Paolo Beltrame, second-year novice of the British Province, will be taking his First Vows on the 7th September, together with Matthew Tumulty, of the Irish Province. He reflects on his life and novitiate experience.
Perhaps you enjoy sailing boats. I myself am not able to sail at all. However, I find it beautiful and fascinating; in particular I like - watching! - the America’s Cup. For me it is an extreme, technological challenge that, essentially, uses natural resources: human coordination and strength and obviously the wind.
As in sailing boat regattas, the Novitiate can be considered as a careful, holistic –heart and mind – preparation for the real start. During these two years I have felt called and challenged to live profoundly collaborative activities, to nourish my spiritual life, and to enliven my attentiveness to discernment, the “good wind”, i.e. the good Spirit, as well as an awareness of approaching storms, in the form of the bad spirit. Similar to the pre-start of a sailing race, where the boats carefully prepare themselves for the regatta while already sailing, through valiant strategies, daring tackles, refined movements, so is the Novitiate. And all of that is just to get to the starting line; not yet the final achievement.
I have experienced during the Noviciate many important moments, but I will mention here only two.
The first was during the thirty-day retreat of the Spiritual Exercises. The figure of the crucified Christ, in terrible physical conditions, became vivid, smiling and singing – singing! – “Stand by me”. The call to fidelity and perseverance.
The other episode focuses on the mind-heart “tension”, an extremely colourful and enriching tension which is typically Jesuit.
Vincent was looking at the screen of the computer in front of him. The monitor showed the very popular picture of a black hole, the first one taken by humankind. Evidently enjoying the colours (the dark disk surrounded by the blurred orange halo) he said: “Fn… Fn… Funny…”. This is what he said, with his voice. “Funny”. I was right there, next to him. Next to his wheelchair, and I was trying to explain the picture he was looking at. In April 2019 I was on experiment at L’Arche in Edinburgh, where for six weeks I lived together with disabled people. Vinny was one of them, with learning disabilities, limited mobility capacities, poor speech abilities. Vincent found the image of the black hole “funny”. I rather found it exciting, enlightening several mysteries of our Universe which have always been fascinating me.
Nevertheless, that moment – the presence of Vinny and the other members of the L’Arche community – became all of a sudden a profoundly moving experience, a whisper, a clear sign that God, the One who created the Universe (along with this cosmic event 55 million years ago), is the same God who loves Vinny and loves all humankind, the same God who became human 2000 years ago, living and dying on this planet for a life of overflowing care and love for all people. God is the One who is shepherding the Cosmos and is the Baby in a manger; the God of the scientists, and the God of the young father drowned with his daughter dreaming of America, in June 2019. God is the God of the Universe and the God of Vinny.
Thanks to the Novitiate I have been called to a new sensibility, a ‘discreta caritas’, a discerning love, a “spirituality of the tension”, calling for growth, passionately and gently, with unexpected fruits. And there remains an unresolved question still floating in my heart and in my mind, a question filled with gratitude, and a cry of wonder: “Why do I deserve all this?”
Paolo Beltrame SJ