JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
By Daniel Ronchetti, Director of Faith and Justice, St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point
The late Swami Vivekananda was famous for introducing the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and yoga to the Western world in the later part of the nineteenth century, and for promoting Hinduism’s spiritual and philosophical principles through his lectures and writings. It was during one of these lectures that he commented, “In the end, we are the sum total of our choices.”
On average, an individual is said to make 35,000 conscious decisions every day. We make first impressions within seven seconds. As humans, we are constantly making choices. So how do we know if these choices are leading us on the right path? Is this a path of justice? Is it a path that follows Christ?
The wise Albus Dumbledore in J. K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ advised a young Harry Potter, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
This concept that we are the culmination of our choices was explored by our Year 8 students during their recent Reflection Day held at St Francis Xavier Church Hall in Lavender Bay. The programme focused on the lives of three famous Jesuits: St Ignatius of Loyola, St Francis Xavier and St Aloysius Gonzaga. Each of these three men made life-altering decisions that changed not only the course of their own lives, but the lives of millions who have followed in their footsteps.
St Ignatius’ story is well known, a serious injury in battle led to a year of discernment that saw him go from soldier to pilgrim, to becoming the founder of the Jesuits. St Francis Xavier went from Parisian academic to a life of tireless dedication to spreading the Good News to China, India, the Moluccas and Japan, earning him the title of the Apostle of the East. Lastly, St Aloysius gave up the luxuries of his wealthy family to pursue a life of poverty, prayer and service.
The true character of these men is revealed in their choices, what they chose to dedicate their lives to, and what they were willing to sacrifice to achieve this. Their choices underscore their identity, values and beliefs. Indeed, these three men are wonderful examples of the power of choosing a life in the humble service of God and using their God-given gifts to build his kingdom.
Choices reveal who we are, dictate the experiences of our lives, and ultimately determine the destination of our lives. Our country will be making a significant choice on 14 October, the date for the referendum on the Voice to Parliament. We have seen and heard a wide range of opinions on the proposed change to our Constitution. We have seen some people rush to a decision and others base their opinion on falsehoods and fake news. We want to equip the young men of St Aloysius’ with the tools to determine the facts, discern the information available, listen to God’s movements, and develop their own sound decisions.
One of the great gifts of Saint Ignatius and a Jesuit education is the gift of discernment. Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad): “The gift of discernment has been entrusted primarily to those who are most responsible for the guidance and government of the Church. Not everything tied to the Gospel can be considered an advance in our mission. It is not enough that Jesus is on our lips. We must let him reign in our hearts. It is in the intimate dialogue with Jesus that we learn to recognise his voice – and distinguish it from the voices of strangers.”
The Examen and the Spiritual Exercises were gifted to the Church by St Ignatius and are the perfect framework for good decision-making. Two hundred years ago, the great German writer and philosopher, Johann Goethe, wrote, “Experience is only half of experience”.
Since my arrival at the College, the Rector, Fr Ross Jones SJ, has always emphasised to me that the central element of any education or formation that styles itself Jesuit or “in the Ignatian tradition” is reflection. It is for these reasons that reflection is an important part of our Reflection Days and Retreats, our immersions and service opportunities, in our classrooms, on the sporting fields and in the debating rooms. Ultimately, this reflection is our attempt to learn from our mistakes, to find God in all things and seek to make better choices in the future.
This article was originally published in a recent edition of ‘The Gonzagan’ newsletter for St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point.
Feature photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.