I have called you friends…
it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.
Detail of The Last Supper by Teresa Duran
2016 Regis University Santos Collection
Used with permission
Dear Jesuit Women and friends,
This summer I was planning to spend a quiet three months studying the Constitutions on a regimented schedule, in tandem with regular spiritual direction and my work as a community health nurse. I had this whole self-improvement blueprint ready to go, intending to emerge in the fall much more knowledgeable, much more secure, much more ready to say with certitude,
“whether [I] possess among [my] resources enough spiritual capital to complete this tower; that is, whether the Holy Spirit who moves [me] is offering [me] so much grace that with [her] aid [I] have hope of bearing the weight of this vocation.” (Formula of the Institute, Pt 4)
But God is life, and life is surprising! As it turns out, the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus are a living document — carefully, prayerfully, and thoroughly devised, but not dry or static, and certainly not just material to master. In fact, through May and June I had the uncanny experience of wrangling with the Constitutions – watching them goad and console me, probe my perceived needs and hang-ups, challenge my assumptions about what it means to be a Jesuit, and prompt growth throughout the season. Sometimes I stopped reading for days or weeks at a time, as a lesson sank in. It surprised me how each page could prompt an interior journey. (The journey was helped by the guidebook, “Our Way of Proceeding”, by William Barry, S.J., which I highly recommend to any first-time reader of this text, especially if you are drawn to the idea of undertaking a Jesuit way of life.)
And even more surprising, the journey was not confined to my interior experience. In mid-June, I went to mass one day at the college and was struck by the conspicuously large number of very clean, polite, and simply dressed young men my age (of whom, in the summer, there are normally relatively few.) It took me a only a moment to realize that the novices were back! 72 first-and-second-year men roaming the campus and the city for a month, with their novitiate directors and teachers, while taking a history course on the Ignatian congregation they aspire to join.
It was easy to put the pieces together, because this wasn’t the first time I had seen the history course transpire. Others had come two years ago, just at the time that I was starting to seriously ask myself the question, “Well, why not Jesuit women?” I remembered asking one of the novitiate directors at that time, in a rough-edged, bursting kind of way, if I could sit in on some of the classes and learn Jesuit history with the novices. I remembered how kind and polite his manner had been, as he said that he would take the question to his fellow novitiate directors and get back to me. He took my phone number and called two days later, leaving a voicemail. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It was agreed that it would change the tone.” I remember being disappointed, but a good kind of disappointed – the kind that comes when you have spoken up and asked clearly for what you want, ready to accept the response you can’t control. I appreciated the fact that he had treated my request with respect. It was a watershed moment in my Jesuit journey.
This summer, of course, I was more experienced. I knew not to bug the novice directors, who are generally too absorbed with the many details of forming Jesuit men to even consider Jesuit women. In fact, I knew not to bug anybody at all! I had learned, by grace and a few hard knocks, that the way to connect with others is not to pursue or cling, but to be open and still inside, yet also ready for opportunity. It goes a long way.
Being open and still, and ready for opportunity, allowed me to connect with my brothers this summer in a way I hadn’t been able to, two years earlier. Just through being open, ready, and responsive, I was led to daily mass once a week, to vespers in French, to lunch, to night chapel, to a bench watching silly Youtube videos on a Sunday night, to a recording session, and even to a faithshare at Starbucks with my brothers! I was able to sing a hymn set to Finlandia in 4 parts, adapted on the fly for a small A-T-B choir with some novice acquaintances at mass. (Guess who was the “A”?)
And what I learned throughout, is that Jesuit women have more friends and aspiring friends, than I think we realize. In the course of befriending the novices, I was surprised to find that some were not only curious about the idea of a Jesuit training and identity for women – they were actively looking for ways to be reconciled to women like me. The day they arrived, I already knew that these young men were an unlooked-for answer to my prayer for dialogue and communal experience. But it was only with time and talking that I realized: I might also be an answer to their prayers! They, like many millennial Catholic women with whom I have talked about vocation, sometimes feel limited by an inherited gender separation in religious life and religious roles. Like us, they respect tradition and honor it, yet also long to go further, to evolve. One of my favorite memories now is of a warm moment after mass when, as the A-T-B novice-and-me choir started to dissolve into clean-up mode, a choir mate turned to me suddenly and wrapped me in a big maroon sweater-hug. “Oh, thank you!” he said, with great feeling. “We never get to hear a woman’s voice!”
“Well,” I said, surprisingly surly, “You might be getting some more of that!” It surprised me, how taken aback I felt to be welcomed and wanted there. The whole exchange showed me that a surprising part of the interior work here, is to become ready to be accepted. I couldn’t believe how ready I was to be overlooked, underestimated, “othered,” patronized, or asked to prove something. But was I ready to be supported? Was I ready to speak freely? Was I ready to be invited? Was I ready for who God is, and what God has in store?
If Jesuit women are to help the world flourish, we must be ready to update our thinking and adapt to these invitations as they arise. We must be willing to issue invitations, too, and be still, be open to what arises in response. I see now that something cherished must die in order to move forward in this way. What dies is my “rightness,” that sad and frozen security I derive from expecting the worst. What rises, then, is a willingness to live – I am still me, and yet I am completely new – I have died and I have risen, ready to love. And though loving is painful and often messy, it is life-giving. It is who I am. As written in one adaptation of the First Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, love is where I came from, what I am made for, and where I am going.
Love also begets creative activity! If my summer is a story in four parts, then Part 1 is wrestling with the Constitutions, like Jacob did with the mysterious angel (I also came out a little bruised, but with a new name); Part 2 is finding friends among the novices, and becoming ready to love; Part 3 involves a surge of co-creative activity; and in Part 4, these experiences all lead to a deeper commitment to Jesus, and an open question.
Part 3: Creative activity! This summer I became a sound engineer and a composer of music, and edited my first film, all springing from the creativity and love I discovered in the Constitutions, at prayer, and in conversation with one of my Jesuit sisters, and many of my Jesuit brothers. I realized:
- that all you need to start being a sound engineer is a Tascam DR-O5 stereo recorder ($99), a campus atrium with good acoustics (free), your favorite hymnal (borrowed), and some friends who can sing (priceless)! (Feel free to take a listen to our results, here.)
- and all you need to compose a song is an inspiration (mine was the Anima Christi); a chapel piano; a few semesters of auditing music theory classes with a great teacher; and perhaps a hymn with an accompaniment you really like, on which to model your own.
- and all you need to make a documentary interview about your faith journey is a friend who’s a film-maker, a weekend visit with her, and a free trial of some editing software. (Along with willingness to weather the emotional highs and lows of learning how to use that software…)
What I love about all of these projects, is how collaborative they were. I found God in my choir friends, my composition teacher, my film-maker friend, and in the beautiful music and images that we created together. I also found God in using my little Tascam to help a novice friend make his own recording of his own beautiful song, and in being one among many voices of encouragement for him to think big and share it with others. I realized in all of this that confidence and creativity are renewable resources – and when I collaborate and encourage others in their creative activities, my own creative impulses take on new life.
But the greatest blessing in all of this, is Part 4: a deeper commitment to Jesus.
To give you some context, a priest-friend once shared with me and the whole community, via a homily, the following powerful image of God’s process in the world. In this image, God the Trinity
- Gives gifts,
- Dwells in them,
- Labors through them, and in this way
- Calls us back, more deeply, into God’s self,
- Only to begin again.
To give a little more context: in our spiritual tradition, the Jesuit Catholic tradition, there is the idea of “call” – by “call,” we mean to say that God takes the initiative, and is always watchful, waiting patiently for our response. God gave me the Constitutions, and friends in it, this summer, and dwelled in our conversations, co-creations, and discoveries. God labored for me through these gifts, revealing my own frozen places, my arrogances, my blindness, and my deepest desires. Then God called me back, in the form of an unexpected opportunity, offered by a mentor-friend, to discern a deeper commitment to Jesus himself, in the context of the Society of Jesus. In the tradition of Juana, S.J. (though she, unlike me, was canonically a member of the Society of Jesus) and more to the point, in the company of several great-hearted women that I know today, and more women whom I hope to know, I became what you might call a vowed woman, among other vovendi. After a process of prayer, listening, and deliberation, I made a vow to Jesus, in the context of the Society of Jesus. I am now living into that vow, to find out where He will take me. As a Roman Catholic, I am also committed to communally discerning the meaning of these events in dialogue with others, and through a deeper study of tradition. If you are interested in how all of this came about, please contact me, as I would like to meet you.
When I explicitly started this journey in 2014, I had three questions. So far, I have received one decisive answer. Maybe you have had the same questions, and so I list my discoveries here, and invite your answers, too:
Q1: Who will receive my vows? A: Jesus himself. (Read more.)
Q2: How can I get the training I seem to need? A: (Live this question.)
Q3: Who will mission me? A: (Keep listening.)
At the mass where I made my vow to the Body and Blood of Christ, the assembly read from the Gospel of John: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give you.” (15:16) These words brought to fruition a quiet revolution in my prayer that had been growing all summer. I understood then that my vow was not a decision independently undertaken. It was a choice, but not by my own initiative. It was rather a response to God’s initiative. It was a Yes! – made through the grace and support of Mary, the Mother of Yes. And then I understood that prayer, in which I have so often tried to make God a means to my own ends, could function in another way entirely: as a way to make myself a means to God’s ends.
And even to say it that way is a little too one-dimensional, because Jesus wants me to partner with him in this, which means that I come to him with my research, my best-discerned desires, and offer them, and then listen. This is the working definition of “colloquy” with which I will enter the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises on October 2nd. In preparation for the Exercises, I am living a rhythm of life modeled on the Jesuit novitiate and intended to move me toward, in the words of another mentor-friend, “a certain disposition of heart: the openness and readiness to engage in a 5-period-per-day, 30-day silent conversation with Jesus.” Will you pray with me, for me? Even withfor me?
I believe that very few people will read these last words I am writing, and this is a good thing, because God works quietly and patiently in our hearts, and tiny seeds create massive trees. If one of those people is you, then I offer my hope that you are the right person to read these experiences; that you may find some encouragement and consolation in them; that you may even be moved to share your own experience of God with me. I am looking for you!