Nine years on.
Somewhat suddenly this afternoon, I realized that today marks the ninth anniversary of the date on which I entered the Society of Jesus, August 21, 2004. By many measures, a great deal has changed in the last nine years. I entered the novitiate in a class of fourteen, six of whom remain in the Society; most of the eight who have left religious life are now married and well-established in secular careers. The novitiate that we all entered is gone - the building is still there, but it's no longer a Jesuit residence - and some of the other institutions that played a role in our novitiate experience (such as the parish grade school around the corner) have likewise passed on to other uses. The two Jesuit provinces that the fourteen of us entered are also gone, having been merged into one new province as part of a larger process of administrative reconfiguration on the part of the U.S. Jesuits. When I entered the Jesuits, John Paul II was pope - the only pope that I and a majority of my novitiate classmates had ever known - and since then we've seen two others and received the news that our 'first pope' will soon be canonized.
In spite of all of the above, I would say that much remains the same for me as when I entered. My essential motivation for becoming a Jesuit nine years ago and my motivation for being a Jesuit today are much the same. As I wrote in this post from last year, what drew me to the Society was not a flash of mystical inspiration, or a devotion to St. Ignatius of Loyola, or an attraction to Ignatian spirituality as it has been articulated and popularized in recent decades; rather, what drew me to the Society was an encounter with particular Jesuits whom I knew as an undergraduate at Georgetown, men who had found a way of being at once priests, scholars, and teachers that I found appealing and ultimately wished to emulate. In other words, what drew me to the Jesuits - and what continues to draw me - is its intellectual tradition, the sense in which, to borrow a term from the early Society, the Jesuits are meant to be a company of "learned priests." On reflection, it strikes me that I have also been consistently drawn by the cosmopolitan character of the Society, seen both in the diversity of its membership and in the sense of global mission that led Father Jerónimo Nadal to write that "the world is our house." My Jesuit life so far has included elements of both of these things - engagement with the intellectual apostolate and encounters with the global Society - so I can happily report that the hopes that led me into the Society have not gone unfulfilled.
Like any other meaningful vocation, Jesuit life includes challenges and difficulties as well as joys and rewards. I'm not the sort of person who seeks a kind of do-or-die daily affirmation or experiences dramatically shifting spiritual movements on a regular basis; my desire to be a Jesuit and a priest have remained consistent over the last decade. As I begin my tenth year in the Society, I find myself recalling with both gratitude and expectation the words of Psalm 119:116 (Psalm 118 in the Vulgate Psalter), which are included (and here my Benedictine side emerges) in the rite of monastic profession: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam; et non confundas me ab expectatione mea. "Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live; and let me not be confounded in my hope." AMDG.