Monday, October 03, 2005


As Rich notes in this post, first-year novice Chris Musiet left the novitiate on Saturday. Chris chose to depart after much discernment, and he goes forth in the good graces of and with the blessings of the community. For a number of reasons, I typically refrain from mentioning departures on this blog - in fact, I believe this is the first one I've mentioned specifically. Departures can be hard to be write about, both because they're difficult and painful events for a religious community and because the circumstances of each are unique.

Knowing that any of one's companions could leave - theoretically, if not practically, at any time - points to the inherent instability and uncertainty of religious life. Generalizing too much about how and why people leave is also dangerous - one can point to individual cases as examples of the 'right' or 'wrong' way to depart from religious life, but this doesn't mean the cases fit into neat and easily analyzed templates. On the part of those of us who remain, departures always raise questions that are difficult and sometimes impossible to answer - for months after someone leaves, we may still analyze the motives of one who left and try to pinpoint the 'signs' and 'turning points' that may have anticipated the individual's departure. The only thing I can say for certain on the basis of my own (limited) experience is that every case is different. In my time at Loyola House, I've seen six novices leave - three in the class ahead of me, two in my own class, and one in the class that entered this August - and the circumstances of each departure differed dramatically. Though the novitiate is a period of formation when departures are more likely, people leave religious life later in formation and even after they've been in vows for several decades.

Seeing good friends leave is something Jesuits, like all religious, simply have to get used to. And yet, even after only a year in the novitiate I suspect that seeing people leave will never get particularly easy. The only consolation I have found in all of this is that losing some of one's companions is a reminder of the spirit of mobility that characterizes Jesuit life. As men vowed to mission, we must be willing to go where the needs are greatest - even if we must leave behind people and places we love to do so. This kind of mobility can involve separation from Jesuit communities one has come to feel particularly attached to and means that the most proximate of one's companions are liable to change at times not of one's choosing. The departure of some community members - not simply those who choose to leave the Society but those who are reassigned to other works and communities - is another reminder of mobility. In many cases, you may be the person staying put while the people around you change.

The above is about as close as I've gotten to a general theory of departures from the Society of Jesus. As I observed at the outset, every case is different and one should try not to generalize overmuch. Nonetheless, the phenomenon of departures is significant enough to demand a spiritual response, and that's what I've tried to offer here. AMDG.


At October 04, 2005 6:39 PM, Blogger Steph said...

Another way to look at people departing from formal community life is the fact that the freedom is allowed to make that choice. As I point out when kids ask if I'm allowed to leave, I point out that "If I don't want to be there, I'd be miserable, and they don't want me if I'm miserable." It's like that song from Children of Eden -- "The Hardest Part of Love is the letting go." Or, as a good friend of mine says, "I have to feel free to leave in order to freely make the choice to stay."

Part of the discernment process, even through temporary profession, is trying to see if the life fits or not. I know in our community, it's a sad day when someone in formation decides to leave; but, at the same time, that's part of formation. That's why we take 8 or 9 years before we make the life commitment. At least then you know you gave it a try, and you leave the community knowing more about yourself than when you came.

It is hard, however, especially when it's someone you're close to, or someone you didn't expect to leave. And I'm encountering the same feelings of loss with all the cancer we now have in our community, and some of the unexpected deaths. And while Benedictines don't move around nearly as much as Jesuits, we still move out of each other's immediate circles sometimes.

While I was in the application process, there was a friend of mine that was questionable about whether she would go on with the process. Another friend who had just been accepted to the community then asked the key question: "If it will make a difference to you whether she enters or not, then you're entering for the wrong reason."

Yeah, the transitions are hard. But they do help us keep sight on why we're really here. And when it's someone who's been professed a long time and been very involved in community life, it's kind of a wake-up call, leading us all to reevaluate why we're here, and acknowledge that it's not an automatic for any of us. "There but for the grace of God go I."

It sucks, though .... good luck and blessings in the grieving.


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