By Matthew Donovan, SJ
My vocation to the Jesuits initially unnerved me. One clear winter morning, a simple question floated into my consciousness: “Why not a Jesuit?”
It was not a priestly vocation that surprised me; priesthood seemed reasonable. Since I was a child, God has always been my life’s rock, giving meaning, direction, and purpose. The priesthood, where I might be of some help to others on their journey with God, seemed like a natural response to God’s love. That question I was comfortable with.
But a Jesuit? I could think of a million reasons why not a Jesuit. I didn’t particularly like high school, and Jesuits teach in high schools. I am not particularly academic, and Jesuits have doctorates. I am not particularly adventurous, and Jesuits are a missionary order. I couldn’t see myself in those roles. It felt like a remote possibility, one that would entail great reaching on my part. But that quiet question never went away. It required investigation. So, over the next few years, I got to know the Jesuits.
It turns out the Jesuits are not who I thought they were. While many Jesuits work in high schools, many do not. While many Jesuits pursue an academic career, many do not. While many Jesuits serve as missionaries, many do not. What I learned is that Jesuits are not defined by the work they do; they are defined by their relationship with Jesus Christ. The high school teacher teaches because he loves Jesus. The academic pursues truth because all truth is but one expression of the fullness of truth in Christ. And the missionary’s sense of adventure is compelling because it is Jesus Christ who is the prize found in every human heart. Jesuits are men who have encountered Jesus, experienced his friendship, and who live out the conversion that heal ways brings. Any work you see Jesuits doing flows from and back to Jesus.
Jesuit formation has been an invitation to grow in my relationship with Jesus. The great irony is that the more I give myself to this life, the freer I become. Each of those areas of work that seemed so remote and far away become invitations to know Christ more. Knowing Christ, I am strengthened to do the things that scare me the most. Since entering the Jesuits, I have taught high school for three years, studied philosophy and theology for even longer, and served in one of the most remote regions of India.
I have been a Jesuit for over eight years now, and, after serving at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, I began my theology studies in preparation for ordination in a few years. What began as a far off, isolated question that seemed to require a great reaching on my part, turns out to have come from deep within my soul, pointing me outward to Christ incarnate in the students I teach, the inmates I visit, the Jesuits I have come to know, love, and journey with. It is a good and full life.
In all this, what have I discovered? The trick of God is that my own salvation—my search for happiness and fulfillment which is at the heart of anyone’s vocation—is inextricably tied to the salvation of those I am privileged enough to accompany. So, why not a Jesuit?