Vow Day is growing in my consciousness, with less than three weeks to go. Taking first vows was the hoped-for conclusion when I began the novitiate; indeed we arrived the day before vows which is intended to make the connection explicit. However, the first vows I witnessed in the novitiate largely passed by without much impact. Amid a barrage of new people, new home, new routine, etc. vows seemed quite remote. Last year I was aware that my turn would hopefully come this year, but it still seemed quite distant. When I meet people they sometimes make reference to the length of Jesuit formation, more relevant to priests than to brothers, but I found that the next step did not feature much in my thoughts, partly because getting to the novitiate was a huge step in the first place. Then once there it occupied so much attention and energy. Earlier this year life after the novitiate began to appear on the horizon and became clearer as the months passed.
I had a meeting with the Jesuit in charge of formation in the Province. We discussed some possibilities which I found helpful to give me some shape to next year and beyond. Then it all got much more serious when he asked me to apply to Heythrop College. I was in London at the time and didn’t have all the documents with me and when I returned I found that I didn’t have some of them in Birmingham and had to request them from my old university. That meant that the application took longer than expected. When I was offered a place that seemed like a major step in becoming reality. All the time the novitiate was continuing – because all the rest would mean nothing if I or my novice master felt that I am not called to the Society.
An important part of that process was my vow retreat at in the last week of July. This can be very definitely focused on whether to take vows or be, as it was for us, an individually guided retreat with the question of vows in mind, but seeing what comes to the fore. It came up briefly for me and I felt at peace with the prospect of taking vows on 8th September.
This year there was an innovation in that each novice wrote to our provincial superior to ask him to admit us to vows (rather than applying through the novice master). That made it clear that taking vows isn’t just business as usual, but a significant decision and milestone. Not only did I have to reflect on and try to express why I want to take vows but it was clear that, like the application process, the Society accepting me is as important as me choosing the Society.
Then we sent out invitations which made it yet more real and public. Last week we started planning the liturgy, chose our vow crosses and got the vow formula to read and pray with. One of the texts that has given me consolation in the last few years is John 15:16 “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last”. Hopefully my choice and the Society’s choice are in tune with Jesus’ choice. The vow formula alludes to this when it says, addressing “Almighty ever-living God”: “As you have conferred the grace to desire and make this offering, so too you will confer grace in abundance for its fulfilment. Amen”