A Jesuit's Journey:
Fr. Jonathan Haschka, SJ, and
Fr. John Libens, SJ
September 3, 2014 – Does aging change your relationship with God? Does it transform your very identity?
These are questions many people deal with at various points in their lives; for obvious reasons, more so in the senior years. And Jesuits are no different.
Fr. Jonathan Haschka, SJ, superior at St. Camillus, explains, “Like many people in our culture, Jesuits have a lot of their identity wrapped up in what they do. When you’re teaching, for example, you can pat yourself on the back every day and say, ‘Look what I’ve contributed.’ So when our senior Jesuits come here, their identity is threatened. Most fear being unemployed.”
That’s why Fr. Haschka sees it as part of his job to convince these individuals who have given so much to others that they are still employed – praying for the Church and for the Society of Jesus.
Fr. John Libens, SJ, superior at Colombiere, adds, “The transition to a mission of prayer is easier for some of the men than for others. Once they make that transition, however, once they come to terms with their need to be here, they take their new mission very seriously. I recently overheard one of our elder Jesuits enthusiastically telling a couple how he prays for them.”
To a certain extent, the nature of their prayers has changed as well. Fr. Libens explains, “Our senior Jesuits continually talk of their prayers of thanksgiving that the Society and its benefactors have provided such a marvelous place for them at this stage of their lives.”
Fr. Haschka adds, “Ignatius insisted that gratitude be a bedrock of prayer. But in other communities, Jesuits’ apostolic work prevents overly abundant time for reflection. Here, Jesuits ponder the wonder of God’s work in their lives, and find themselves overwhelmed with gratitude.”
The movement of the Holy Spirit in this way also deepens these Jesuits’ union with God. “Among the men here, we certainly see a more intimate, more dependent relationship with God than in earlier phases of their lives,” Fr. Haschka explains. “What ultimately emerges is an enjoyment of God, on a simple level throughout the day, not just when it’s ‘time to pray.’”
These senior Jesuits’ relationships with other people have become more dependent as well. “I see a highly tangible outpouring of charity here,” says Fr. Libens. “While Jesuits almost always live in community throughout the time of their vocations, there is a heightened sense of community in these residences. Individuals offer each other their help and accept each other’s help (and Jesuits are not always good at that latter part!).”
“I think Ignatius himself would be very pleased that we are able to take care of our elder Jesuits in such a high-quality way – not to baby them or have them live in luxury, but to care for them with compassion and dignity,” Fr. Libens concludes.
S P I R I T U A L I T Y
Fr. Jonathan Haschka, SJ: “It’s tough to lose control over your life, but that’s often what happens with age. This passage from John 21 is helpful to us in coming to terms with that.”
17 [Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (NABRE)
Fr. John Libens, SJ: “When I’m preaching at a Jesuit’s funeral, I often cite Deuteronomy 30:19. It’s about choosing life, and that’s what these Jesuits have done – by living their lives to the fullest they can, in the Ignatian way, by paying attention to their great desires and making good choices.”“I call heaven and earth today to witness … I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then…” (NABRE)