The Novice

January 16, 2023

The Novice, a film about Mikhael Ahmad, a young man at the start of his spiritual journey

Blog by Brother Mikhael Ahmad SJ

Everyone’s individual relationship and journey with God passes through different seasons. At times we experience periods of clear blue skies with gentle breezes whilst seemingly resting beside the still waters of life. On the other hand, most of us also know all too well those moments when dark clouds loom overhead. It feels as though the wind is deafening and due to the horizontal rain, all you can do is look down to make sure you keep putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, and steadily. And yes, one can experience every season of the year in a single day!

As I reflect on the past four months of transitioning from the Novitiate to being admitted to the Society of Jesus as a Jesuit Brother, I find this image both helpful and liberating. It is helpful because it is realistic. These experiences serve as a reminder of my constant need for God and God’s grace. They are also helpful as they provide fertile ground for new growth in faith, trust, and love. How many times recently I have doubted during difficulty, but each time I come through such periods being able to attest to God’s faithfulness, generosity, and goodness. I find it liberating because it teaches me about the concrete presence of God with us. There is freedom in knowing that regardless the circumstances, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the anchor, the rock, and the foundation by which I am kept firmly in place. He teaches me to be thankful and to savour the seasons of peace and calm, whilst holding me steady during the storm and gently reminding me - “I am still with you”.

How grateful I am then for these last four months, and each season that has passed by. Grappling with a new language has felt both hugely rewarding, and at times like I was drowning. It has taught me to celebrate the little victories as well as be more patient and kinder to myself. I remember the first time I used the metro here in Paris; I was feeling somewhat low that day and overwhelmed by all that had been going on. I arrived at my station, and when I was about to start descending a flight of stairs, I noticed a young mother, and her child in a pram. I plucked up the courage to ask her if she would like some help to carry the pram down, in French of course – albeit very broken! She was grateful for the assist and we both carried on our separate journeys. Oh my, what a sense of consolation I received! I found myself thanking God for the opportunity to simply do something for someone in the world, even if it was the tiniest act of charity. It was in this seemingly small event that I felt God showing me a part of myself and my vocation that flourishes when I am open to the invitation to help others. I had not realised quite how important “being there for others” was an essential part of who I was. I also had to acknowledge that if I was discerning and experiencing God’s presence acutely in these circumstances, it may well be an invitation to be of service to others in unexpected ways.

Another example that was deeply consoling for me was attending a boxing session at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Paris which is being run by a wonderful Canadian Jesuit with whom I live alongside in community. During the session, I noticed a young man who was quite shy and who had never participated in something like this before. He was struggling to get involved as naturally the more competent members got on and did their own thing. I felt a real desire to help him feel more included so offered to hold the pads for him whist he practiced some basic exercises. I experienced such joy being available and present to this young man, especially as he started to get into the flow of the session. To watch someone grow in confidence and to help build them up is a real gift. We could hardly communicate in a common language yet it was still super! It goes without saying that these experiences have been both formative and challenging. That is because there is also an invitation, intertwined within them, to be courageous and to put one-self “out there”. It does not always go as planned and there have been plenty of instances where it seemingly went wrong. However, the invitation is not to succeed but rather to be more open to God and freer about the outcome. For me, the aim is to try and respond in love in whatever way I can.

Naturally, a big transition has also been moving into a new religious community with a greater number of people. It is quite different from my time during the Novitiate. Each community has a slightly different rhythm, different responsibilities, missions and of course people! However, I am grateful for all that I learned and experienced from my first two years of religious life as it provided me a solid foundation for how to live in community well. One challenge so far is to ensure I maintain a good balance of involvement in community activities, spending time with my companions whilst balancing the need for creative solitude. Both are important and necessary for each individual in different amounts. We are of course not only companions of Jesus but also companions of one-another. I have found that it is in fact the community you live with that carries you through those difficult periods. Being open to receive the care, support and love of your companions, as well as to give it, is so important. There have been a number of days over the last few months that were truly difficult, days in which I felt like running for the hills. Of course, it is not always easy, we are all human at the end of the day. But it is your friends, your community that picks you up and carry you through.    

I am spending my first year in France getting to grips with the language and discovering more about the EOF (French Speaking Province of Western Europe). This means following structured classes in French initially whilst also getting involved with apostolates both locally and around different regions of the country. This will also lead to me commencing with further studies in theology in September, which I am really looking forward to. It is an experience so far that is broadening my horizons and opening up the world to me more and more. Certainly, it is challenging, but I feel God instilling in me perseverance and patience, as well as helping me to discover more of my true self. I look ahead with hope and wonder at what the Lord may lead me to next, yes amidst a little fear and trembling, but secure in the knowledge that God is ever present and labouring constantly for each of us.

If you are thinking about your place in the world, interested in exploring your vocation or calling, or want to know more about the Society of Jesus, please visit the vocations page on our website here.

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