Christopher Brolly SJ
"So you work in a non-Catholic school for reasons of faith ? That’s a very Jesuit thing to do !" This was the throwaway remark that changed the direction of my life and began the journey into the Society of Jesus.
I was born in Hexham, Northumberland and raised in a Catholic family in the north east of England. My faith, although always being a constant presence, never played a central role in my life until my early-to-mid-twenties. At this time I found myself far away from home, teaching English in a secondary school in Dakar, Senegal.
With Senegal being a francophone country I knew that, to stand a chance of understanding what was going on at mass, I would need my English missal (a present from my grandparents for my first holy communion in 1996 which I hadn’t looked at much since then). For the first time in my life, as I read scripture I felt God’s word truly speak to me and my circumstances, piercing through the confusion in my life with relevance. In particular, St Paul’s letters stood out as an invitation to ‘convert’ my way of being, offering meaning to areas of my life that were underwhelming or even empty.
As I followed these words, I found a gospel message which intrigued me in the way that it seemed to contradict all of the messages contemporary society told me would make me happy : give yourself away in service of others rather than putting yourself first, treat others as brothers and sisters rather than as competition or as a possession to be used, live a simpler, modest life rather than wrapping yourself in possessions and comfort. This intrigue grew into wonder as, upon trying to ‘live-out’ these values, I found myself happier than ever, accompanied by a deep sense of joy and fulfillment that I had not experienced before. I now know to call this feeling ‘consolation’ and to put down this counter-cultural reasoning as the mystery of faith, the logic of the cross.
My attempts to put Jesus Christ first, to live out my life closer to His example, led me to a young adult prayer group back home in Newcastle, where the above-quoted conversation took place. At the age of 26, this was the first time I had ever heard of the Jesuits. I went home to look-up what my friend’s compliment meant and discovered the story of St Ignatius of Loyola, his own conversion process and the inspiring life-stories of the Jesuit saints, his ‘companions of Jesus’, who shared and followed this desire to re-orientate their lives for the greater glory of God’s will and no longer for their own.
A year later I arrived at the novitiate, Manresa House, Birmingham. Over the next two years, when not taking part in the daily life and study cycle of the novitiate, I would undergo many experiences : I made the thirty-day prayer retreat, the Spiritual Exercises. I walked a 250-mile pilgrimage in Ignatius’ footsteps, begging for food and accomodation between Loyola and Manresa. I ran a prayer group and animated the weekly mass in a local prison, as well as spending three months learning from the inspirational Irish Jesuit Peter McVerry SJ at his Dublin drop-in centre for men and women who are homeless. Overall, I describe this two-year period as a process of becoming more human. Amidst the experiences I learned how to deepen my relationship with God in prayer, helping me to embrace the invitation to become more vulnerable and humble. The novitiate was even richer for going through the journey alongside six other novices in my year group, each experiencing his share of the necessary difficulties and liberating joys.
On 2nd September 2017 I made my first vows in the Society of Jesus, moving from being a ‘novice’ to becoming a ‘scholastic’. I am currently studying philosophy at Centre Sèvres, Paris alongside fellow Jesuits in formation from around the world. Despite this unexpected yet exhilirating journey I find the time to keep up some personal interests, mainly playing football, running, enjoying music, discovering Paris and, of course, allowing myself to be permanently disappointed by the latest result of Newcastle United. I also try to find the time to keep a blog (In Formation) in order to keep my friends and family up to date and to continue to share the experiences of Jesuit formation and the way in which I sense the Holy Spirit continuing to work in my life.