A Heart on Fire:
Garrett Gundlach, SJ
Thus began my “discernment,” a scavenger hunt that sent me running through college, Spanish and theology studies, a semester in El Salvador, poetry, service, late-night Masses, and spiritual conversations with friends and mentors. Some days, I daydreamed of life as a Jesuit priest, giving my whole day’s work and whole heart’s love to God. Other days, Jesuit life seemed crazy compared to marriage and family. As a postgrad Jesuit Volunteer in Portland, I felt another tide turn within me, and with a sense of surrender and possibility, I applied to the Jesuits.
I remember the high school immersion trip that jump started my relationship with God—a God who suddenly felt so close. I remember the hope and the thrill of asking new questions when I got home: “What if I went ‘all in,’ surrendering my next steps to God’s desires?”
Fast forward to 2016. It is Monday morning. I open Red Cloud Indian School’s campus ministry office. Five minutes later, two students are napping on the office’s couch, while another strums a ukulele. Soon, another student arrives to discuss the new Star Wars movie.
Even with the “SJ” after my name, things can feel pretty ordinary. Monday mornings are still Monday mornings. But as a Jesuit, I know to look below the surface; after seniors hustle to lunch following our faith and justice class, I kneel to pray and unpack the morning. At Red Cloud High School, we call this “Give God Five.” Jesuits call it the Examen, a prayer that helps us recognize God’s extraordinary behind-the-scenes work in life. A few minutes later, I am reenergized and ready for the second half of the day.
The Examen is a small but poignant example of why Jesuit formation is so long—there is simply so much to learn about balancing work and prayer. Six years in, I am a Jesuit regent working as a teacher and campus minister at a Lakota-Catholic high school in South Dakota. I will be here for three years before (God-willing) studying theology in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.
One step at a time, though; I can only do what I do now because of my two years as a Jesuit novice and three years as a philosophy and social work student: there is so much to learn.
Who knows how this step will prepare me for the next stages of my Jesuit formation. For now, I just count my blessings as they come into my office Monday morning.