Moment #1: September 1994, Holy Trinity Parish, Georgetown (Washington, D.C.)
More than one way of loving in the world
In the fall of 1994, I found myself in a transitional stage in my life. At age 29, I had left my first teaching job in Philadelphia after four excellent years and was enrolled in a couple of graduate courses in theology in Washington, D.C., as I contemplated the next step. One of the courses was at the Catholic University of America.
One afternoon en route to Catholic, I turned left off of Massachusetts Avenue onto Macomb near a prominent D.C. synagogue and immediately caught sight of a couple in their late 20s walking towards me on the left-hand sidewalk. The woman was pushing a stroller; the man was carrying a two-year old on his shoulders. It was only months later that I could put words to the experience, but the spontaneous sensation to the sight of that couple was if to say, ‘Wow. There’s an icon of love: mother, father, child. I want that for my life.’
The next day, I had a analogous experience of heightened consciousness, and it occurred just as spontaneously. This time, however, it took place at the weekday Mass at Holy Trinity parish in Georgetown. It happened at the point in the Mass when the priest elevates the consecrated bread and wine and speaks the words, “Through Him (Jesus), with Him, and Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours. Almighty Father, forever and ever.” As with the preceding experience of the couple, the insight did not come in the form of thoughts, but rather a compelling sensation of attraction.
Moreover, it was the combination of the words with the gesture – i.e., of holding aloft the bread of life – that spoke to my heart.
Reflecting on the experience in the days that followed, it seemed like Jesus was extending a parallel invitation to me—not by way of competition, but rather as an equally moving image of love. It was as if the Lord were saying, ‘Tim, you’ve always imagined the one way of loving (i.e., marriage). What about this way of loving (i.e., as a priest)?’
The fact of the matter was I had been thinking about this other way of loving in the world for nearly five months to that point. How could I not have, what with completely unexpected remarks slapping me up side the head’? Take for instance the morning back in May when an 8th grade student in my Spanish class asked me out of the blue whether the rumor was true that I was leaving Shipley to become a priest. (‘Say whaaaaat?!!’) And just in case one zinger wasn’t enough to get my attention, a month later a former girlfriend, when hearing me describe a particularly moving experience of Mass in Ithaca, New York, rolled her eyes and said, “We re not going to have to call you Fr. Tim some day, are we?”
Despite these external promptings, it took the juxtaposition of the symbol of the family triad with the symbol of the priest presenting the body and blood of Christ for the issue of vocational discernment to reach a whole new level. For if previously I was tempted to slough off comments about priesthood coming from the outside, now God was clearly speaking to me without words in the depth of my being. The ball was squarely in my court.
Moment #2: October 1995 (St. Paul, Minnesota)
“You did not choose me…”
From November 1994 until March 1995, I made a so-called ‘Come and See’ overnight retreat with no fewer than six religious communities in four cities—the Capuchins; Oblates of Mary Immaculate; Dominicans; Franciscans; Holy Cross Fathers; and Jesuits – as well as with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. It was a whole new world to me, for although my home parish was staffed by the Jesuits, and I had known several Holy Cross priests during my brief tenure at Notre Dame, on another level I still thought that a priest was a priest was a priest.
By May, Holy Cross was emerging in my mind as the most likely congregation, and indeed I took the initial steps to enter their candidate’s program. Then THE LETTER arrived.
The letter came from Fr. Bill Johnson, SJ, the president of the Nativity Jesuit Middle School in Milwaukee. I had met Bill in February during my ‘discernment tour’: In fact, when I came into his office he had my resume in his hands—hot off the fax machine from the vocation promoter in St. Paul—and was sitting with his feet up on his desk next to huge jars of peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of white bread. “Have a seat, make yourself a sandwich, and let me tell you about my school,” he said. Within twenty minutes Bill’s charisma had inspired me to make a verbal commitment to work at the school’s summer camp, while he also encouraged me to think about teaching at Nativity the following year.
Back to the letter. In it, Bill expressed some dissatisfaction with my decision to enter the Holy Cross program. “Maybe it’s sour grapes,” he admitted, “but what if you were to come to Milwaukee, teach at our school, and spend a year in spiritual direction prior to making a decision in favor of one or another order?” Granted, Bill had a vested interest in this Plan B. However, unbeknownst to him at the time when he penned the letter, the Holy Cross vocations director had unexpectedly put a hold on my application, such that I was open to precisely such an invitation. In fact, my disappointment over the Holy Cross decision was short-lived because Bill’s letter arrived a mere 48 hours later.
Taking the chain of events as an arrow pointing me in a particular direction, I moved to Milwaukee in June 1995, worked at the summer camp, and taught for a year at Nativity. Meanwhile, in October of that year, I flew to St. Paul for another visit to the novitiate of the Wisconsin Province. As it turned out, the first words out of one novice’s mouth sealed the deal for me to apply to the Jesuits.
Setting the larger context, a year earlier, in the fall of 1994, I pursued something of an independent Bible study by working my way through the Gospels and Pauline letters and writing down striking passages along the way. Among the words which spoke to my heart were the following from the Gospel of John: “You did not choose me; no, it was I who chose you, and I send you forth to bear fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). I suppose that the words had immediate relevance to my own situation, for I sensed that a new horizon was opening up before me and that it was happening swiftly and spontaneously and at someone else’s initiative. Now back to the weekend in St. Paul.
On Saturday night, I was among the eight visitors gathered in the living room of the novitiate to listen to the vocation stories of two novices—standard fare for the candidates weekends, i.e., what attracted the novices to religious life, etc. A 2ndyear novice named Mark Kramer was the first to speak. I recall thinking that I was already predisposed to like what Mark was going to say; after all, he had attended Notre Dame, my quasi alma mater, and Georgetown, located just across the street from my home parish. And then Mark began: “You did not choose me; no, I chose you.. ”
In an instant, my entire body relaxed, and as I settled happily into my swivel chair, I thought to myself: That’s it. That’s all the confirmation I need. Surely, I will be coming here in August. And so it happened.
My answer to the question -’Why did you choose the Jesuits?’ – has evolved over time. The simplest and most honest answer is that the Jesuits chose me, or better yet, God, acting through specific members of the Society of Jesus, invited me to follow him in this way of life, one which has born much fruit, and I pray will continue to do so.
(excerpt from Engaging the Head and the Heart: A Jesuit’s Intellectual and Spiritual Journey to the Priesthood by Tim Manatt, S.J., 2007; pp. 4-7)
Jesuit Formation: “Method to the Madness”
The weight fell from my shoulders one evening in mid-October 1994.
I was standing on a sidewalk in Washington, D.C., lingering in conversation with a diocesan seminarian outside his residence across the street from Catholic University. The simplicity of his words still strikes me: “You know, first I had to discern my way into the seminary. And now, at the end of each year, I have to discern and decide to continue on this path” Inside of me, there was immediate relief. For weeks, as I felt progressively drawn to the notion of the priesthood, I had been fretting over the length of formation, especially if I were to become a Jesuit. Ten to twelve years? Ordination at the ripe age of 42?
Yet here was the change in perspective I needed: Take it one year at a time. Sensible. Plausible. On the way home. my prayer was this: “O.K., Lord, I’m willing to give this a try.”
There’s no doubt about it: Jesuit formation does last a long time. Longer even than a brain surgeon’s training. What’s more, the first year of every stage in formation has seemed like at least two years to me, emotionally and psychologically speaking: the novitiate; philosophy studies at Fordham University; teaching regency at Red Cloud High School. I’ve had to pay some pretty high start-up costs at each new community and locale. So what’s the payoff to his lengthy process, you might rightfully ask. Let me tell you what I learned in the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2004.
Creighton University sponsors a program for rural health care and community development through the Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) based in the city of Santiago. With its co-founder, Fr. Ernesto Travieso, S.J. on sabbatical, I received an invitation to take part in the summer program for the second time in four years, this time in the role as chaplain to the group of 60 medical, dental, nursing, and pharmacy students and professionals, as well a handful of Creighton undergraduates.
I traveled to each village every two weeks with a diocesan priest to visit the teams and partake in the Eucharist with them. My role evolved to become a trouble-shooter and sounding board to the coordinators, and a spiritual adviser to a handful of participants. I also gave brief reflections on the Gospel in English at Mass. Meanwhile, back at the ILAC Center, I was invited to give a presentation on the history of Ignatius of Loyola and of the Jesuit Order to the staff of the Center, and presided at a Communion service for them in Spanish as well.
In an e-mail at the midpoint of the summer, I assured my family and friends that I felt as “alive and fulfilled as this Jesuit can be,” and compared myself to a pig rolling around in mud. No doubt, part of my joy flowed from the return to the Spanish-speaking culture, the ‘Republic of Baseball’ and red beans and rice. But beyond these personal loves, I look back and marvel at the relative ease with which I entered and carried out the ministry. Indeed, more than once I found myself wondering, ‘Where did I get all this?’
Where indeed! For when I made a brief inventory of the stories I told to individual students, the ways I structured prayer services, and the phrases I had used in breaking open the Word, it dawned on me: ‘Oh yeah, I got that insight about the Trinity from a fellow novice around the breakfast table in St. Paul; and that paradox regarding discipleship from a talk by Fr. Larry Gillick at Campion House in Omaha; and that notion of conversion from a lecture on Bernard Lonergan at Fordham; and that form of greeting from a Lakota ritual in South Dakota’– And many other ideas and images and inspirations from the simple fact of attending Mass on average 340 days a year for the last eight years!
In short, the payoff to the length of Jesuit formation emerges through exposure. Extensive and varied exposure to preaching, presiding, retreats, spiritual direction, individual and group reflection, intellectual endeavor, and dialogue, as well as exposure to the perseverance in religious life of Jesuits of all ages.
This lengthy and multifaceted exposure yielded a bountiful harvest in and through me during my 8th year in Jesuit formation. And not a year too soon, for I have begun the final stage of academic and pastoral training for the priesthood at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB).
Don’t get me wrong. I do not suffer from amnesia with regard to the struggles over the past nine years. In particular, at age 39,1 look forward to the end of my formal studies. However, use whatever expression you like—a heavy toolbox, a diverse repertoire, a deep ‘bag of tricks’-but one things for sure: the length of Jesuit formation bears abundant fruit. Indeed, it has equipped me to be a man of prayer, a representative of the Church, a companion of Jesus, a helper of souls.
(excerpt from Engaging the Head and the Heart: A Jesuit’s Intellectual and Spiritual Journey to the Priesthood by Tim Manatt, S.J., 2007; pp 99-101