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


Time and language

12 Dec 2017

For the first time I noticed from my room the jingling of the pitchers on the trolley three floors below me. It means that the novice on duty is bringing water to the refectory and that lunch will start in a quarter of an hour: it’s time for the Examination of conscience, the meditation on the first half of the day.

As soon as I entered the Novitiate I was struck by the feeling of not being able to keep up with everything. Very strange for someone like me, used to hectic work rhythms. For others it seemed that a lot of time had already passed. Each of us has experienced their time here differently.

We come from different educational and life experiences. Suddenly we were close and we started to share our spaces, activities and thoughts. There are many stories, languages and different cultures. I am a software engineer with almost fifteen years of work experience. Others have just graduated, studied economics, medicine and philosophy. We began to share the stories of our lives before the Novitiate and to discuss what we are passionate about. I remember discussing Kant and Hegel over breakfast, or animated conversations on theology or on the economo-political situation of Europe.

Then came the chores. Some are always assigned to the same novice, others are taken in turns, like that of bringing water (in pitchers) to the refectory a quarter of an hour before lunch and serving at table during mealtimes. The latter service is a precious time as we are often in pairs and there is the possibility of getting to know each other better. But time is limited and the work must be done as best we can, so that discussions on Plato and the Pope’s travels are interrupted by:

“Where do we keep the clean spoons?”


“I’ll mop the floor after you’ve cleaned the showers.”

We’re getting to know each other through everyday activities, and something magical has happened through this. After a few weeks I noticed with surprise (and amusement) that the topics had changed a bit. For example, how do you use the mop and who was the last to clean the showers? How can you chop vegetables for ratatouille without angering anyone in the kitchen? We realized that many of us felt we had been in the Novitiate for a longer time than had actually passed. I think the Novitiate is an all-encompassing experience that is transforming our time and our perception of things. That’s why I heard the water jugs from three floors below. The smallest and simplest things have become important, the relationship with service has become more intimate.

But don’t worry, we don’t talk just about detergents, we still continue to discuss books and get carried away by our intellectual interests. The magic has not erased what we were before. The magic is that which has raised the relevance of the everyday and the care of the household to the level of that which is most important. And in fact it is so if “we seek and find God in all things“.

How to make God laugh

15 May 2021

We Jesuits are about to celebrate a misfortune; more precisely, a leg smashed by a cannonball. It is the wound of St Ignatius of Loyola, during the battle of Pamplona, which he acquired on 20 May 1521, i.e. 500 years ago. That ball, which broke his dreams of gaining honour and fame, led him to find deeper joys and higher ideals. It thus proved to be an experience of grace and not misfortune.

There are certainly disasters without positive fruits, which must be avoided at all costs. One should not idealise misfortunes. But St Ignatius’ experience shows that even the most dramatic trials can be opportunities for growth and enrichment. Failure and humiliation are among the best friends of human maturation.

As a young seminarian, I had to plan a bicycle pilgrimage for a group of young people. The priest who was to accompany us told me that we would have to calculate a few extra kilometres each day, because we would also sometimes take the wrong road. My answer was: “But that mustn’t happen!”.

15 years and many kilometres in wrong directions later I can say that I am no longer so afraid of the unexpected. When our plans are interrupted, something good often happens. Just don’t get too hung up on what you have missed.

Recently, I missed the trip to Spain with the other novices because I did not get the result of my Covid test in time before departure. But, in these few days, I had some extraordinary experiences: a visit to some old palaces in the city, which I did not know; moments of fraternity, such as celebrations or meals; a wonderful walk along the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri; the vision of a painting, depicting St Ignatius in glory, made by the Jesuit novice Giuseppe Castiglione, in the old novitiate in Genoa around 1710 (on the photo).

A character in a Woody Allen film says: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”. We should start laughing too, when our plans are ruined, because it does not necessarily mean misfortune, but probably a time of grace. Ignatius teaches us this, and that is why we want to celebrate his injury.

2021-05-15 Daniel Nørgaard – second-year novice


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