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

What is “spiritual”?

26 Oct 2018

Less than a month has passed since the entry into the novitiate of the group of young men I belong to. A time certainly too short to draw meaningful considerations on the life of a novice, but at the same time enough to offer me some food for thought.

At first glance a typical day at the novitiate seems to be marked by two types of different activities: the more “spiritual” ones, such as prayer (personal and communal), the Eucharistic celebration and adoration, and the more “practical” ones, like food, work and leisure.

It is precisely on this last category that I wish to dwell, trying to share some small reflection on the spiritual meaning that I think I have seen even in the most concrete actions.

Let’s start from the basics: the power supply. We eat to live, not the other way around. Not infrequently however, food risks becoming an idol in people’s lives, a palliative with which to gratify anxieties and discomforts. The novitiate, however, helps to develop a more mature relationship with it, through a simple habit: we do not eat outside of mealtimes. Yes, there is everything necessary but not the superfluous; and above all, one learns not to indulge every little desire or whim that assails our person. What a great value it would be to apply this principle to our inner life. How many mistakes could be avoided by learning to be patient, not impulsively gratifying the various voices that our soul not infrequently has to face.

A second category of activity is that of work. Household chores are objectively necessary and involve most of a novice’s morning. In a certain sense, however, they did not seem to me to constitute a rigid interruption of the actual morning prayer. I had this impression ever since the first chore I was asked to do. I was sweeping the leaves and pine needles in the courtyard; first I tried to identify and remove the larger leaves, then, in later stages I tried to clear the yard from even the smallest and most hidden needles. All with the knowledge that it was a work destined to be repeated as soon as the first rain had rendered the courtyard untidy again.

But does this not also happen with our interiority? Always and continually we need to examine our soul trying to identify and remove that dirt that, big or small, tends to blur a beauty that is already present (we are in the image of God), but is waiting only to be liberated from the evil which we allow to live there.

Finally, leisure. I take as a small example a beautiful walk that we made in the mountains towards an abandoned fortress. Walking is not always easy, the climb can be tiring, but the beauty of the destination, the company of people with you are able to make even the most difficult journey enjoyable.

Once again the parallelism with the interior life did not escape me: we are perpetually journeying (those who stop are lost), through difficulties and joys; but we are not alone, and far less so are we without a goal. We proceed towards the Lord, walking with him and with the people we find next to us.

The external reality therefore seems to represent a mirror, a precious opportunity to understand something more about our inner life. One might therefore ask: “what is spiritual?” Everything, one might say; provided it is done in synergy with and listening to the Holy Spirit, allowing him to take us by the hand.


– Stefano Guadagnino, Novice of the First Year


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