Vow day with Chris Brolly SJ
Three young men gave a powerful witness to their faith and desire to serve by taking simple perpetual vows as Jesuits at the weekend. This marked the end of an exacting and inspiring two years as novices. Their experiences have been rich and varied.
Chris Brolly had been a Maths teacher in a Newcastle secondary school. He feels that his two years as a novice have been a process of becoming more human.
“The novitiate, gave me a chance to look back at my life and see how God has been working, and challenged me to be more vulnerable.” The key experience was the month in silence following the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, which he described as an experience of reconfiguring, of putting God at the centre.
An experience of similar duration and depth was the month-long pilgrimage across northern Spain, from Loyola to Manresa in the steps of St Ignatius without money. His eyes lit up when he remembered this month, “It was a brilliant experience, the Exercises confirmed that I was called to serve God, and in the pilgrimage, I became much closer to the Jesuits”. Having no money, the novices are asked to rely on the providence of God in their journey, often experienced through the generosity of strangers, something that St Ignatius did frequently. Chris kept a book of all the people who had helped and in Loyola, at the end of his pilgrimage he prayed through the book, “It was like repeating the pilgrimage in my heart and the gratitude kept pouring in.”
The varied experience in the novitiate includes other ‘experiments’. One was with Jesuit Missions in Wimbledon, creating resources on social justice for the schools. Three months with Irish Jesuit Peter McVerry alongside young homeless people in Dublin, was the time when he felt he tested his vows, 'I was moving from studying them to living the vows, working with some of the most marginal and needy people." Getting a sense of the great variety of work in a Jesuits life, at the same time he also helped the well-attended novena of Grace in Gardiner Street Church with 1500 people participating each day. " For me this was a confirmation for priesthood. Living in a working community also encouraged me, especially living with foreign scholastics and seeing how they were supported and that sense of the international society.”
And his advice for men following in his footsteps: "Be generous and give yourself fully to the process". For those toying with the idea of applying, Chris encouraged them to consider it seriously saying, " The novitiate is challenging but you will get to know yourself, deeper than you can ever imagine." He added that in the two years he had a taste of the universal church and the universal mission of Jesuits in Prague, Krakow, Spain, Ireland and Belgium.