The run-up to Christmas has been quite fun. It is a time of final preparation at the novitiate, with all of our community – novices, priests, and lay collaborators all doing their bit before going their separate ways after Christmas (for a while!).
Yesterday, we had a presentation by Adrian Porter SJ. Adrian has been working in Jesuit schools in the UK for years, and more recently he has coordinated with others the Jesuit institute – a fabulous link of resources for schools. He intended to be inspiring and it showed in deeds even more than in words as they say! One phrase really struck me: ‘in the spirit, from the heart, practically’. It comes from the early days of Jesuit education speaking of Christ dwelling within us in the concrete reality of our experiences. I’m still not quite sure what it means but it is worth pondering…
Today (December 20, 2011) was special. I had the good fortune to be asked along to a prison in Birmingham. Mark and Henry have been working at the prison this year on Thursdays and Sundays, and from what it seems they have built up a good relationship with inmates, wardens, and clergy from different religions. Today we arrived early to celebrate Catholic Mass together – only Mark, myself, Henry, and a priest named Michael. Even though we were a small group to celebrate, it was as usual an energising experience which is very much the centre of our day.
After mass, inmates, wardens, and others came in to the multi-faith chapel and celebrated a Christian carol service. As I sat down, I realised that I was also surrounded by inmates beside me. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly by now!), I felt quite at home chatting away with the lads and having a bit of banter. I told them why I was there and I then proceeded to give them a bad rendition of ‘Oh Holy Night’. As we Christians read, prayed, laughed, and sung together – I was reminded there and then through Ignatian reflection (‘examen’) that this was indeed a very special moment or event to experience, with goose bumps here there and everywhere.
While queuing for a cup of tea with a spoonful of sugar, one of the lads who I was originally talking with called me ‘crafty’ as apparently our novitiate rendition of ‘Gaudete’ was better than my original ‘Oh Holy Night’. I took this as a complement but at the same time shook my head knowing that this time it was not craftiness on my part, but rather an occasion where I was simply able to be myself in the good and bad.
We left the prison in good spirits acknowledging our own good fortune, and then went off to a Jesuit novitiate Christmas party at a lovely house where two elderly ladies live (‘M & C’). I was reminded in the conversations with the Jesuits that we are all prisoners in a way, waiting for Christ to set us free in what we believe to be the ‘next’ life. As usual we embraced the tensions (in reference to a previous blog) and… it was a life-giving experience!
Tomorrow will be another day – and as the dew falls on a rose – may it open more possibilities in the Spirit of Christ among us.