Finding God, November 2013
by Fr. Jack Bentz, SJ
I am sitting next to a Jesuit telling me a story about someone whose name he can’t remember and I don’t know. He insists I do know who he’s talking about, even as the events and the characters he’s talking about were long before I became a Jesuit. I am distracted from following his story by the approach of another Jesuit. He’s navigating his rolling walker towards a cushioned, swivel chair while balancing a tumbler of Canadian Club. This is a typical start to a evening here in my community.
Is this what I had in mind when I joined the Jesuits? This? Life in an old folks’ home? Surrounded by men in their eighties? Granted, I currently live in a community with a larger proportion of retired Jesuits than is usual. And, demographically, we are in a strange but fleeting moment in the life of the Society when there are way more older men than younger ones. But this is changing. Very soon we will be a younger group of men with a lot more headstones to tend. Still, did I join the Jesuits to dig and tend graves for an Order in the middle of a cyclical, generational diminishment?
Am I up to the challenge of being marooned in elder care often without so much as a deflated soccer ball to talk to?
I entered religious life to find Christ. And, because I had a lot of young man enthusiasm for Ignatian slogans like giving and not counting the cost, I saw my heroism as akin to that of St. Francis Xavier. India! Japan! China! Living in a mud hut, bringing the pagans to Christ. You know the dream — my life starring me, Jesus as my sidekick, and a whole lot of grateful natives dancing in the background. So far, this has not come to pass. Instead of me going to India, India has come to me.
Let me explain.
Every evening as my community gathers in our recreation room before dinner, I get to enter mission territory. It may look like a well lit room, with comfortable furniture, and sometimes even snacks, but it demands every bit as much Christ-centered missionary spirit as any snake infested jungle or searing desert. Mission territory that requires the radical de-centering of self that is the core movement of the Christian life. Finding that Christ is, indeed, the Way. This life is not about looking for a Christ to help me do things my way. Challenging? Every day.
Christ’s Way is always the way of Love. And this is something I am not very good at. I want to love only those who I think are lovable. And then only when I feel like it; certainly this is not at the end of a long day when I just want to relax and am not in mood for finding God in all things. Sometimes the magis is just too much. Sometimes I just want to rest and complain about how my life is not heroic, my community is a disappointment, and how my gifts are not really being used as they would be if I were on a more exciting, more glamorous mission.
I will not be surprised when someone suggests I read St. Therese of Lisieux, I obviously need to get a smaller flower.
But this is the story of most missionaries: fervor at the start, then radical shaking of faith in the mission, followed by understanding the mission on a deeper level. And, gradually, an opening to Christ as Christ is, not the action movie Christ powered by our own needs for attention and success.
Daily, hidden, missionaries found telling stories somewhere in-between the easy chair and the spread of appetizers.