Andrew is a Jesuit scholastic studying philosophy at Loyola University Chicago for future ordination to the priesthood.
by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: In understanding the vast ministry Jesuits are in charge of in our society, we’d like to hear your story. Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Andrew: Sure! I was raised in a fairly observant Catholic household. My father took my sister and I to church every weekend. Our family was a part of a Byzantine Catholic parish, so many of our traditions and our ways of celebrating the liturgy were different from a typical Roman Catholic church. There is more chanting, more use of incense, and more processions, for example. I was an altar server from a young age, and that definity had a powerful impact on my faith life. I had a special view into the liturgy, the church. Over time, I was able to internalise my faith so that it became an important part of my identity. We also had a youth group at our church, where we would gather, pray, play board games, and cook together. To me, I could really see God present and at work in this community, and that is probably why my faith continued to be so important to me.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school and college years in formation.
Andrew: I continued to be involved with my local parish, which was the biggest source of consolation for my faith life. We would go on these summer camp trips and meet up with other Byzantine Catholic high school students. My parents also got divorced, and my faith life gave me a lot of support and stability at that time. However, it wasn’t until college that I noticed real growth. Going to college was a chance for me to have more freedom, and in the beginning I used that to get closer to God. My faith life was no longer something only for Sundays or the weekends. I went to a Jesuit university, and I was able to go to daily mass. I was able to get a spiritual director who I could talk to about my prayer life. And in my second year, I became a resident assistant of a special program called Cura Personalis, where students interested in faith, service, and justice lived together and participated in special programming. We sang praise and worship songs on special prayer nights. We volunteered. One Christmas day, after going to mass, we served brunch to people in need. As I continued through my undergraduate years, my faith life and my relationship with God slowly began breaking through. I was becoming a more whole person, less compartmentalized.
Dr. Knight: After you went to college, you joined the Society of Jesus. How did you make that decision?
Andrew: I didn’t apply to the Society of Jesus until about five years after I graduated. While college was a time of spiritual growth, towards the end I was also becoming filled with a lot of religious doubt. I think a lot people go through that kind of experience in their twenties. Can I really believe everything the church teaches? Is God really real? I was taking a lot of philosophy classes, and this was challenging my unquestioned assumptions about my faith. So, when I graduated I decided to travel and I taught in Asia, in South Korea. This was a time of deep spiritual turmoil for me. I was isolated from my faith community, and in some sense I turned my back on God. I stopped praying. However, at the end of my first year abroad, I began to feel God calling me back to him. I learned to go to Jesus with my questions and my doubts. I was thirsty for meaning, and I started going to mass in the cathedral every Sunday. My last year in Korea, I even began working for a Christian school and I found a Catholic faith community called Unitas that would meet almost every week. These were young adults, some American, some Korean, and some from other countries. We would get together and discuss spiritual topics. Ultimately, I decided to come back to the United States. However, it was that last year that really confirmed my desire to apply to enter the Society of Jesus. I had found a job where my faith life, my personal life, and my professional life were all working together. I could see God at work in everything I was doing. I wanted to find a sustainable way of living out that kind of life, and I believe that desire was God calling me to the Jesuits. I began disercing with the Jesuits, and the rest is history.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a Jesuit. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Ignatius and Christ?
Andrew: Ignatius’ life was a long spiritual journey with many ups and downs. He had this big religious conversion after the Siege of Pamplona, where he was critically injured. Afterwards, he wanted to follow God, but he had all these misguided ideas of what that meant. What Ignatius learned is that if we are going to follow the will of God, we have to be incredibly good listeners. That is what obedience means, and it’s why obedience is one of the vows we take. I may have an idea of what God wants, but if I am not listening to God then pride or ego or vanity will lead me to wrong decisions. A big part of Jesuit spirituality is the discernment of spirits. Is it the Spirit of God that is speaking to me, or is it the bad spirit trying to deceive me? For Ignatius and for myself, a big part of my spiritual life is following Jesus in his poverty. Jesus was God, but He came down to be with us in our humanity. He entered into our poverty. We are called to imitate that kind of real, material poverty. Although I am no saint, I am drawn as a Jesuit to work with and for people on the margins. Sometimes this is as simple as volunteering at a soup kitchen or social service center. Other times this involves looking at legal documents that make it harder for governments to provide for their citizens or for refugees. However, even with this kind of “secular” work, I think a Jesuit is at his best when he is “sacramentalitizing” it, that is bring Jesus into those places through his very presence.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Andrew: The first stage of formation is the novitiate, where we get to spend a lot of time in prayer. Growing in awareness and interior freedom were major graces that God gave me. I learned to see myself as God saw me and let go of a lot of spiritual baggage I was carrying. I am still a work-in-progress; I think we all are. However, I was able to come to see God and Jesus as companions on a journey rather than an end or destination. When we pray the examen, we always start with gratitude. Gratitude was very important for Ignatitus. Discernment begins by recognizing the great gifts God has given us. As Jesuits, we believe that we were created to love and serve God. Discernment is also about learning to see the obstacles that are standing in the way of entering fully into that relationship of love and service. Sometimes, it can be concrete such as an attachment to our creature comforts. I know this because I am a coffee addict. However, there are also more insidious things that keep us from entering fully into that right relationship with God. Maybe it's some ideological idea or presumption I have about the way I think the world should work. “My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord. I think sometimes discernment is like that. Other times, it's about listening to your God-given desires. God is the one who gives us desires, and they too can be a grace to be used for His Greater Glory.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Andrew: I like mosaic art. The idea with mosaic is that even if a tile is broken or cracked it can still be used in a different way. Sometimes we don’t recognize all the gifts God has given us. For me, prayer is about recognizing those gifts. That’s why we give thanks to God during the mass and throughout the day. He has given us so much. For me, there are two types of gifts I am grateful for. I am grateful for the talents I have been given and that I can use them. I have grown as a teacher. I have grown as a public speaker. I have grown in my knowledge of various places and cultures. These are all gifts I can use for God, gifts I can give away. However, I am also grateful for the gifts God has given to me in the form of people and places and experiences. I have been able to get to know many students and accompany them as they grow and learn. I have been able to love people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. I have been able to see majestic natural wonders. And the only response to all these gifts is to offer them back to God, that is to bless them, to recognize them as God-given and holy. Even the people in my life who I don’t think of as especially devout are holy to me, because God has made Himself present to me through them in countless ways.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a Jesuit? About living in community?
Andrew: I think I want people to understand the reality of living in a religious community. We are living, breathing people, who eat and sleep and get tired and laugh and have fun. If the Jesuit community could be summed up in one word it would be “support.” When I am in need, such as when I needed a ride to the airport, my Jesuit brothers were there. When my father died two years ago, I received hundreds of cards and emails from Jesuits offering their condolences. Our community has a COVID outbreak last year, and while some of our brothers were quarantined in bed the other ones prepared meals and took care of whatever they needed. Just as I have been supported, I also offer support when it’s needed. If I see one of my brothers looking down in the dining room, I might sit with him and listen to what he’s going through. If my Jesuit brother needs help moving furniture then I take a break from my homework to help him do it. We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, as a community. We also pray together everyday, and that is a source of stability and support for me throughout challenging times.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?
Andrew: I think “division” is one word that’s coming to mind. This is nothing new, of course. Think about Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that all his disciples be one. Think about how St. Paul is concerned with divisions in the churches he’s writing to. I think our Church is divided today for a variety of new reasons. I don’t really want to get into them. However, if you look at Jesus, it is clear that his ministry was about reconciling the estranged person to the community of believers. He called sinners. He went to foreign places. However, we are not as comfortable today with the blurred lines that Jesus was comfortable crossing. Jesuits historically have struggled to proclaim the truth and keep the Church united in the face of both worldly enemies and spiritual enemies. I hope that we can continue to do that in the future, because division is certainly a big challenge facing our church.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a Jesuit follower of Christ?
Andrew: It’s small joys. Praying for sick Jesuit brothers has been incredibly consoling. Also, the work that I’ve gotten to do with other Jesuits has been very joyful. When I was a novice, I did apostolic work as a chaplain at a hospital. One of my Jesuit brothers and I would drive to work and back often talking about the meaningful encounters we had with sick and dying patients. It may sound strange to talk about sickness and joy in the same sentence, but there’s something there. I also experienced a lot of joy working as a Jesuit novice in elementary and middle schools. For one semester, I would go to a local elementary school in Syracuse, NY and teach the students about the gospel. Then I went to Brooklyn, NY to teach middle school students at our nativity school, Brooklyn Jesuit Prep. In both cases, just being around the students and hearing their stories filled me with a lot of energy and joy. Although I was there to teach them, they have also taught me a lot about what God is like.
Dr. Knight: As a Jesuit scholastic what does your day look like and what are your duties?
Andrew: As a Jesuit scholastic, I am expected to have a daily prayer routine. This involves private prayer, the twice daily examen, and daily mass. The examen is a hallmark of Jesuit spirituality , which I would encourage everyone to pray at least once a day. I am currently enrolled in a graduate program for social philosophy. This is what I have been missioned by the Society of Jesus to do. Sometimes studying can be a very cerebral experience and not spiritually nourishing. However, Ignatius writes in a letter to the Fathers and Brothers Studying at Coimbra that when a scholastic is doing his studies and growing in virtue he should know that no activity is more pleasing to God. Besides the academic work, we younger Jesuits still do apostolic work. For example, this spring I am connected to Arrupe College, a junior college for students in need, and I will be co-teaching a seminar on Jesuit spirituality. I also help lead a faith sharing group at Loyola University Chicago where students of various religious backgrounds can come together and talk about their faith lives. Other Jesuit scholastics are also doing amazing work including prison ministry, ecological education & spirituality, homeless outreach, and faith formation at various primary and secondary schools.
Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the Jesuits do for us all.