Thursday 23 February 2012

Becoming a Man for Others

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

“What’s it like being a religious in the 21st century?” Not many people ever ask me that question so directly, but you can sort of tell that they want to. Many people really don’t get it.

Some don’t get why someone would ‘throw their life (or their freedom) away’ in order to live a celibate life dedicated to Christ poor and to obedience. Others may not understand the concept of ‘a vocation’: giving every ounce of your being to those in need, putting others before yourself, and making the community central to your entire life. Finally, there are those who think they know the Catholic Church a little better, and they may be concerned, and wonder why anyone would want to commit all of their energies to an institution that they consider as irrelevant. They may see the Church as a giant sinking ship of sorts, that once had tremendous glory and importance in the world, but is slowly disappearing into oblivion and within 50 years or so, will have vanished from most major cities in the West. So, obviously to those people, the concept of a life given to the Christ and His bride (The Church) sounds likes a wasted life.

There are a few things that I would love to convey to people when attempting to deal with these types of questions: I wish I could make them understand how important Jesus is to all of humanity; how, despite her struggles, shortcomings and imperfections, the Church continues to do far more great works throughout the entire world than most other organizations out there; how society as a whole would be so much better off if people could learn to balance their secular way of seeing life and creation  with a more God centered view of the world. However, I either don’t have all the gifts I need to communicate this, or those pressing me for answers are not willing to listen (thus becoming “People who hear without listening”. Thank you Paul Simon!). At such moments, it would be easy for me to lose all hope and give up on them, but instead, I chose to witness about my life as a Jesuit brother.

I tell them about the wonderful charism of our founder St Ignatius who taught us to become ‘contemplatives in action’, something that sets us apart from monastic communities, while still making us incredibly counter cultural in our modern times. I talk about the wonderful men that are drawn to the Society of Jesus, these brothers of mine who generously give all they have to following Christ and serving others. I share with them the various adventures, challenges, graces and blessings of religious life…and if my passion doesn’t get the best of me and I don’t leave out any details…I mention the Freedom. It may seem ironic to many out there that I would mention freedom. Most of my friends in the non-Catholic world assume I lost my freedom the day I entered the Society of Jesus. I really hope that people would challenge me on this notion of freedom, because that’s when I launch into one of my early vocational stories that goes something like this:

In the Spring of 2007, I was having supper at the Commensal restaurant in Downtown Montreal. This was, however, not one ordinary night on the town for me. I was reflecting a lot about my newly found call to enter religious life, and the one thing that kept tripping me up, was the fear of losing my freedom. It terrified me, and if I had let my thoughts continue in the direction of that fear, I probably would have abandoned any thoughts of a vocation there and then. Instead, the spirit directed me to glance outside, to the streets below. I looked down, and saw people rushing to their cars, shopping bags in tow; I saw students stressfully walking out of class, towards a coffee house for another long night of studies; I saw people running around…and a question came into my mind: Are any of these people really free? Are you completely free as a layperson? I thought I was. The norm in our society is that one gets a job, gets paid, buys pretty things and assumes that they’ve found freedom. Or, one finds their way to a career, makes a living, raises a family and becomes convinced they’ve got it made. It all sounds so lovely.

But the problem was: For the past couple of weeks prior to this moment in time, I had been challenged by various questions about religious life that were causing me to grow in leaps and bounds. I was growing more now that I had ever grown before. The norm was never something I had belonged to or desired for myself. It’s something I did because everyone else around me did. Suddenly I understood that my call was to be with Jesus, to become a man who would be at the service of others. The prospect of this gave me incredible peace, and I was happy. Through this moment of awareness, I encountered freedom. And in finding my freedom I found meaning in my desire to become a man for others.

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