By Mukti Clarence, SJ
Lebanon, the fascinating country where I spent six healing months, is an icon of Christian faith and hope in the troubled Middle-East. It is a place of vibrant spiritual heritage, spirit of ecumenism and secularism, although it has become a place of constant conflict. A Christian environment dominates many pockets of Lebanon. Church steeples with crosses or statues of Virgin Mary are seen across the country. Many may not know that 30% of Lebanon’s population are Maronite Christians and the President of Lebanon is always a Christian.
Currently, for many reasons, Lebanon is going through a highly challenging period of its history. Its currency is fast becoming worthless. Fuel and essential commodities have become highly expensive. The power supply is irregular. Politics is paralyzed. The local people are losing hope. Surprisingly, this bleak scenario did not affect my tertianship in any way.
Actually, my Province wanted me to go to Dublin, Ireland for my tertianship. But I couldn’t get a visa to Ireland in time. The president of the European Jesuit Conference suggested that I apply for the Lebanon Tertianship program and the Provincial of Ireland agreed to support me financially. This is how I landed in Lebanon for my tertianship.
The Jesuit house is at Bikfaya town, situated at an altitude of 900 meters, about 45 minutes from Beirut, the capital city. It has a pleasant, moderate weather across the year. This house is the oldest residence of the restored Society in the Near-East province, where earlier missionaries used to learn Arabic.
Fr. Dany Younès, former Provincial of the Near-East Province, is the tertian instructor. He is a Lebanese with a Ph.D in theology. Being a former Provincial, he has a rich experience and a broad vision. He is both a man of head and heart. We were nine tertians, coming from India, South Africa, Rwanda, Congo, Poland and France.
I began my Jesuit tertianship in Lebanon in September 2021, after having been a Jesuit for 21 years and a priest for 7 years. I confess that I needed this time for my renewal, because I had started feeling I had no energy. My priestly ministry had become a routine, mechanical work. The inner longing for the divine and prayer were slowly snuffing out, and the meaning and purpose of my life was getting blurred. Therefore my tertianship came at an appropriate time.
I think I gained in these three areas:
Identity: My tertianship helped me discover my identity. Exploring one’s identity includes seeing oneself through the eyes of God and acknowledging one’s vulnerabilities and appreciating one’s strengths. So it entails both psychological and spiritual dimensions.
I prayed over ‘the appraisal report’ gathered from different companions of mine. I met with the tertian instructor frequently. I shared a lot with a tertian companion. In addition, sustained periods of silence, reflection, contemplation, spiritual reading, and various classes and sessions helped me pinpoint my identity. Now, I can confidently say that God constructs my identity, and I respect His making.
The Jesuit house is at Bikfaya town, situated at an altitude of 900 meters, about 45 minutes from Beirut, the capital city.
I pondered how I relate to myself, God, others and nature – how I give meaning to my dignity and self-respect – how I realize my commitment to my religious call and apostolic responsibility – my goal and origin – my moral compass, personal beliefs, desires and character. I came to see that my identity is that I am a loved sinner and so my entire life should be a response to His love.
Intimacy: My tertianship increased my intimacy with God and my beloved Order. Intimacy refers to the feelings of closeness, connection, care, belonging, trust, safety, affection, and ease among many. My long retreat, daily schedule, meaningful liturgy, prayer hours, and long walks accompanied by a meaningful conversation with companions helped me get close to my Lord and my God. I experienced God as someone very personal and so prayer became easier and tastier.
I discovered different modes of prayer from the books of Frs. Anthony De Mello and James Martin. Silence, Lectio Divina, meditation, contemplation, the examen, gratitude exercise, mindfulness, Vipassana, petitionary prayers and ultimately simple conversation and pouring ones’ heart to God helped me realize that my Lord is a loving and compassionate God, and he wants me to be the same. The 4th Week of the Spiritual Exercises confirmed my God-image, who is full of love and wants to remain in communion with me and others. I realized also that love inevitably includes justice.
Regular classes on the Jesuit history, Constitutions, spirituality and autobiography of Ignatius and his letters made me wonder how fortunate I am to be a member of such a wonderful group of men. I felt blessed to have chosen such a Congregation. Reading about the Jesuit saints and the Blessed filled my heart with a desire to be true to the Jesuit legacy. I felt the urge to become a fire that kindles other fires for God and his people.
Integrity: The challenge to become an integrated person was one of the persistent topics of our discussions during the tertianship. I always looked up to some of my fellow Jesuits who were integrated people, in whom no contradiction was found. They walked the talk. During my tertianship I realized I could try to live an integrated life, despite frequent failures. Our deliberations explored the relevance of an integrated life at personal, community, apostolic and governance levels. We realized that when integrity is absent we lose credibility. The last six months of my tertianship in Lebanon helped me experience inner freedom. This period of formation has made me believe I could hear God’s voice, experience his joy and love, and therefore live my life working for the poor and the marginalized. I will always look back on these six months I spent in this historically significant and beautiful country of Lebanon with joy and gratitude.
Mukti Clarence, SJ is a Jesuit priest of Jamshedpur province, India. He teaches at XITE College, Jamshedpur and holds a Ph.D in Psychology. Currently, he is doing his tertianship in Lebanon.