Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Vows and Idealism

On Saturday 10  August I was in DeWitt, NY, just outside the city limits of Syracuse, to concelebrate the Jesuit first vow Mass for five men.  While the drive to Syracuse with my novice master was dreadful due to periodically torrential rain, it was worth the ninety (of over 215) miles of white knuckling.  As a bonus, the drive back to Boston on Saturday was made in some of the most glorious summer weather imaginable, with minimal traffic given the reality of the Mass Pike. 

Watching each man pronounce his vows one at a time is always deeply moving.  This year, however, was even more so as some time within the next three months I will kneel to pronounce final vows in front of the same altar where I pronounced first vows in 1999 and celebrated my first Mass six years ago. 

Fourteen years ago this evening was the eve of my own perpetual vows.  Certain details of the vow ceremony, including the heat and humidity as well as a bout of hypoglycemia (running in high humidity and 80 degrees four hours before the Mass  and not eating afterwards was dumb, fortunately mom had a cookie in her purse), are seared into my memory.  The night before, however, has faded into the fog.  There was a cookout here at Campion but that is about all I remember.  I think some of my family was at the cookout but that is conjecture not memory. 

It was a seventeen-step walk from the pew to kneel in front of the Body and Blood of Christ and begin, "Almighty and eternal God, I, John Robert Siberski, understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight . . . . "  Every one of those steps continues to echo in my memory.  The unworthy part is still true but I keep trying.  Immediately afterwards I was flooded with a sense of relief and quiet joy.  Just before Mass ended we were given our vow crosses.  Mine hangs above the desk, a quiet reminder of that day as well as a symbol of over 450 years of Jesuit history. During the long retreat in Australia I spent an entire day with the first vow formula.  After writing each line I reflected on it in longhand.  It took hours, hours that proved to be very important.  The vows opened up and took on a new life.   Some time soon I will have to write the vow formula three times.  It will be another opportunity to contemplate the vows. (The final vow formula is different from first vows). 

Religious life is not easy.  Starry-eyed idealism is going to be crushed.  On the other hand life in medicine isn't/wasn't easy either. Any residual idealism from med school was throttled by the end of internship.  Entering into marriage is no different.  The idealism that one carries into marriage, a new career, or religious life must be destroyed if one is going to survive and grow.  Before I entered the Society a friend, who has been in the Society for over forty years, told me, "If you stay, your reasons for staying will be different from your reasons for entering."  He was absolutely correct.  Over the years I've watched some young Jesuits struggle with their vocations after pronouncing vows.  Sometimes they left.  God knows I've watched residents in both internal medicine and psychiatry go down in flames when their ideals came up against reality, leaving medicine or making compromises rather than crafting new ideals.

It has been a deeply satisfying, happy, and challenging sixteen years in the Society.  Am looking forward to the culmination, or at least the progression, of my Jesuit vocation, when pronouncing final vows.  But, whenever those vows are sometime between October and December, I will wake up the next day and continue to do whatever it is that God is calling me to do that day, a call that may involve hauling stuff on a hand truck to the dumpster.  

At the moment I am acting rector at Campion while the rector recuperates and rests from a recent illness.  First public official act will be officiating at the funeral of Tony Paquet, SJ who died a few hours after we returned from Syracuse.  I spent some time with Tony nine days before his death.  He knew he was dying. He reiterated several times during our conversation that he was not afraid or anxious; indeed he was calm.  And he was calm.  I only hope I can greet the approach of death in the same way.
Have been playing with old photos while editing various folders.  Two are from Longwood Gardens in Chester County, PA and the others are from the first days of tertianship at Gerroa Beach in New South Wales, Australia. 

Longwood Water Lilies.  The leaf in the back was large enough to hold an entire extended-family of frogs. 

The orchids at Longwood are lovely.  The hothouse setting is quite a contrast to the Taipei Saturday Flower Market.  

Gerroa is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been on.  Note, I spent a total of a month on Ipanema in Brazil (with frequent walks over to Copacabana) back in the late sixties.  There was a huge swatch of beach covered with towels and sand pails but no people.  Everyone seemed to be in the water. 

One morning I went out early as the sun was rising.  The first is the earliest ways of the sun.  This was hand-held as I did not yet have a tripod. 

Two runners on the beach.  Oh for the opportunity to run again.  But, that ain't never gonna happen.  Ever.  The boat sailed and sunk. 

I love this photo.  It says everything there is to say about summer morning on a deserted beach. 

The last two are the same photo.  Sort of.  The first is a play area at the edge of the water.  The second resulted from cropping the first and then adjusting a number of sliders to change the color.  Color studies is one of the real advantages of digital photography and processing.  The bottom study would make an interesting fabric pattern for something like a pillow cover.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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