Sunday, 7 October 2012

How at Age 50 I entered the Society of Jesus and Never Looked Back

By Henk Van Meijel, S.J.

There is an old folk saying: If you want to make God laugh then tell God your plans for life. Each one of us has an image of ourselves which represents some aspects of our true being. Proper discernment for whatever one undertakes in life is thus important. First, one naturally has to pray and reflect, but also confide this to spiritual persons, for the simple fact that a spiritual director will see dimensions about ourselves that we cannot perceive. As a teenager in the Netherlands during the late sixties and early seventies I did feel a religious calling, but there was no one around with whom I could talk to about this. In time this calling seemingly died out. During this period, as in North America, the Church was in a great flux which caused many to leave religious life, and only a scant few to enter. I married and had three children.

Yet the call to religious life came back in my mid-forties. Increasingly, I had become more involved with community and church life, especially as my children grew up; there was more time to extend my first vocation—that of father—to the local church. This took place initially through the Knights of Columbus, then increasingly in youth ministry, to the point that my friends saw that my heart was more focused on my local parish of Holy Cross in Georgetown, Ontario than on my equipment repair business. As a parent I had to ensure that my growing children would get a proper education, but beyond that and the basic needs that it bought, money became meaningless to me. The less I cared about my income and the more I that I gave away, the more “my net worth” increased, to the point that I said: “Lord, I understand: you can have it all, use me according to your desire.” Looking back, I can see a natural progression from being attached to the “security” found in worldly possessions to the freedom of giving it all up in exchange for a real security found in our Creator. After placing my life into the hands of our infinitely loving Lord, the “impossible” began to become probable.

One evening, around the time that my youngest daughter Tracy was finishing high school and selecting a university, I was praying the rosary and I heard a voice speak. It told me to stop praying and to go to my computer and look up Jesuits. I only knew the Jesuits were a religious order in the Catholic Church. As I looked over their website, an image of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus came to mind. Just like those two disciples, I had seen and heard everything I needed to see and hear. However, like them I did not fully understand until Jesus broke the bread in their presence. As I looked over the website, Jesus broke the bread in my presence, so to speak, and I received a much greater understanding of my calling and about my tiny little place in salvation history.

Within weeks I had my first appointment with the vocation director who said: “Well I’ve heard of people entering who are a parent but you are the first one for me.” One of the things I do, he told me, is meet parents of prospective candidates. But in your case, I will have to meet your children and see how they feel about this. Thank God, Jason, Annie, and Tracy were on board because they had witnessed how my calling slowly was materializing. At the same time, in their great generosity they made a substantial sacrifice and commitment by the fact that I would often be at a great geographical distance from them. The Internet is a great tool for keeping contact but nothing surpasses a physical hug from a loved one. They knew that this contact, especially in the first few years of my formation, would be sparse.

If one has a true calling, it will be tested along the way, and God will also grant the insight and energy to fulfill it, no-matter the obstacles or what the naysayers may say. If doors are being closed then God just opens other doors, in ways which are beyond our understanding. That has been the story of my life so far.

Deacon Henk Van Meijel is presently finishing theological studies and is pastorally active in Wikwemikong, a First Nation community on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. He will be ordained a priest in 2013.

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