company

by Raul Petru Ciocani

 

Few of us can compare a period like this to experiences we have already lived. I spent almost two months without being able to leave the novitiate and this is the longest period I have ever had in my life without going out. Living in community is already a exceptional experience in itself, which I had never experienced before, and now, adding these restrictions, there is the risk of discouragement. In reality I am living this period very well, I have not yet found moments of boredom, indeed I have the opportunity to discover many aspects, and I will tell you why.

In addition to the comfort that accompanies me now, the feelings that pass through my heart in this time are truly varied: uncertainty, compassion with those who suffer and die from coronavirus, and also the fear for my family that is about 1200 km from Genoa, in the western part of Romania, where there are still not many infections. Talking to my grandmother who lives with my parents, I was surprised and impressed by the courage and strength with which she is going through this period. Having already experienced the Second World War, the communist occupation, the deportation of family members to work camps, she is very aware of the reality of this pandemic that we are facing with little courage and patience, because we no longer trust and no longer know in who we need to trust. This is one of the points that makes me think a lot: Can our faith really help us in such critical moments of our life? The answer is yes, but we have to find out. As those who find out during important events of their lives, such as migration, war, addictions, diseases, depression, loneliness and entrust themselves to God and put their destiny in his hands. Here, the current situation stimulates me to think about all this, about the shortcomings and weaknesses that we have and that we do not want to accept and face.

Now I’m going to explain to you why the rest of the time I still haven’t found the moments to get bored. Community life leads me to discover many aspects, which until now I did not know about myself, especially through personal relationships with companions and the community activity in which we are immersed. All of this keeps us very busy most of the time. Starting with the fact that every day I have several people to talk to during meals (friends with whom to share their experiences, daily joys, difficulties, etc.), moments of prayer together, everyday community liturgy but also the passing of the time having fun, playing football, volleyball, ping pong, etc. All this forms a lifestyle, the community one, where, as in a family, you cannot think only of yourself, but you also have the responsibility of the others.

These things represent the community life that we are living in this period of great difficulty for the whole world. The community is what made it much easier for us to go through this time, assimilating all the positive aspects it brings. Personally I live this dimension as a help to my vocation, which is to follow the Lord with the vows that I choose to make in the Society of Jesus.

Raul Ciocani, novice of the first year

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