01 May 2013. Religious men and women in the Catholic Church undergo a phase of training called Novitiate. Often it serves to lay the foundation to our Religious life. Usually, it is a two-year intense spiritual training period, which sets the tone for the religious-spiritual life one wants to live.
Being a member of the Jesuit Novitiate community, here at Manresa House, Birmingham, it makes easier for me to go down memory lane – with gratitude to God and to many exemplary Jesuits in my early Jesuit life. Often I burst into laughter, sometimes a snigger, and at other times just a smile at the funny things. But sure, you just can’t miss the fun, even in a spiritual atmosphere.
Jesuit Novitiate is headed by a Novice Master. The only one in a Jesuit’s life, or at least so I was told by mine. Back in India, I was one of those ‘special’ novices, who had two Novice Masters. It was a transition time. One, all fire and brimstone; the other morning dew.
My Novice Master always spoke of the uncompromising quality of Ignatian obedience – he often quoted St Ignatius on prompt and absolute obedience – if you are writing a letter (of the alphabet) and then the bell rings for you, leave your ‘t’ uncrossed (and ‘i’ undotted), and run to the task the bell beckons you! That is what makes a Jesuit great…!
By the way, I have seen such obedience in action. Once – soon after breakfast- we were doing manual work in the garden. The novice master was observing us, from the first floor. He called one of my co-novices, who was planting some flower plants.
‘Have you planted them?’
‘How have you planted them?’
The novice demonstrated it with all the gestures he could.
‘Now go, and plant it upside-down.’ The novice was stunned! ‘Go!’
Holy obedience was calling! The obedient novice rushed back, uprooted the plant, planted it upside down, watered it, and reported it to the Novice Master.
Novitiate days! Even in their ‘holiness’, innocence, and fiery spirit, novitiate days are full of fun! What is the sense, one might wonder. I did understand the spirit of Ignatius; but in spite of his exhortation to blind obedience (if you see something as white but the Church says ‘it is black’, you say ‘it is black’ and the bell-obedience), I could not fathom the logic behind it.
May be the heart (spirit) has its reasons which the head knows not of. And I do know, following Ignatian obedience, Jesuits who have climbed great heights, even to the moon to have their names written there. Some have saved their lives, like the scholastic who sailed on the Titanic, but was forbidden to travel all the way to the ship’s destination.
[by Richie Rego]