On the 25th day of each month, here in the novitiate, we pray for all vocations, and especially for those to the Society of Jesus. Jesus himself, moved with pity when he saw the crowds «troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd», said to his disciples: «The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest!» (Matthew 9:36-38). How many times have we heard these phrases! And yet, how difficult it is to put them into practice: how can we pray for other people to open themselves up to the search for God’s will in their lives, to offer themselves entirely to the service of the Gospel, when in the end we continue to follow our own plans, and to ask God to confirm them?
If I think back on my own vocational journey, it is not difficult for me to identify with all those young people who, although they feel an attraction to follow Jesus, although they have repeatedly experienced profound joy and fullness of life in their encounter with the Jesuits, still remain closed to the possibility that the Lord may call them to follow Him on the same path. I can also identify with those who are gradually opening themselves up to this possibility, those who have begun a process of discernment in which they find confirmation of their original attraction to the Jesuits, but then put off making the real choice for a long time, perhaps asking God for extraordinary “signs”, and telling themselves that before making a definitive choice of life they need more time, more experiences. Neither it is difficult for me to identify with those who, having completed the discernment process, choose the Society of Jesus, offer this choice to the Lord and truly take the steps necessary to apply for admission to the novitiate, but then, while they anxiously await the Provincial’s response, return several times to “produce doubts” by focusing on what is missing, on what they will have to give up entering the novitiate.
I can identify at least in part with the struggles of these people, because I, too, have gone through all of this, in different ways and at different times in my life. And it is not just me! Several novices could tell you about the inner resistance they felt during their discernment process, as well as about the times of affective dryness or desolation they experienced in the months leading up to their entry into the novitiate. So, if you who are reading these lines see yourself in the attitudes of one of these “categories” of persons, or in similar struggles when faced with a possible call to other forms of religious life or to the diocesan priesthood, my first message to you is: you are not alone!
You are not alone because others before you have gone through the same resistance, and others like you are going through it in these months. You’re not alone because, even when you don’t realize it, there are many people praying for your «yes!» to the vocational call: from us novices, to the witnesses of God you’ve met throughout your life, to the saints in heaven. You are not alone because, above all, God is with you. A patient God, who waited for you even during the years when you really didn’t want to know about His call of love, who still waits for you every time you foolishly run away from this call. A God who stands at the door of your heart and knocks softly, waiting for your answer of free entrustment to Him; a God who beyond all human logic will continue to love you infinitely even if you decide not to open the door of your heart to Him!
I would like to write you so many other things to encourage you not to be afraid, to say your «yes!» to the call of this God, and not to look back after you have accepted that call. I would tell you how our days in the novitiate flow, trying to avoid forms of illusory “vocational marketing”: I would not hide from you the difficult moments, the hardships that I have experienced and am experiencing in these first months of religious life. But greater is the peace of heart that comes from knowing that I am in my place in the world, and from perceiving that by remaining here, in the Society of Jesus, I will be able to help many other people to find their place in the world, to be happy by seeking and choosing the path to which God invites them.
But I have already written too many words for today. I greet you, therefore, only with the phrase of a young Spanish Jesuit. It struck me very much when I first heard it, and it continues to inspire me. He simply said: «There is no lack of vocations, there is a lack of decisions!».