"Time Off" for Good Behavior
The pilgrim had remained forty-two days in confinement, at the end of which the devout ladies having returned, the notary came to the prison to read the sentence that set him free, but required him to dress as the other students and forbade him to speak on matters of faith for four years, that is, until they had studied more, since they had no knowledge of philosophy and theology. The truth is that the pilgrim was the most learned of them all, but what he knew was without a solid foundation. Whenever they examined him this was the first statement he usually made.
After this sentence, he did not clearly see what he should do; for apparently they had shut the door to his helping souls, and for no other reason than that he had not studied. Finally he made up his mind to go to Archbishop Fonseca and put his case in his hands.
He left Alcala and found the Archbishop in Vallodid, gave him a faithful account of what had happened, and told him that although he was not in his jurisdiction, nor obliged to abide by the sentence, he would act according to the Archbishop’s orders. In speaking with them he always used the direct second person, as he did with everyone. The Archbishop gave him a cordial reception, and when he understood that he wished to change to Salamanca, said that in Salamanca he also had a college and friends, all of which he placed at his disposal, and gave orders that four gold crowns be given him as he left.
People often ask me why Jesuit formation is such a long process (for me, eight years and counting!). I can’t help but wonder if it is because Ignatius decided that his spiritual sons should suffer what he did! Ignatius’ autobiography, in a certain sense, is the story of his Jesuit formation. While not so well planned and organized in his life experience, it’s not hard to see the lessons of Ignatius’ experience of conversion, ministry, education and eventually the founding of the Jesuits reflected in the different experiences which, in The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, he prescribes for the training of Jesuit scholastics. This is especially apparent in today’s reading.
When I was thinking of becoming a Jesuit, I had already been working in ministry for many years. So, the thought of giving up full-time ministry in order to spend eleven years becoming a priest gave me pause. In some ways, like the restrictions put on Ignatius’ ministry, I felt like this was “shutting the door” on my “helping of souls.” Couldn’t I contribute a lot more just by continuing in the kind of ministry I was doing, instead of taking all that “time off” for studies? In some ways it seemed like starting over again. Yet, even while I regretted this potential loss of active time in ministry, I was also becoming more convinced that God was calling me to become a priest, and a Jesuit. It was a leap of faith. And if I didn’t know it before, I soon learned that, like Ignatius, I was “without a solid foundation.” Up to then, my formation experience had been, as we have experienced Ignatius’ to be, somewhat haphazard, however inspired by God it might have been. For me, becoming a Jesuit had much the same effect as the intervention of the Inquisition had for Ignatius—it forced me to be more deliberate and more focused on being the kind of person that can best be “of help to souls.”
Though I still sometimes get impatient with the length of the formation process, I am more often thankful for the opportunities I’ve had these past eight years, and will have for the years to come. I know that because of the trials, tribulations and joys of these past eight years that already I’m a better person and more effective minister to the people of God than I was eight years ago. I also know that thanks to my studies, the variety of ministry experiences I’ve had in these years and the friendship and example of my Jesuit brothers young and old, that I will be far more effective and authentic a priest than I would have been had I not taken this “time off.” And, besides, you might have heard that the reason Jesuit formation is so long is because we are slow learners.