Mr. Keith Maczkiewicz, SJ
Back to School
When I was a novice, the question of my vocation seemed very clear: consider that God wants you to be here, as a novice, in this time, and in this place. It was a consideration I asked of myself early and often during those first two years of Jesuit life. Upon arriving in Chicago to begin my time of formation known as First Studies after my profession of vows, my attitude was decidedly different: put your head down and just get through this. It’s not an uncommon bit of advice that scholastics hear.
For much of my first year in studies I stuck by this mantra, and I became convinced that studying philosophy was a means to an end, that is, ordination as a Jesuit priest. Just get through, I thought. You can do this. Unsurprisingly, my first year of studies was a tough one for me. How will studying the Philosophy of Action help me with my interactions with the People of God? I found myself wondering. What’s the point of some of this? In retrospect, I realized why that first year was difficult: I stopped considering that God wanted me to be there, that God had something to reveal about God’s self, about myself, about this Jesuit life during this time of academic study.
As I entered into my second year of studies in August, I arrived back in Chicago with a new twist on my old novitiate mantra: consider that God wants to reveal some things to you while you are in studies. Having just had an experience of directing others in the 30-day Spiritual Exercises at a Jesuit retreat house in California over the summer, I was fully aware of God’s goodness, mercy and love in the lives of my retreatants. Somehow, making the leap to myself and applying it to this rather dry time of studies had eluded me that first year. I made a decision to be more intentional about looking—and asking God—for these revelations.
This semester, I was astonished to find myself much more at home here in Chicago: my chosen classes were comfortable and community life was welcoming and familiar. My prayer life was more regular, less harried. There was a sense of peace this year to be back in school, not one of resignation to some academic and formational inertia I had no part in. What accounts for the change? In retrospect, I can see that God alone had revealed things to me this semester about myself, about this Jesuit life and about God’s self; and while much has changed about my life in the Society, the foundation remains much the same.
As I grow into this Jesuit life, I have come to realize several things about myself: I’m much more sensitive than when I entered. I cry more. I feel more, which is a real gift. So too do I trust myself more, because I am constantly introspective about who I am and where I stand. I am growing increasingly comfortable in my philosophy classes, venturing to write on topics I find interesting and valuable, not just ones that will let me 'get by.' This semester I was affirmed in my skills and intuitions for ministry, working with students, adults, and homeless men in the context of spiritual retreats where I am consistently aware that the stories of the people I minister to are God's stories for us, and God delights in our participation in salvation history.
Much was revealed this semester in my Jesuit community, too. Familiar relationships from the novitiate have deepened while new relationships have formed, all combining to provide me with a great sense of being cared for and known. Indeed there is love here, love that I have, at times, been afraid to let in, or have been unable to name or claim in my life. "It's good to be with you" is a phrase that is used often among some of my community members, and I know it's authentic and reciprocal. I'm confident that this love among Jesuits enables me to be missioned, for this transparency is at the heart of our communal life.
Each day of this Jesuit life I further realize how imperfect I am--how sinful--and yet how loved I am by God. I am lovable; furthermore, I am beloved. Surely I learned this at various points in my life (and nowhere more intensely that on the Long Retreat), but I need to be taught this over and over in my life. Indeed, in the academic classroom and in the classroom of life, I am a slow-learner. But the reality is that God loves me here in Chicago, just as strongly as he did in Syracuse, NY, if not more. And God's call continues to resonate within me just as loudly as it did during those years as a novice. Indeed, God is here with the same message: be not afraid. With God's grace, perhaps that can be become my mantra for next year, and for all time: Be not afraid, for fear is useless.