A Community in Dispersion
In looking at what was distinctive about the way of life that they had chosen, early Jesuits talked about their communitas ad dispersionem. By contrast with the older religious orders, who often lived, worked and prayed together in one monastery or convent, Jesuit communities spent much of their time scattered among the different works that individual Jesuits and teams were engaged in. It wasn’t just that communities were dispersed in fact. It was rather that the communities existed precisely to be scattered in this way.
Nearly five centuries later, this hasn’t changed, and it is important that the Jesuit novitiate reflects this key aspect of Jesuit life. So, after having been together in Birmingham for the four months since we started a new novitiate year in September, the novices are now dispersed until just before Easter. Peter has gone down to London, to work in the chaplaincy department of Wimbledon College, a Jesuit high school. Henry is in Manchester, living in the university chaplaincy that the Society has just taken back (after an absence of 25 years), but working alongside the diocesan hospital chaplain in the huge Manchester Royal Infirmary. The prize for the novice to escape furthest goes to Joel, who has returned to his native Guyana to work with the Amerindians in the interior of that country.
Meanwhile Carlos, the one first-year novice we have currently, last Friday travelled with me to Loyola Hall on Merseyside, where he has now begun the month-long silent retreat that is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. The novitiate has been described as falling into three parts: preparation for the Exercises, the making of the Exercises, and the living out of the Exercises. This stresses the centrality of this month in the life of a novice. In the next four weeks Carlos will spend many hours in prayer, pondering his vocation before God. It is to be hoped that he will return to Birmingham with a deeper and clearer sense of the nature of God’s call to him.
The challenge of living as a community in dispersion is to make sure that it is still, truly, a community. We will be trying hard in these weeks to keep in touch with each other (and with those others we’ve left holding the fort in Birmingham). We’ll also be supporting each other through our prayers as the novices undergo those testing experiences which are at the heart of novitiate life. We’ll try to keep those of you who read this blog updated with some of the stories of the experiments as they unfold. And we ask you, too, for your prayerful support in the weeks ahead.
Paul Nicholson SJ
Director of Novices