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



18 Dec 2018

One thing I love about learning a new language is the discovery of words or phrases which express concepts, feelings, experiences in ways one’s native tongue (or tongues, for us Maltese bilinguals!) cannot. A year on from my bumpy landing into 24/7 Italian conversation, I have accumulated a small list of my personal favourites – such as “giocarsi”, “donarsi”* – linked to treasured experiences and sentiments. Then there are some words and expressions which are perhaps less erudite, but more entertaining! Such as “spaesato”, meaning ‘disoriented’, ‘lost’…usually used to describe the facial expression of a hapless novice (such as yours truly) in the moment of being rudely brought back down to reality from his daydreaming. Broken down to “s-paes(e)-ato”, it literally means “being out of (one’s) country/native place”. A fabulous etymology.

The culture ‘shock’ of the novitiate was and is greatly softened by the warm welcome of all and the international flavour of the community. But it remains challenging: ‘culture’ is something that Italians – and rightly so – prize very highly and nurture with great care, but it is a small word for an immense reality of language, dialects, styles of expression, norms, values, history, geography, art, literature, music, theatre, film, politics, temperaments, famous figures, economy, migration, spirituality, religion, ecclesiastical reality… Throw into the mix the different sub-cultures of Italy’s varied regions, and the puzzle becomes truly bewildering.

But it is immensely fulfilling, opening a world of horizons. Previously – having spent practically my entire life with my nose planted firmly in science books, talking about my studies or work as a doctor even at table with family, friends and during nights out – ‘culture’ and all it entails featured low on the list of my personal priorities. The time in the novitiate, however, has given me the great gifts of discovery and personal growth in these areas which I didn’t even know existed, areas which give a greater fullness to my experience of life and reality. But it opens new dimensions not only within me, but also builds new bridges, new ways of communicating with people from diverse walks of life, ways of thinking, academic backgrounds, passions and desires.

Another take on this is the aspect of ‘inculturation’: as Jesuits, we are called to take on and incorporate within ourselves the very culture of the places we live in and in which we carry out our ministry. This is not to be taken lightly, carelessly, expecting the culture to ‘just grow on me’, but it is an active commitment: a commitment to love and appreciate the people who have welcomed me, a commitment to nurturing personal wonder and joy in the gifts God has planted in his peoples, a commitment to become effective apostles on mission in the realities in which we are sent.

Which is why, questioning myself on how I can do this in an active, explicit way, I have recently decided to dive more determinedly into the vast ocean that is Italian culture, starting with baby steps: savouring prized literature, informing myself on national news and political events, exploring the peninsula’s complex history… Small and even pleasant commitments, but which I wish to do diligently and lovingly.

“The glory of God is man fully alive”, goes one interpretation of a saying attributed to St Iranaeus of Lyons: and if a “fully alive”, cultured man is one matured and actively engaged in a multitude of dimensions, then culture can truly be a means of ‘finding God in all things’ as another St I of L ** would say.

*giocarsi = to really put oneself ‘in the game’, involving all or part of what is precious/intimate/vulnerabile of yourself in the action which you are participating in

donarsi = ‘donate yourself’ doesn’t really capture the concept of ‘total gift of self’ which fires Ignatian spirituality and which is expressed by this word

** St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus

When prayer becomes…preparing breakfast

by Alessandro Di Mauro

During novitiate life it happens, on a rotating basis, that we have to prepare breakfast for everyone before starting individual morning prayer. In such cases, one of us needs to wake up a little earlier than the others to be able to reconcile preparation time and meditation time. I have sometimes wondered if it is really necessary for us to be present when doing this service or if there is a deeper reason for doing it.

For some time now, when the alarm clock rings in the morning, I often feel, in my heart, the desire to meet the Lord during my personal prayer and in the Eucharistic celebration that we live daily. I have, however, realised that even when I have to anticipate the alarm clock for breakfast, the desire does not change and it almost seems to me that this also enters into the dynamic of meeting Him.  A question then arises for me: is it possible that even the act of preparing breakfast for everyone is somehow part of a form of prayer? To answer this question, I immediately ask myself another: what is the meaning of Christian prayer? I believe that prayer is an encounter with the Lord to deepen more and more the communion of life with Him. As St Teresa of Avila used to say, it is the moment when I meet the Beloved. On the other hand, if we read the Gospels, Jesus himself often stopped to pray alone in the intimacy of dialogue with the Father, so much so that it triggered the Apostles’ desire to understand how to pray: ‘Lord teach us how to pray’. What needs prompted them to make this request? Certainly the example of Jesus must have been a driving force: as the Master prays, it is good that we also pray; but I believe, first and foremost, they had the desire to experience the same encounter as Jesus with God the Father. In prayer, therefore, two freedoms meet, that of the believer who seeks the Lord and that of God who has the desire to be heard by those who pray to him. This is also the reason why it is, often, complicated to pray, because on the one hand there is a supernatural dynamic, whereby prayer is a gift from God, for which one’s heart must be prepared; on the other hand it is a human encounter that takes place in ordinary life, a challenge to recognise God’s voice that is often covered by the din of everyday life.

But back to breakfast! What does this have to do with its preparation? Nothing, if one approaches preparation thinking that the purpose is to have some milk, coffee and tea ready on time. But if one lives this operation savouring every single moment of it – from picking up the coffee pots to preparing them, to hearing the whistle of the coffee ready and enjoying the heat that the vapours give off when it is poured into the thermos – thinking that this gesture will be of help to the brethren, to those whom the Lord has placed beside him, something changes. By living the preparation in this way, even these gestures can become an encounter with God the Father, for whom I recognise in the other a brother for whom it is well worth losing half an hour of sleep.


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