Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tertianship ended?

The question mark is intentional.  Despite the formal ending of tertianship on 18 August it became apparent very quickly that something is different, something has changed.  While walking yesterday my mind drifted back to the time with the Vietnamese novices.  Eighteen of them were to begin the long retreat the next day.  One novice, I don’t know if he was a primi or secundi, asked a question about the difference between the long retreat as a tertian compared with as a novice, noting that he had read that the tertian long retreat was a school of the heart.  This was definitely a think on the feet interchange. 

Ultimately his question went beyond the long retreat to the difference between novitiate and tertianship.  In the first post in this blog I describe tertianship as novitiate in compressed form, seven months rather than twenty-four, during which we did the same things as in novitiate.  The only non-compressed experience was the long retreat. 

There are some very obvious differences between novitiate and tertianship.  Unlike trying to understand The Constitutions as a primi, we had been living them for years and had a working knowledge of what they meant.  The same can be said of the General Congregations.  When the novice asked about the school of the heart I realized that while the novitiate is a school of the heart as well, there is much more “school of the head”, a cognitive-learning component, that has been internalized by the time of tertianship.  Because it is internalized there is more room for the school of the heart side.  We were fluent in the vocabulary and syntax of the school of the head. 

It is difficult to explain these subtleties to someone not living in religious life.  Having never been married it would be foolish of me to draw analogies between tertianship and the changes that occur in a couple’s relationship after years of marriage, though from the perspective of thirty-six years as a physician, I’ve certainly observed changes and growth in successful marriages, or had to deal with the lack of same in marriages that were falling, or had fallen, apart.   Religious vows are different.  Formation in the Society of Jesus is unique even among other religious orders and congregations.  Tertianship is not a universal experience in religious life.  
When we were novices there was an oft-invoked statement that was true but also used as a form of put-down similar to the W.C. Fields line, “go away kid, you’re bothering me.”  That line was “You’ll understand after (fill in the blank).”  "After" was defined as the long retreat, the pilgrimage, the long experiment etc. whatever necessary to suit the older novice’s need.  One of the men a year behind me used to chafe at that expression every time.   And so, a day after being ordained a deacon, I wrote an e-mail that was eloquent in its brevity, “You’ll understand after being ordained a deacon.”  His reply cast doubt onto the validity of my parents’ marital status at the time of my birth. 
There is, however, a great deal of truth in that statement.  No one can truly understand until after he has experienced the long retreat, or the pilgrimage, or, as is becoming apparent, tertianship, what a particular step in formation means. 
It was a good tertianship.  I am glad to be heading home and getting ready for a probable new assignment.  During the long retreat we attended a final vow Mass in the Jesuit parish at Sevenhill.  It was a different experience this time knowing that within a finite period of time I too will kneel in front of the Body and Blood of Christ, and begin, “I John Robert . . . . “
Photos from Taiwan.  The cacti were in the Saturday flower market in Taipei.  The tea display was in a small outdoor market in nearby Daan Park.  Taiwanese tea is among the best in the world because of good growing conditions in the mountains. 

The Yong Fu Bridge is a short walk from the Tien Educational Center Community.  Ignatius and I frequently walk there.  However, a rule for photographers is "Go Alone."  There may be something more boring than watching another man take photos but I am hard pressed to define it at the moment.  One of the contrasts between Taipei and Washington, D.C. is that I feel safe alone on the streets and even down by the river at 10 or 11 at night in Taipei.  The same is not true in D.C.  These photos were taken between 10 and 11:30 at night.
The guys were playing b-ball late at night with the bridge in the background. 
When Ignatius and I went south for a few days we stayed at what had been a working farm but is now a resort high in the mountains.   We were sitting at a table just inside the entrance relaxing over coffee.  I liked the umbrellas.
Ignatius said that about 1/3 or so of the land mass of Taiwan, which is about the size of Maryland, is uninhabitable because of the mountains.  If it snowed in Taiwan it would be a world class skiing resort.  These mountains get snow on rare occasion.   The drive to this place was completely uphill for many winding miles.
This tree was clinging to the side of a cliff. 
We walked to this waterfall, ending up just a bit above where it his the river.  The walk to get there was 4.5 km (over 2 miles) going up the entire way.  It took a few hours to make the round  trip but it was worth it.  Slept very well after this walk. 
Great trip to Taiwan.  It would take little persuasion for me to go there for the long term.  Summers are brutal it is true and the winters are damp and chilly but it is a comfortable place to be.  And, unlike most U.S. cities, I feel safe alone on the streets at night despite not speaking much in the way of Chinese (I can get a phone card, point out a friend, tell people I am a Jesuit priest.  Not sure I could negotiate with a mugger).  
Back to D.C. soon. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ

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