On hearing, accepting and being deeply changed

Geoff te Braake SJ in the garden of the St Ignatius London community

A young man standing with backpack on the edge of the sea surrounded by water

Before we read Geoff's story we offer up in our daily offering, our worries.

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It is now more than ten years since Ignatian formation became an important part of my life. I started going to Ignatian prayer days that included some input, time for personal prayer and small group sharing. I joined a Christian Life Community (CLC) group and then began meeting a spiritual director. However, this was not happening in a vacuum; I was simultaneously going through other changes that ultimately led me to accept that God might be calling me to religious life. The Ignatian formation facilitated the hearing and then acceptance of that call.

A deeply formative experience

These other changes mostly related to my objectives in life and how I live as a result. With hindsight many were related to the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and it was beneficial to have worked through some of them to be able to make my choice to apply to join the Jesuits. Before being accepted to the Jesuit novitiate I was asked to spend most of one year living and working in a L’Arche community. This was a deeply formative experience, although it confirmed that I could not live it permanently. I also felt and later experienced that I could not live the Catholic Worker life long-term, though that movement and the lives and writings of the founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin have also been profoundly formative for me.

Finding God in all things

One of the catchphrases in Ignatian spirituality is “finding God in all things”. I hope that I have been able to do that at least to some extent, especially reflecting on my life and the world around me. However, I feel that another important aspect of Ignatian formation is helping me find the general direction(s) which will lead me closer to God and to help find the specific path I can best, or at least better, take to move towards God by the way I live.

Give me the grace to love you, for that is enough for me. St Ignatius of Loyola. Image: bell tower at St Beuno's overlooking Vale of Clwyd

Life as a Jesuit novice

Some of the features of my Jesuit novitiate that stand out to me now are: the opportunity to do “experiments” or placements, including a three month stint with the London Catholic Worker; the opportunity to read, reflect, and pray; the experience of living a lifestyle that felt very different from my working-life routine and different from my Jesuit life since; a six week walking pilgrimage to Walsingham and Canterbury; a 30-day retreat following the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.

A powerful image for my long retreat was getting a clearer cosmic “map”; what seemed to be a clearer view of creation and God’s desire for us. The 30-day retreat comes near the start of the novitiate. It was in my vow retreat in the concluding weeks of the two-year novitiate that brought together many of the above-mentioned experiences and has remained the foundation for my life orientation in the last few years and continues to suggest the direction I would like to go and more importantly think God is calling me to travel.

I am not very good at whatever it is

After the novitiate my formation continued with philosophy and theology studies for three years. For the last couple of years my formation has been in the context of a busy university chaplaincy with several opportunities to give people individual direction in retreats.

The impression I have is that many of my experiences have shown me that I am not very good at whatever it is I am trying. Even retreat direction, which I will hopefully do more of and become better at, I do not feel is the thing I should be doing or that I do it particularly well. On the other hand, I feel my general sense of God’s desire for creation and the sort of world which would help us move in that direction has grown and developed significantly and in some unexpected ways. I believe that while radical changes are needed in the way we live, they are towards simplicity and closer attention to God because we need to find new ways.

Discernment with the Carthusians

This led me to take the uncommon step of making a two month discernment retreat at a Carthusian monastery. It is unusual but from the beginning of the Jesuit novitiate the Jesuit link with the Carthusians is referred to from time to time. The link goes back to the close connection between Ignatius and some of his companions and various charterhouses. My experience in the charterhouse is still relatively recent, but, it feels as though the formation value of that time has already and may yet be very significant for my life. However, whilst I certainly encountered God and felt an attraction to that life, I did not and do not feel that this is where I am being called and so the search continues.

May I allow myself to be deeply changed

The recent Jesuit general congregation (GC36) expressed a question that I have: why the Exercises do not change us as deeply as we would hope? My Ignatian formation is not slowing down; I hope it will continue to help me to find, hopefully without too many false steps, the evolving path of life along which God is calling me. May I find God throughout the journey. I pray that Ignatius will intercede for me, especially for the courage and perseverance to do what I am called to do as it becomes clearer even if not as unflinchingly as Ignatius when his leg was re-broken twice. Although the realignment needed in my life is probably not physical, nonetheless, it may well be at least as drastic. May I allow myself to be deeply changed according to my and God’s deep desire for God’s creation.

Geoff te Braake SJ

Go Deeper

The Mount street Jesuit Centre offer opportunities for you to explore and deepen your knowledge, experience and understanding of yourself, God and your place in God’s world. Visit the MSJC website >>

Watch Geoff tell his vocation story, and how the thread of Ignatian Spirituality weaves through it.

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