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



by Nicholas Cassar

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

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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