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.

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The Jesus Prayer

by Marco Garbari

What is “The Jesus Prayer”?
It is a Christian prayer that has very ancient origins. The first reliable sources date back to the Desert
Fathers of the 3rd-4th century AD and it consists in the continuous repetition of a short prayer with the
name of Jesus, that is inserted into the rhythm of one’s breath.
I heard the call to this prayer a few years ago, learning the technique and starting to experiment with the
“Ricostruttori nella preghiera” (eng. Reconstructors in prayer), a Catholic movement that deals with it’s
spreading.

In what way can this prayer help and give benefits in concrete life?
The meeting with the Jesus Prayer changed my life. Through it the Lord gave me a transformation starting
from the approach to the little things.
Washing the dishes, working in the garden or washing the stairs might seem boring, but accompanied by
recitation of the name of Jesus, they can acquire a different taste.
In fact, the prayer of the heart helps us to fully experience all the activities we do, even the most ordinary
ones. It invites us to rediscover the beauty of small and simple things, like the nature around us. Through
this fullness and wonder we are helped by the High to live the present with greater presence and
involvement. It is therefore easier to carry out an action with real joy and gratitude and not with the
anxiety of having to finish it.

Before embarking on the path of the experience of the Jesus Prayer, I remember that my mind was
restless when I had half an hour left in my daily schedule or I had to wait for a bus’s coincidence. Now
things have changed, my attitude has changed as well: I entrust myself, I abandon myself trustfuly to God,
reminding me, thanks to this prayer, that everything depends on Him.
Even in the life of the novitiate there are innumerable occasions in which i can experience this: going to
the apostolate, working, laying out, walking, etc.
The prayer of the name of Jesus helps to live things in depth by praying in the heart. There are numerous
biblical verses that refer to this perpetual prayer, such as “praying incessantly” (1Thes 5, 17), “give thanks
in all things” (1Ts 5, 18), “knock and it will be opened to you” (Lk 11, 10), “I will take away from their
chest the heart of stone and I will give them a heart of flesh” (Ez 11, 19) and many others.
A further benefit that the recitation of the brief invocation gives us is to pay attention to something that
we often overlook, that is the breath. Learning this prayer allows us to re-explore the use of breath and
thus to rediscover a deep and diaphragmatic breathing, the natural one. Instead, we breathe in a breathless
way and this hinders us from preparing ourselves to be calm. For these reasons and for those that are more
strictly spiritual, the initiation into this type of prayer by an expert guide is in fact recommended.
It is curious to note how this practice seems to respond optimally to the needs of the modern world today.
I think it’s a wonderful medium, useful to counter the rhythms of an anxious and frenetic society. In the
last few decades we are witnessing a spread of this prayer in the West, even in the lay world. I have met
several people who testify how this practice transformed their lives, bringing them closer to the faith,
converting them to Christ and making them fall in love with the prayer. Spiritual thirst, present in people
in a more or less conscious way, could be satisfied in this way.
We must consider that, as St. Ignatius tells us, not every means of prayer is for everyone. But I wish to all
the people, who are unconsciously trying to find it, to encounter it and fall in love with it!

Marco Garbari, novice of the first year

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