See, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Dear Jesuit women, this is how I began to seek you in earnest.
I am standing in the Retreat House Sacristy, sandwiched between a serious young Jesuit father and a polite young Jesuit scholastic I’ve just met. We’ve reviewed the words and movements of the Angelus, and are about to step out to lead evening prayer.
“Any last thoughts?” says my new friend the father.
There is a stirring, a high energy in my heart. “What do you two think about Jesuit sisters?” I whisper excitedly. My words meet widened eyes. “Well, now you’ve opened the real can of worms!” father says, half rueful, half laughing. In the 30 seconds of authentic (if abbreviated) conversation that ensue, I learn more about a Jesuit man’s perspective on women who feel called to the Society of Jesus, than I have been able to decipher in two years of guarded conversations with excellent men at all stages in their Jesuit life.
One remark stayed with me. “The Society of Jesus cannot take on the administration of a women’s branch,” my brother Jesuit said, both a little irritably and with some pleading in his voice. “We are spread too thin already. No one is stopping you from founding The Daughters of Ignatius!”
The conversation was authentic, yes – which included a fair amount of sputtering on all sides. Like any life-giving topic, this can be tough to talk about. It touches some of the deepest hurts in our mutual history. It both taps and questions some of the deepest sources of motivation in our life as Christians – as Church.
What did I learn in this moment of mutual openness, mutual honesty? I realized that for this moment, my brother’s words ring true: only women who feel called to be Jesuits can really inquire into what God is trying to tell us about our mission in life, in the Church and in the wide world. It is a moment for deep listening and brave, patient initiative.
We will investigate both alone and together, and as Rilke once encouraged his young poet friend, the answer will emerge only in living out the questions that arise. To what is God calling us? And how will we respond to the call?
Ever since then, I am seeking you – patiently, yet single-minded.