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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

From metaphysics to the chicken coop and back again.

by Pietro Coppa

A few weeks after entering the novitiate, the novice master assigned to each of us novices of the first year a community service to be carried out throughout the year. Among the charges to be conferred there was also that of looking after the chickens. Father Agostino didn’t take long to sense my lack of propensity for manual work and so he baptized me with the responsibility for the henhouse. In the initial period of Jesuit formation, it is common practice for novices to engage in experiences contrary to their personal tendencies and tastes. And this not out of masochism but to discover unknown talents and abilities.

You must know that, before my entry into the novitiate of the Society, I studied philosophy, graduating with a thesis in metaphysics. I have more than just a suspicion that the novice master entrusted me with this task to bring me back to earth from the platonic world of ideas in which I often hide myself. On receiving my new role, I didn’t exactly jump for joy. However, even after a few days of tête-à-tête with these feathered friends, I discovered the gratification that can derive from manual work. But the pleasure of a humble and ordinary service however was not the happiest surprise. I discovered, with some wonder, that work in contact with nature can be the source of different moral and spiritual teachings. The anecdote below should convince you of what I tell you.

One of my daily tasks is to give the hens the food waste of the kitchen. As soon as they see me approaching the henhouse with the bucket overflowing with “delicious foods”, they begin to shove each other to take a place in the front row at the food trough. At the same instant when I pour food into the container, the battle becomes even more fierce and they begin to fight for the best pieces to the sound of pecking. The total nonsense of this daily drama appears clear at the next morning’s visit in which I punctually observe that food has been leftover. At the beginning, being a victim of the collective imagination and of the easy irony with which hens are accused of poor intelligence, I did not care much about what happened. One day I began to reflect on the fact that we human beings do not behave so differently. Even we humans do not think twice about creating conflicts of all kinds to grab the best part of the gifts that the Father has abundantly poured onto this earth. They are more than enough for the sustenance of all but, because of our selfishness, someone always remains deprived of the necessary. In addition, we insist on painting neo-Malthusian scenarios knowing full well that the shortage of goods, which some of us endure, is not due to a natural scarcity but is the result of the voracity of many.

The chicken coop continues to be for me, after more than five months, a treasure chest from which to draw small spiritual treasures, an aid to “seek and find God in all things”.

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