SHOWING THE WAY TO GOD
By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia
Ready for a challenge? Pick up a generic battery-powered remote control device. Make sure it has batteries. Give yourself a few minutes of contemplation. Now write down every possible way you could use it.
Finished your list?
You’ve failed the challenge.
That’s right, you’ve failed. Let me introduce you to Fr Juan Pablo Marrufo Del Toro (aka JP) from Arizona. He’s got a pretty impressive CV, like most Jesuits. Apart from being the school chaplain at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, he teaches astronomy, coaches the mountain biking team and the rowing team, in addition to doing campus ministry. Oh, and he’s also a licensed pilot. So if anyone knows an extra-special way to use a remote, he’s da man.
I’m sitting with the Tertian Director, Fr Steve Curtin SJ, and the eleven tertians in the common room at Faber House in Melbourne. After a few consecutive cloudy winter days, it’s the first sunny post-solstice afternoon. We’ve been at Mass together, we’ve shared lunch and now we’re talking about their innermost thoughts as they come to the end of their tertianship in Australia.
The heating is on, but the sunlit garden a couple of metres away from the windows is also adding its own warmth. Fr Steve reads the room well, as always. He is the furthest from the remote control for the heating; JP is the closest, on the opposite end of the large circle in which we are sitting, almost four metres in diameter. Unobtrusively, Fr Steve signals to JP to put the heating off.
“It’s a bit warm,” he whispers.
JP picks up the remote and follows the eleventh commandment: thou shalt obey thy Tertian Director. The heating goes off immediately. But JP keeps the remote in his grasp in case he needs to switch it back on again.
The room is warm, intellectually, metaphorically and literally. One of the tertians, sitting immediately to JP’s left, closes his eyes. I choose to believe he’s meditating. JP, however, has other ideas. He figures his neighbour might be dozing off. So he picks up the remote, silently points it at his neighbour’s temples and pretends to click the buttons to awaken him. There are a couple of quiet chuckles around the room. The tertian to JP’s left opens his eyes immediately. JP grins. It’s a big grin. The man from Arizona has patented a new use for a remote.
All right, enough with the levity, even though it was an important component of the afternoon, where philosophy, sincerity and deep reflection were regularly punctuated with the laughter that characterises not just camaraderie but a wonderfully embracing culture as well. The tertians answered four questions that I put to each of them, and their responses to two of those questions are reproduced here:
Question 1: If someone came to you and said, “I’m thinking about joining the Jesuits,” what advice would you give them, and why?
I would tell them to ask themselves the question, “Who am I?” instead of the question, “What should I do?” In asking the first question instead of the second, one discovers the many qualities comprising them as a person. If someone is a man of prayer who likes to help others and who desires to be a part of something bigger than himself, then that man should seriously consider the Jesuits. Our life is one that is rooted in prayer and from there comes our desire to serve God’s people. Our life and fellowship in community sustain our vocation and this life of service and prayer.
I’d say to them that just the thought of joining the Jesuits is a grace in itself. I’d ask the person to follow that lead, to go deeper, as if plunging oneself into the water, in a relationship with and faith in Jesus. Being a Jesuit is first and foremost about finding oneself being deeply in love with Jesus. I would encourage that person to deepen that grace through prayer in a way that strengthens a relationship with Jesus.
Emmanuel (Nono) Alfonso:
As Joseph Campbell would say, “follow your bliss.” The world offers pleasure of many kinds but not real and profound joy. This kind of joy can only be found in the everlasting and not in the ephemeral. You find that in love, in service, in the pursuit of the good. The Jesuits are always engaged in that adventure of finding that eternal, overflowing bliss!
My response would be: come and see! Come taste and see the goodness of the Lord; it is a gain and never a loss to serve the crucified Lord, now risen Christ (John 1:39-40; Ps. 34:8).
Juan Pablo Marrufo Del Toro:
First of all, I would tell them to have no fear. Don’t be afraid about this calling because it’s a wonderful thing. And really, really give it a try because there’s nothing you can lose by investing time in this journey. It will never be a waste of time and you will never regret doing it, even if you decide eventually not to join formally. These experiences will certainly make you a better human, more faithful, more prayerful and more sensitive to God and to the needs of the world.
Titus Tin Maung:
Tertianship is a school of love, as we say. Experiencing oneself in that divine love is so, so rich. Based on that experience, my advice to anyone seeking a vocation in the Society would be to say without hesitation, come and experience that divine love.
Francisco Javier Diaz Diaz:
I would say: read the Formula of the Institute, and see if it fits what your heart is longing for in the service of Christ our Lord.
Be open to surprises. If you’re not ready to be surprised, don’t join the Society. Readiness to be surprised probably is the primordial condition to any serious commitment.
That’s a very interesting question. I’d review the history of my own Jesuit life and I would tell him to attend Mass every day for one month and secondly to spend 30 minutes every day in prayer. If you can do that, come and see me. I’ll tell you to join the Jesuits, that’s my heartfelt advice.
Question 2: What led you to this vocation?
Emmanuel (Nono) Alfonso:
I come from a religious family in the Philippines. My father was the President of the Religious Association of our village for decades. I also studied at Jesuit institutions all the way to uni. When I was at university, I joined student organisations and became active in programmes around outreach for the poor and that’s when my faith became more concrete, personal and intense. When I graduated, I joined a Jesuit NGO and the rest, as they say, is history.
I came to this vocation after realizing there really is no substitute for God. I entered the Jesuits in my twenties after a two-year stint in the US Peace Corps, teaching English in a remote village in Kazakhstan. It was certainly an adventure, good humanitarian work, and challenging—all things that I loved (and still do). But in a way that I couldn’t fully articulate at the time, I still felt like something was missing. Following that thirst led me, eventually, to the Jesuits.
For me, it was an encounter with the risen Christ. Having experienced God’s love and mercy at faith-based camps and retreats, I decided to knock on the door of the Jesuits and ever since then, I have striven to respond to Christ’s call as a religious and now a priest, that is, to announce the Kingdom of God. The Jesuits have provided the pathway to live out Christ’s call that was placed in my heart by the Holy Spirit, in collaboration with my Jesuit confreres and all people of good will.
The idea of becoming a priest first came to me when I was in my primary school years, through a diocesan priest who became a family friend. I was inspired by the way he spoke to people about God. But what made me seriously consider this vocation was my involvement in a prayer community at university, where I found the Lord truly alive in the reading of scriptures, prayer and serving through outreach. It was also at university that I met a Jesuit and found out about St Ignatius and the Society of Jesus for the first time. I went through a process of discernment under a lay leader of the community after I finished my degree. But the urge to follow the call became increasingly more intense when I was working as a computer programmer but felt a sense of emptiness in what I was doing.
Juan Pablo Marrufo Del Toro:
I attended the Jesuit University of Guadalajara in Mexico and that’s where I met the Jesuits for the first time. I felt called to basically be like them, to join them after college. I felt attracted by their prayer and their spirituality as well as their unique relationship with God. I found this very appealing, as well as their Ignatian spirituality in which I was able to participate as a college student. They made God and Jesus available to every aspect of my life. Jesuits are teachers, artists, writers, architects, lawyers, journalists, scientists, everything. Whatever talent you have, whatever desire you have, the Jesuits will show you how to use that to serve God and to serve the Church.
Titus Tin Maung:
Prior to joining the Jesuits I was in a diocese and a minor seminary and I was thinking of becoming a priest, any kind of priest really. In the seminary, I met a Jesuit for the first time, Fr Clay Pereira from Indonesia. There was something different that I experienced with the Jesuits that I had not experienced in my diocese or in my seminary – the emphasis on freedom and responsibility. Somehow, they gave me a sense of individuality and there was a certain acceptance of one’s uniqueness. That was something I considered very important.
Francisco Javier Diaz Diaz:
I was led into this vocation. I can’t remember by whom, but I tend to blame my catechist! I was nine years old at my First Communion – and I remember listening to a priest preaching and how I had a feeling of profound peace. I dreamed many times of being a missionary like Saint Francis Xavier. My parents were very supportive but they were also very realistic and so they told me to grow up first!
I felt the need to consider if God was calling me to be a priest. After a year of prayer, the consideration of priesthood became clearer. I came across a short biography of Saint Francis Xavier, whose name I was given. I daydreamed often of becoming like him and going far away to bring the Gospel to those who had not heard of it. The Scout Movement put me in contact with the pastoral written work of two Jesuits who had influenced Catholic scouting. I was probably 22 years old when a friend gave me a copy of the text of the Formula of the Institute, the founding document of the Society of Jesus. When I read it, I felt it contained the exact description of the vocation that I had in my heart and that I had been longing for since my childhood.
I’ll answer that in the context of the lyrics “We are one, but we are many” from the song ‘I Am Australian’. We tertians are many Jesuits from all over the world. We have people from the Asia Pacific region, from the United States, and I’m the only person from Europe. Although we are many in terms of culture, language and social background, we are one body and that body is the Society of Jesus. Above that, we are one body in Christ – we are brothers to each other and we are brothers to Jesus.
Augustinus (Agus) Tanudjaja:
My journey to the Jesuits began at a “come and see” weekend in Singapore 23 years ago. What I discovered about the Jesuits is that they embody contemplation in action. At the end of that weekend I found a Jesuit spiritual director who worked with me and accompanied me in my discernment. He answered many questions that I had about a religious life, and also explained what the Jesuits were doing not just at the time but also what they’d be doing in the future. This helped me not just to discern my call but also how to respond to that call. So here I am, deepening my own experience about every aspect of Jesuit life. I’m very grateful for the community, especially here in the tertianship where we have so many people from different countries. We laugh together and we celebrate together, especially in the Eucharistic celebrations.
I’m very lucky because I followed my older brother into the Society of Jesus. I love the word Jesuit – a companion of Jesus. I wanted to become a companion of Jesus. Now, Jesus travels with me during my life.
Photos by David McMahon.