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“.

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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