Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the experience of tertianship.

In a post from December, I urged readers to take a look at a new blog by Father Jack Siberski, a New England Province Jesuit who recently started tertianship in Australia. Tertianship is a 'third probation' made by Jesuits who have completed their initial formation (the decade-long process that, for Jesuits who intend to become priests, leads to ordination) and are preparing for final vows. Tertianship includes the repetition of some elements of the novitiate: like novices, tertians make the Spiritual Exercises in the form of a thirty-day silent retreat, undertake an intensive study of the Constitutions and other Jesuit documents, and complete at least one short-termed ministry assignment (or 'experiment').

While novices do all of the preceding things over a period of two years, tertians do them in a more concentrated form: contemporary tertianship programs usually last anywhere from five to nine months, and some are designed to be completed over two summers. Some of the content of tertianship resembles that of the novitiate, but the fact that Jesuits enter into tertianship after many years of life and work in the Society also makes for a very different experience. Newly-minted tertian Jack Siberski gets at this precise topic in a recent post that I hope you'll take the time to read. Here are the key paragraphs:
Beginning tertianship is like beginning novitiate without the fear and anxiety. The two [in this group of tertians] who have been Jesuits for the shortest period of time entered 13 years ago. The uncertainty is absent. We know what we are doing, why we are doing it, and, at least in some vague sense, how we wish to do it for the rest of our lives.

The psalm response, ‘Here I am Lord, I come to do your will’ encapsulates our desires as tertians just as it stated our desires at the end of novitiate. No, we are not seeking God’s will as to whether or not we have a vocation to the Society. Rather, we are seeking how we will respond, live, and work as men in final vows, fully incorporated into the fabric of the Society of Jesus. We could not have prayed this way in the novitiate because we did not know the questions to say nothing of the answers. Now, however, it is different. We begin this period, an experience that resembles the structure of the novitiate. But, the experience will be compressed into seven months compared with the 24 we spent as novices. There will be anxieties but they will have a different content.

A few friends responded to questions about making the long retreat a second time as tertians with the unanimous opinion that it is different, gentler, and a deeper experience of the Exercises than it was as a first-year novice. But, as those of us in New England heard time and again from the men a year ahead of us in the novitiate, “You’ll understand after the long retreat” or, “You’ll understand after vows” we will understand only after we have finished tertianship.
To read the rest of Jack's post, click here. As a young Jesuit still closer in formational terms to the novitiate than to tertianship, I'm consoled by the notion of tertianship as a "novitiate without the fear and anxiety." I hope that you'll join me in following Jack's adventures in tertianship through his blog, and I hope you'll also join me in praying for him and his fellow tertians. AMDG.


At 1/22/2011 6:12 PM, Blogger Robin said...

Thanks for this. It's so interesting to learn more about the process through which one becomes formed as a fully-vowed Jesuit, and to read the wildly various stories by which men get there. As (a most unlikely) someone who stumbled onto Ignatian spirituality in midlife, thanks to a now 80yo Jesuit whom I thought would just be my professor for a semester, and as someone who has been the beneficiary of much Jesuit hospitality, counsel, and friendship, it's always impressive to me to see how profoundly and consistently Ignatian values are instilled over such a lengthy period of formation. You have a magnificent heritage.

At 1/22/2011 7:30 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Thanks for that, Robin!

At 2/08/2011 6:58 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Thanks for the pointer! I have no comparision for my experience of the Exercises, done for the first time at age 50 and married for many years, with no anxiety about my vocational choices - and now wonder if it was more like a tertian's experience than a novice's.

I do know that making the Exercises, even in that context, changed a great deal.

At 2/08/2011 7:53 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Thanks, Michelle - my instant reaction is that your experience was probably very different from that of either a novice or a tertian, though I suppose it's also the case that all of us, Jesuits or not, react to the Exercises in unique ways. Of course, another piece of the puzzle for tertians is that (by definition) they're making the Exercises for at least the second time.

I didn't think of this when I first read Jack's post and excerpted it here, but I must also add that as a novice I didn't find the Exercises to be an anxious time. To be candid, I came into the Exercises with a strong sense that I was called to be a Jesuit, and I came out of the Exercises with an even stronger sense that this was the case. I should note, too, that I did not make an 'election' during the Exercises as many do. The attitude of my director was that I had already made my election in discerning my vocation at length and deciding to enter the Society, so he didn't see a need for me to do it again.

In a larger sense, while the novitiate had its stresses, over the course of the two years I never doubted that God was calling me to the Society. Thank God for that, I suppose!

At 2/08/2011 9:47 PM, Blogger Robin said...

Throwing one more 50 (+) experience into the mix -- I found the Exercises to be very healing and also galvanizing. The anxiety came later, when the ramifications of the decisions I'd made became apparent!

The healing nature of the Exercises did much, I think, to sustain me when tragedy came my way later. I think I would not have survived what came next, including a very long and bleak period of no perception of God, had I not been able to look back at that year of the Exercises and say, "That really did happen - try to remember that."

At 2/09/2011 11:21 AM, Blogger Joe said...


Thanks for the comment - yes, it seems clear to me that making the Exercises for the first time in one's fifties has to very different from making them for the first time in one's twenties. Of course, the life experiences one brings to the retreat also has a major impact on what each person gets out of the Exercises.

Another note about making the Exercises as a Jesuit novice: for novices, the Exercises also have a pedagogical value - made in the first year of novitiate, they are a part of one's immersion into the life of the Society; though this is seldom acknowledged, there is also a sense in which the Exercises are less individually tailored for Jesuit novices than they would be for other retreatants, both because there is often an emphasis on exposing novices to the 'whole' of the Exercises (i.e., to as many of the meditations as possible) because it's considered important for us to know about the text and how it is applied.

Another key difference which I thought of while typing this - it seems to me that the choice to make the Exercises is a freer one for laypeople than for Jesuits. In the Society, we don't have a choice as to whether and when we make the Exercises - it's something we're all expected to do at particular times, with very few exceptions (I know of novices who made the Long Retreat apart from their classmates, but only because of unique personal circumstances). For laypeople who make the Exercises, I suspect that there is an element of a personal and particular call to make the retreat which is very different from what we encounter in the Society. In other words, I was called to enter the Society, and making the Exercises was part of the package but not a major motivation for accepting the call. If I were not a Jesuit, the call to make the Exercises would have to come in a very different way.

At 2/09/2011 1:17 PM, Blogger Robin said...

This is fascinating - I had not thought a lot about the different ways in which we find ourselves called to the Exercises, and now I'm going to be mulling that over for a long time to come. Does it change how you give them?

I have accompanied two people through the Exercises and am in the middle and at the beginning with two others -- all women 35-55 who have felt a call to the ministry of spiritual direction, three of them deeply involved in church ministries, one as a pastor. All of them came to the Exercises because the programs they are in require their completion, so they first sensed a desire to accompany people in their spiritual journeys, and then the Exercises became a specific component of their responses to that call.

In my own case, I took a look at the Jesuit who didn't know that he was about to become my spiritual director and saw that he had something I wanted -- something which now I would describe as a joyful serenity, or a serene joy, or maybe both. Whatever it was, it seemed that the Exercises might be the venue that led there -- although I wouldn't describe any of that thought process as a consciously analytical or evaluative one. I had no idea whatever of what I was getting into.

Today, as a beginning director, I would be leery of anyone as clueless as I was who came to me wanting to make the Exercises. But I suppose my own experience should tell me: risk it.

It would be interesting to read your reflections on various approaches to the Exercises depending upon the motivations of the retreatants.

At 2/09/2011 2:17 PM, Blogger Joe said...


Thanks for the follow-up - there is a lot there for me to think about, too. Certainly, the person giving the Exercises has to be sensitive to the fact that each retreatant is in a different place, and that's definitely going to have an impact on how the Exercises are given. This is a challenge for people who give the Exercises, but I'd think it would also be a source of joy and consolation - discovering the different ways in which God leads people to the Exercises, the director also learns more about the workings of grace, which can only make for better, wiser direction.

As a young Jesuit, I'm acutely conscious of the limitations in my own experience - my own preference for directors (or, more generally, spiritual wisdom figures) is for people who are much older than myself. Given that, I wonder who would want to turn to someone younger - each individual has different needs and different reasons, though, so I recognize that my preferences are unique and subjective. I also hope to be given the grace and wisdom I need when others turn to me for spiritual counsel, especially when I'm less than confident in my ability to give it!

At 2/10/2011 12:25 PM, Blogger Robin said...

BTW, in the "related" category, I'd like to invite you over to my place - scroll down for the two posts on the Ignatian art exhibit at JCU.

At 2/10/2011 2:37 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Thanks for that, Robin - looks like a great exhibit, and I wish I had a chance to check it out. (I note that the exhibition is going to St. Louis - it would be nice if it got some wider exposure at Jesuit places around the country.)


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