Sunday 2 September 2012

A Day in the Life of A Jesuit

By Eric Hanna, S.J.
My friends and family know that I am a Jesuit, that I study, that I live a life of prayer and dedication to God. Yet the exact nature of this life is something of a mystery. So I have decided to give the account of a typical day in my life as a Jesuit.

No Jesuit I know has ever done just one thing his whole life. Our work is always growing and changing, as we ourselves do. We are many things to many people. We are teachers, both in high schools and universities. We are pastors of parishes. We are researchers in almost any field you could name, from theology to physics to ecology. We are coordinators of programs that provide aid to the poor, homeless, refugees, and different kinds of people who are marginalized. We are spiritual counsellors and retreats directors. And when we are in formation, as I am, we are mostly students.

On any given day, I wake up around seven in the morning in my room at the Philosophy House. It's an ordinary residential home in Downtown Toronto, near the University of Toronto. I have enough space for my bed, my desk, and a bookshelf. The bathrooms are shared but there's usually enough of them to go around. There are about twelve persons in my community; we are all Jesuits. There's a kitchen, a dining room, some guest rooms, a room to watch TV, and of course a chapel where we have our daily mass.

There is no determined schedule in the morning. I like to pray Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours before I start the day. That involves reading some texts of the Psalms and doing a slow, meditative contemplation of the fact that I am a creature in the presence of my creator, who is my source of love and hope. This usually takes me about forty-five minutes or so.

After a shave and a shower I head downstairs to the kitchen and have some toast with PB & J. Breakfast conversations are always interesting in a house full of academics. We usually comment on the newspaper. I dress like any student would – t-shirts or a collared shirt if something special is going on. There are no uniforms or cassocks, though I can wear a clerical shirt if there is a special occasion.

After breakfast I usually head to class. I'm lucky in that I can walk to school. I carry a notebook and something for lunch on most days. The classes are mostly regular university classes. I'm completing a Masters in Philosophy. I pick my own courses subject to the approval of a program coordinator who makes sure I'm getting everything I need.

The goal of Jesuits in formation is to have a strong grounding in philosophy in order to know how to think. They use these tools to approach all other problems. It's not just a process of learning facts but a pedagogy of teaching analysis, communication, problem-solving, etc.

Oftentimes I'll hang out with the other students after class to discuss things. It's nice to hear everyone's stories: where they come from, why they study. Most of my classmates are regular philosophy students, not Jesuits. I've been kindly invited to a few of their homes. Most of them are married, just starting out. It's wonderful to make friends with people my age who share common interests. Most of them are quite curious about me as a vowed religious as well.

Vowed means that while I am not yet a priest, I still follow the ancient religious rules of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Nothing I use is owned by me, it belongs to the community. I will not get married and will live my sexuality with modesty and affective maturity. And I will follow the rules of what it means to be a Jesuit. The rules can be summed up pretty simply: love God, love your Jesuit brothers and all people, and love yourself.

When I need to go somewhere, other than school, I take the subway. If I have a budget concern I fill in a budget form. If I want to make a change to my schedule, I think on how it will effect me and the people around me. We all want the freedom to do whatever we like. But once we have that freedom, we only ever truly desire to use it to shape our lives according to the people we love.

When I have no class, I usually have reading, researching, and writing to do. For entertainment I like reading web-comics. In the evening, at 5:30 p.m., the whole community gathers in the chapel. We, the students, are often called upon to serve at the mass, read, or give reflections on the scripture of the day. We're formed in liturgy over the course of the year; this makes sense as we'll be leading liturgy ourselves in the future. After the mass everyone gathers to spend some time together before dinner, chatting about the day and trading quips and jokes.

All the housekeeping chores are divided up among the group. It usually goes pretty smoothly as everyone is here because we want to be. Thanks largely to a balance of work and play, an attitude of serving rather than being served, and humour. We have time for fun and we have time to really talk and say what's on our minds.

At the end of the day, I always pray the Examen, a method the Jesuits use to review the days events and understand the flow of one's own emotions and habits. We believe that every event, every feeling we experienced during the day, was a way of God communicating to us. It might be through happy events or sad. We may have responded well or poorly. But God works in all situations.

That is what I do. That's what a day in my life, as a Jesuit, looks like.

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