Damian Howard SJ
I was born and grew up in the South of England. I joined the Jesuits after leaving university at the age of 23 and it took me nine years of training to be ordained a priest in Brixton in 1999, a moment which has always seemed like the high-point of my life. I have done a variety of different jobs since then: I worked as a curate in a vibrant parish, learning from more experienced priests and the People of God themselves what it means to serve as an ordained minister in the Church, preaching, offering the sacraments and praying for and with God’s children. I spent some years working in an amazing school in Glasgow where I discovered the joys (and occasional frustrations) of ministering to young people. And now I lecture in the University of London where I teach a variety of disciplines all centred on my main mission, the promotion of better relations between Christians and Muslims. It is demanding work which, frankly, seems way beyond my ability; one religion is more than enough for most of us but trying to understand two is asking for trouble. But at least it keeps me humble (or humbler, anyway). And as no Jesuit only does one thing, I also give spiritual direction, help out on the editorial board of the Jesuit on-line journal, Thinking Faith, offer days of reflection in our social centre (The Hurtado Centre) in East London, work with a group of young volunteers and am often to be found on a Sunday morning celebrating Mass in the parishes of Tower Hamlets.
No life worth living is without its trials and I can’t pretend that my Jesuit journey has been an altogether smooth ride; I could only have avoided the discomfort of growing by not growing up! But there is something about making the journey with fellow Jesuits and our many friends and co-workers, people who are honest, in touch with God and with themselves, generous and eager to serve others, interesting and, not infrequently fun, that makes me insanely grateful for having chosen this life, or, better put: grateful to God for choosing me in the way He has.
This year marks the point when I have spent half my life in the Society. It’s a strange rite of passage; it still seems like only yesterday that I pulled up, mother in tow, outside the novitiate in Birmingham. And yet it’s half a life time ago. What on earth did I think I was doing? I can scarcely recall. The reasons I joined turned out not to be that important. God has a way of luring you into a good thing without being totally up-front about what is in store (Matthew 20:22) and you slowly discover that your ideas weren’t rooted in reality anyway. And so you just have to keep choosing the life. Right now, that’s not too hard. I get up in the morning knowing that plenty of people are counting on my prayers. I have my breakfast with young companions who want to give everything to serve Christ and look to me for the occasional morsel of support. And I work all day doing what I can to bring two great religious communities just that little bit closer together in understanding and sympathy. It’s an astonishingly rich life in which God has shown me endless faithfulness and infinite patience. And if I’d read all this 23 years ago, I would have had no idea whatsoever who could possibly have written it.