Sunday, March 12, 2006

Losing Companions on the Journey

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 45

Not to have to refer again to these companions, they turned out as follows: While he was at Paris, he frequently wrote to them as he had agreed, but it was to tell them of the slight hope he had of their coming to Paris to study. He wrote, however, to Dona Leonora de Mascarenhas, asking her to help Calixto with a letter to the Portuguese Court to obtain one of the scholarships which the King of Portugal had established at Paris. Dona Leonora gave the letter to Calixto, and provided him with a mule and some money for the journey. He set out for the Portuguese Court, but never reached Paris. Rather, he returned to Spain, and then went on to India with some spiritual woman. Later he was back in Spain, and went a second time to India. He came back to Spain a rich man, which at Salamanca caused no little surprise to those who had known him earlier.

Cacerese returned to Segovia, which was his native city, and there began a life which seemed to indicate that he had quite forgotten his earlier resolutions.

Arteaga became a dignitary, and then after the Society was established in Rome, he was offered a bishopric in India. He wrote to the pilgrim asking that it be given to one of the Society. As this was declined, he went to Portuguese India, was consecrated bishop, and met with a very strange death. Having fallen ill, he happened to have two glasses of water for his refreshment in his room. One of the glasses contained water which the doctor had ordered, the other a corrosive sublimate, very poisonous, which being given him by mistake ended his life.

The pilgrim returned from Rouen to Paris, and found that he was the subject of much talk, because of Castro and Peralta, and that the Inquisitor had made enquiries about him. He went to the Inquisitor without waiting to be summoned, and told him that he had heard he was enquiring about him. “I am ready for whatever you wish,” he said. The name of the Inquisitor was Master Ory, a Dominican friar, and the pilgrim urged him to get through with his enquiry as soon as possible, as he wished to begin his course in Arts on the feast of St. Remy, and if this business were finished first he would be better able to get on with his studies. But all the Inquisitor had to say was that people had told him some things about him. He did not ask to see him again.

One of the harder parts of religious life is when people leave. There is a great sense of fraternity that comes from shared experience, a shared sense of mission, as well as a few fights and frustrations along the way. We come to depend on each other and, to a certain extent, take each other’s presence for granted. And, as with Saint Ignatius in this passage, often our conversation turns to how thing have turned out for those “of happy memory” or who no longer “walk with us.” Some people jokingly refer to those who have left as “dead to us now,” but that is never how we feel. Yes, sometimes it’s a relief when certain people leave, but more often than not they leave a hole that cannot be filled.

My Jesuit life started with a disproportionate share of such departures. My entering class of nine men had dwindled two years later to just three when it came time to take vows. The first departure came only six weeks in to my novitiate and it was someone with whom I’d already become quite close. His reasons were not very clear and later he would admit that it was probably a result of panic more than anything else. It hurt to see him go, especially when it just didn’t seem he’d thought it out enough. Most of the departures that followed seemed to be the right choice, the result of good discernment, but that didn’t make it much easier to lose that companion in Christ. Sure, you can stay in touch, but still it’s not the same. The hardest in those two years came after a year together. By then, those of us who remained had become pretty tight. And this particular novice was liked by all. However, he needed a certainty about his choice that he could not find, no matter how much we reassured him. He was, and still is I think, the victim of overthinking things too much and not being content with a certain amount of ambiguity. Since then he’s bounced from place to place trying to find the vocation that continues to elude him and perhaps was there back 7 years ago with us. His leaving was like breaking a link in a chain, and each of us felt disconnected for a time afterward.

After eight years as a Jesuit, I’ve seen many more people leave. Some departures come as no surprise. But others, like a particularly difficult one last year, still smart. Because it’s not always the ones that don’t quite measure up that leave. Sometimes it’s someone who stands among the best Jesuits you know—indeed, better than yourself—and you wonder how that person could be anything but a Jesuit. It’s someone who is not only a friend, but someone you deeply admire, who you want to be like, and suddenly that bright star is removed from your sky, to shine, one hopes, in another.

But I always take consolation that this is not a unique experience. It’s one that happens to all who allow companions into their religious journey, taking the risk of letting those people into your heart. Saint Ignatius surely felt some sadness about being separated from these, his earliest companions, especially as it is clear that some didn’t turn out as he might have hoped. And I know that Jesus, as we learn in John 6, must have felt similar pain when some of his disciples came to him and said, “This teaching is too hard, we cannot accept it,” and they chose to walk with him no longer.


Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Good post. Even though I'm just beginning my own journey in religious life, this is a side of it I've already experienced personally and through others.

Last month though I was blessed to have a chance to go to a former members reunion for the Groovy Sisters. Every 2 years they invite former members back to visit, remember and pray together. There were about 20 former members there. Many more of course did not come for various reasons. But I loved the fact that though different, the relationships continue. That though the leaving was often strained and painful, they are committed to continue healing.

I suppose in a way its like any break up? Sometimes it has to happen. Sometimes it comes out of the blue. Sometimes its really not the right decision, but....

9:59 PM  
Blogger angelmeg said...

Why is it do you suppose that there are some who just can't seem to find contentment with what they have? I have a friend like that. He was happy as could be with the Fransiscan TOR's in Loretto PA, but was at the same time suffering from an inner turmoil. He has been for the entire time I have known him a restless sort of person; never quite content with what he had. Finally when these feelings began to surface in his meeting with his novice master, he was asked to either choose or leave, and when he couldn't choose he left.

He is still in that restless mode. I feel sorry for him.

While my life is never exactly the way I would like for it to be I am comfortable with the idea that this is where God wants me to be for now. I am content with what I have. Maybe that is the difference between the two of us, He walked away because the choice was too hard, and I was willing to say "Where can I go, you have the words of eternal life, and stick out the hard or confusing times."



1:26 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

This is an aspect of community life that I really dread experiencing. In just the past month, I've come to feel very interconnected with the guys in our community and even though I know, at some point, that someone will discern that this is not the place for him to be and will hopefully leave in consolation, I will be pretty broken-hearted to say good-bye.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Mark, you offer us an extended, good quality course in ignatian spirituality.Thanks

3:53 PM  

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