“Community is not just a base camp from which we go out to study, teach and preach. It is there that we help each other to be companions of Jesus, to live out the vows you will shortly make. My prayer for you is that what you contribute to community and what you receive from community will enable a sharing in a deep way in the life of Jesus Christ and in his freedom to be at the service of all.”
So said Irish Jesuit Provincial Tom Layden in his homily at the First Vows ceremony for those in the Birmingham novitiate. Christian Keeley, Janis Melnikovs, Mark McDevitt and Geoffry te Braake took their vows in front of fellow Jesuits, family, friends and colleagues. And the Provincial recalled his own First Vows and what it meant to him to have people like that present.
“On my vow day, I felt a deep gratitude to my family for all they had given me”, he said. “We thank the Lord for the gifts of our families. We thank the Lord for our friends who have helped to shape us over the years.”
He also spoke about his misgivings in the months leading up to his first vows. “I wondered was this way of life really for me? Was I up to it? Did I have the strength and inner resources? I often questioned whether I had.”
His novice director suggested he bring these questions to prayer and in the Lord’s company he reflected on a General Congregation document on ‘Jesuits Today’, part of which read: “If we commit ourselves until death to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience,it is that we may be totally united to Christ and share his own freedom to be at the service of all need us.”
Praying over those lines gave him the insight “to take the focus off myself and to put it on Jesus Christ, on his work in me, on what he wanted.” Living the vows he realised, “was about a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ, about sharing in his mission at his invitation, empowered by his help and grace.”
The homily set the tone for a ceremony what was reflective, encouraging and joyful for all in attendance. You can read the full text here.