Three weeks ago I made my first and perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Interiorly I had been telling myself that there would be no public display of emotion. I wondered if some people would be put off. Would they understand that I had spent two years preparing for the vows I would now profess? If so, then it should be obvious that I had already been through the struggles, the joys, the discernment. I had spent countless hours in prayer, in retreats, in seminars, and spiritual direction. Everything that was to be experienced emotionally had been done. Now I would simply be declaring publicly what I was already living in my heart.
That’s not quite how it turned out. The moment came. I knelt before the elevated Eucharist as per the centuries-old tradition of the Society of Jesus. And that’s when it began to hit me. I was suddenly aware of my Lord before me and my family, friends, and my brothers in the Society behind me. And then (in French) I said the words:
Almighty and eternal God, I, Adam Joseph Lalonde, though altogether unworthy in your divine sight, yet relying on your infinite goodness and mercy and moved with a desire of serving you, in the presence of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and your whole heavenly court, vow to your Divine Majesty perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Jesus; and I promise that I shall enter that same Society in order to lead my entire life in it, understanding all things according to its Constitutions.I managed to get the words out clearly but I did choke up a bit. The importance of what I was doing hit me in a new way. Here I was publicly binding myself to my God through the Society. Paradoxically, here I was gaining my true freedom. Everything I did in the past two years was not exactly meant for this very moment. My training as a novice was meant to prepare for a long journey of formation after vows. And yet, somehow, this very moment captured and crystallized all I had done and all I had been through.
Therefore I suppliantly beg your Immense Goodness and Clemency, through the blood of Jesus Christ to deign to receive this holocaust in an odour of sweetness; and that just as you gave me the grace to desire and offer this, so you will bestow on me abundant grace to fulfill it.
The novitiate had begun the work of bringing me to the core of myself. I did not always like what I found, but always profited from the journey. The experience had me walk more than 350 kilometres as a beggar over a period of six weeks, simply to learn the meaning of the word “providence”. It had made me pass thirty-five days in silence on the Spiritual Exercises, simply to learn that I am somewhat-less-than-perfect but that God loves me anyway. It proved that my deepest desire is to follow him. The novitiate had me live in a l’Arche community for six weeks to learn how God’s love radiates from the humble, and society’s forgotten ones. It also had me live and work for five months with the Jesuits in Belize, Central America, to learn the humility of being in a new culture, a new country, and receiving far more than I was able to give. And all of this interspersed with countless seminars on everything from spirituality and social justice to understanding the Jesuit constitutions.
At the centre of all this were the vows. I, Adam Joseph Lalonde … vow perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience. At that moment, before the Blessed Sacrament, I could sum it up in one phrase: I vow to put nothing before you, and nothing before the mission you have given me. Take all you have given, Lord, I give it back.
Then, as I finished the last of the vow formula, I turned inwardly to Jesus, and in my own words said, “We both know you brought me here and that I still have a long way to go. And we both know how weak I am. As I continue trying my best I will still need you to do the rest.”
Adam Lalonde, S.J. is originally from Ottawa, Ontario, and is now beginning first studies in Toronto.