Month: February 2015

George Williams SJ, Catholic chaplain, San Quentin State Prison

Photo courtesy of George Williams SJ

Photo courtesy of George Williams SJ

I first knew of George Williams from the beautiful, shocking article he wrote about prison chaplaincy for The Jesuit PostI wrote him an enthusiastic email, and he very kindly agreed to speak to me over the phone. NB: This was only the second interview I conducted for Project SJ, and the first with a total stranger, so please excuse any slightly silly questions!

When did you first feel the call to the religious life?

I actually remember it clearly. I was a second lieutenant in the Air Force, and my first assignment was at a Remote Radar station in Alaska. I remember walking down—they call them Arctic Hallways—corridors between the buildings for when it’s too cold to go outside. So I’m on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, in Alaska. I still remember walking down this hallway and asking myself: Is this really what I want to do with my life? There must be more to life than this. And at that point I just said to God: Show me what you want me to do. And then, soon thereafter, I met a Jesuit priest who worked in the Native Alaskan villages in the interior of the state. I was impressed with his sense of humour, his devotion to the people he served, and thought to myself, “I’d like to be like him.” That was what prompted me to look into applying to the Society of Jesus.

So the first impulse was to become a Jesuit? That was the first point of contact?

I grew up Catholic, and I knew diocesan priests and liked them, but when I met the Jesuits there was something about them that really resonated with me. I think it was their sense of openness and their sense of humour. I also was impressed with their sense of purpose and mission in life, dedicating themselves to serving God and humanity. So from that point I was really pretty clear about being a Jesuit. I looked into a few others, like the Maryknoll Missioners, because I was interested in missionary work as well.

Did you imagine at that point that you might end up in prison chaplaincy?

No, I had absolutely no idea. Prison work was the last thing I would have been interested in at that time. In fact, I think I would have been horrified by the thought at that time.

So how did you first come into contact with it?

When I was a novice, we did a number of placements in different areas—what they called experiments at the time. Basically you’d get to experiment with different types of ministry.

The idea was to expose ourselves to experiences that would stretch us beyond our usual comfort zones. I read the comments a novice had written a few years earlier when he did a prison ministry ‘experiment’—and it sounded terrifying to me! So I figured it was something I should try to face. I  wasn’t expecting to enjoy prison ministry at all. I was surprised, when I first went into the prison, how much I enjoyed the interaction I had with the inmates and with the chaplain, and discovered that I really felt drawn to this ministry. It also seemed to fit what I had been seeking—a way to minister to and with the poor and the marginalised people in our society. And where else but prison can one find such a concentration of poor, rejected and despised people?

Do you feel that your Jesuit identity and spirituality equip you well for this kind of ministry? Is it easier for you in some ways than it might be for a diocesan priest?

It isn’t an either/or. Going to the margins is part of the Jesuit ethos, and the Spiritual Exercises are very useful in my work. But a lot of it’s about personality, and being cut out for prison ministry and attracted to that kind of work. And yet Ignatian spirituality has a lot to offer prisoners. So, while on one level the training I’ve received is very useful, it goes deeper: to charism, and being suited for the job.  Ultimately it is a grace—I have met priests and brothers and sisters from many religious communities as well as diocesan priests who were superb prison chaplains. I think prison ministry does speak to the heart of what it means to be a Jesuit, though—in fact, St. Ignatius described ministering to the imprisoned in the founding documents of the Society of Jesus, long before he thought about education and schools. So it is part of our charism.

And you live in community, is that right? 

I live at the Berkeley Jesuit School of Theology community, about twenty minutes from San Quentin. I chose to live there because I wanted to invite the lay and Jesuit theology students to San Quentin to do prison ministry. Especially the lay students, because I think that, in this country, that’s the future of prison ministry.

Do you find that living in community gives you a certain strength for your work?

Absolutely. My Jesuit brothers are supportive of my work, and it’s nice to come home to a place where I’ll be around like-minded people. I try not to talk about it too much, though, because people don’t want to talk about serial killers over dinner. It would be hard to go home and be alone to process everything.

I imagine that living in a theology department, around people doing a different sort of work, might also be good in terms of giving you some mental space.

It’s good to be around people who aren’t doing the same thing. The drawback is that I’m around people who teach theology, and that’s pretty much all they talk about. But I find that the students are more open and curious about different kinds of ministry. I think it’s important for them to be considering this kind of work and not focusing solely on academic careers.

It seems quite in keeping with the Jesuit ethos: pushing people a little beyond their boundaries, out of their comfort zone.

I think it’s very important for people in formation, whether lay students or Jesuits, to have the opportunity to do something that’s going to take them beyond their comfort zones.

I’d like to go back to an earlier point: that moment when you were walking along the Arctic Hallway. How would you explain that feeling of being called?

I think it was more of a sense of invitation. It wasn’t like a clear call to “go, become a Jesuit.” I was just asking God for meaning in my life and for his guidance in finding a way to use my life to be of service to others. In a way, it was like asking God to show me the way. And so the sense of calling really played itself out over the next couple of years, as it became more and more clear that that was the direction. It wasn’t like a lightning bolt, it was more like being gently guided toward a new way of living.

I suppose this is what discernment means, isn’t it?

Yes. I guess it started with me asking the question, and then waiting for the answer to become revealed to me in my life.

And how did you imagine that your vocation would play out? Where did you see yourself at the beginning?

Because I had met the first Jesuits in Alaska, who were missionaries for the most part, I imagined myself working in the missions somewhere, either in Alaska or overseas. Because I like to travel, I guessed I’d be a missionary. I saw myself working in places where there was poverty.

What would you say is the driving motivation of your work at San Quentin?

I think there is a sense of a real call to this work, and the overall experience I have is one of gratitude. Every day I go there I am reminded of God’s power: not only at work in my life, but I see it played out in the lives of the men and women I’ve met in prison and through their struggles. There’s just a tremendous feeling of being in the presence of God’s grace, ironically in such an awful place as a prison.

In an article for The Jesuit Post [see header], you wrote about the experience of working within a system you describe as “demonic”, and posed the question of “cooperating with evil”. Could you elaborate on how this question interacts with your faith, and with the connection with the people you meet in prison?

I think it’s a challenge when you work within an institution and are paid by the State. There is an inevitable conflict between our fundamental religious beliefs in the value and dignity of every human person and the dehumanising environment of contemporary American prisons. It seems to come down to the difference between those who believe people are basically good and can always change, and those who believe people are fundamentally flawed and evil and cannot change.

Prison brings out the worst in prisoners, and that doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you really want to rehabilitate people. So what we end up creating are breeding places for cruelty, pain, suffering and anger. They are, in a sense, demonic strongholds in that they model a hellish, hopeless world. The prison system is a reflection of our society’s lack of compassion and also mirror the racism that lies under the surface of our culture. And I think the result of that lack of compassion and that indifference is a lot of people suffering, and it’s unnecessary. In the United States, a lot of what goes on in prisons is a reflection of issues of racism in our culture, because the number of people of colour in our prisons is so disproportionate. So I think that things like racism, sexism and oppression are all played out graphically in the prison system as well.

I suppose that, for the majority of the population, those things are quite literally shut away. They simply don’t see them.

Exactly. I don’t know who said it, but I think it’s true—the opposite of love isn’t hate, the opposite of love is indifference. I think that’s pretty much the public attitude towards the prison system: indifference to what goes on in prisons.

Do you feel that part of your calling is also to communicate that to the outside world: through your work with the theology faculty and through your writing?

Yes. That’s my hope. I may not stay in prisons full-time, but I would certainly like to devote time to use some of my experiences to educate people, not only about what prisons are like, but what our response ought to be as Catholic Christians.

And how do people respond when you tell them what you do?

Often I get asked the question “Why are you in prison?” as if I’m there because of some sort of punishment, or I couldn’t do anything else. And historically, prison has been kind of a dumping ground for dysfunctional clerics and religious. But I see it as a great grace and opportunity. So I think that what people are saying is: “Well, why would anybody choose prison ministry?” Especially if you’re a Jesuit, because you’re smart, and you’re supposed to be teaching at some prestigious college. And that’s fine, if that’s what people feel called to, but I don’t feel called to that. It’s clear to me that my calling is to minister to the imprisoned.

So in a way you’re countercultural, even within the structure of the Catholic church.

I think it’s very much so. Prison ministry is a countercultural statement. Because what we’re saying, against the culture, is that these people have value and the culture’s saying they don’t. And I’m saying that if they don’t have value, then none of us do. I think that each one of those who ends up in prison, no matter what they’re in here for, is valuable and loved by God. Human beings deserve being treated as a human being.

What does the Jesuit identity mean to you?

The Jesuits… we have all kinds of sayings. Ignatius talked about “finding God in all things,” and I really think that the gist of what I feel drawn to in the Jesuit character is that we are able to be men of open minds and critical thinking, to look at the world the way it is and really to engage with it instead of running away from it. It’s about the desire to be in dialogue with the world around us, to engage in the real daily struggles of life here and now. I think it’s about an open-mindedness and an ability to use our education for critical thinking. The Catholic Church has a long history; we’re not a cult… I think our ability to question the things other people aren’t willing to question is attractive, and it’s something that the Church needs. To really be effective in the world today, we have to be able to see where other people are coming from, to engage with them with respect and compasson in dialogue. The desire to use everything that God has given us, whatever talents we have, whatever brains we have, and to give it back to the Church, to God; it’s very noble and it’s incredibly Jesuit.

Wild Boys: Inigo, written and directed by Jonathan Moore, White Bear Theatre Kennington

I try to do some justice to Jonathan Moore’s extraordinary Inigo, on Vulpes Libris today.

Vulpes Libris

inigo-web-img

NB: As this is a historical play, and closely follows the autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, there seemed no sense in avoiding spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens to Ignatius, look away now.

Up to his twenty-sixth year the heart of Ignatius was enthralled by the vanities of the world.

The White Bear Theatre is a tiny place: a pub backroom with forty chairs in it. It isn’t a plush experience, or even a particularly comfortable one. I sit there in my barely-padded seat, horribly aware of my feet (and my coat, and my drink, and my programme), and wonder what on earth is coming.

Inigo starts with a clang. In the heat of the forge (I can feel it, with the light in my eyes) the child Inigo, the youngest Loyola, is learning about swords. A moment later and he is a boisterous young man, bursting onto the…

View original post 561 more words

Walking with the saints: an interview with the Revd Richard Coles

fathomlessIn his riveting autobiography Fathomless Riches (review here), pop star turned Catholic convert turned Anglican priest Richard Coles happens to mention, briefly and in the midst of it all, the fact that he once attended a vocations weekend with the Jesuits at Campion House, Osterley Park. Naturally, I couldn’t let this pass unexamined. I wrote off to Fr Richard with a plea to hear more of the story, and he kindly set aside time to meet with me in London and tell me all about it.

Perhaps you could start by telling me more about that vocations weekend at Osterley Park?

Like most people of my temperament and background, if you’re floating around the Roman Catholic Church, I think that sooner or later the call of the Jesuits will sound. Quite a lot of the stuff I read, I found I was reading Jesuits. And there’s a particular affinity between certain kinds of Anglicans and Jesuits, so I kept meeting Jesuits who were floating around in Anglican circles, in a way which is rather atypical. You didn’t meet that so much with the secular church and didn’t so much with the religious orders. Also, because I was at King’s College London, and there was an overlap in academic fields. There were people like Frederick Copleston at Farm Street; people working around there.

And also, part of the reason, when I converted to Roman Catholicism, was that I was very much bedazzled by the glamorous qualities of the English literature of the nineteen-thirties and forties and fifties. You think of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene and Ronald Knox and people like that, and I thought…oh, I get that. I love the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. And there’s a sort of toughness, and a rigour, and a commitment—and a track record—about the Jesuits that I continue to find very attractive. I thought the commitment particularly to the gospel for the poor in Latin America was very powerful.

And they were always slightly surprising, and counterintuitive, so that was good. And they do good things. I remember going to Castel Gandolfo and seeing the socking great observatory there, which is a Jesuit thing. So from this point of view I was fascinated. And I met some Jesuits, who were very nice; and so I went to Osterley Park to see if that might be for me. I can remember staying and talking to a very nice Jesuit in his house which was flown over by a 747 about every fifteen seconds from five in the morning until midnight, and they seemed, rather amazingly, completely inured to the sound of these aircraft that were going across about twenty feet over our heads.

Discipline!

Discipline. But I found it rather distracting. They had a lovely wisteria, and I liked the wisteria—that was good. But I got into the nitty-gritty of talking about my vocation and who I was, and I began to see that it was not for me. I think I was rather romantic and dazzled in those days, and thought that Roman Catholicism was rather glamorous and you realise that, while it is indeed all those things, that ain’t enough to keep you…That ain’t enough to keep you. It was a wake-up, actually. A beautiful wake-up. And I did not become a Jesuit. I’d have been terrible at it—an awful Jesuit.

And was this the beginning of the end for your Catholicism, in a way? Was it on that path?

I think it helped something to come into focus. I don’t think I’ve ever reached the end of my Catholicism.

Your Roman Catholicism, I should say.

Well, I’m not sure I’ve reached the end of that! Well, no, I have to now—I suppose I’ve made too emphatic a departure to ever come back. But, you know, I think that where I am most at home is with the Benedictine monks. I was at Quarr Abbey a few weeks ago, making a documentary about chant [listen to it here], and when I was there I thought that if God would be more biddable to my sense of my own needs and delights and comforts, I’d be a Benedictine. That’s more of the vocation—well, not the vocation, but community and form of life that suits me best, I think. I’d be a terrible liberation theologian. I’d have been too tired. Also, I wouldn’t be brave, so if the army came round with guns I’d have said: “Oh, I repudiate everything. Whatever you want me to say, I’ll say, so long as I stay alive!”

It’s a very Jesuit thing, isn’t it, that commitment unto death—and on the margins.

Yes. I’m not a hero. I don’t do heroics.

Are you still in touch with the Jesuits?

Oh, yes. I’ve been reading Francis, yes. He’s rather fascinating, I think. Not just delightful—and I think he’s wonderful—but fascinating. It’s very odd how un-Jesuit he is in the world’s eyes. You start off as a Jesuit and you become The Pope, and it’s like being a monarch—well, he is being a monarch, isn’t he? So I think what’s lost is the CV. It seems to me that with John Paul II you had more sense of his CV, of his being Polish, and coming from a place and a time; while you get the sense with Pope Francis that his Latin Americanness and his Jesuitness, in particular, is a bit more obscure.

I wonder if that reflects a bit on popular misconceptions about the Jesuits—and the Latin Americans.

The wily Jesuit.

The wily cunning Jesuit. Which he is, a little bit—he’s canny.

He’s canny. You don’t get to be Pope without being a bit canny, I think. And I love the sort of…there’s a little simplicity about him, which is slightly—well, calculated sounds wrong. I don’t mean it’s fake at all, but I mean that yes, he thinks it through, and I think he’s conscious that he sends a message.

It’s meant.

Yes, exactly, it’s meant. He reminds me of that President of Uruguay—José Mujica—whom I adore. I think that he’s really embracing the world and making that connection, rather than retreating into the fortress. I mean, he’s the Pope, and Popes have certain jobs to do. It would be foolish to imagine that he’d be the good cop, and Benedict XVI would be the bad cop, and I wouldn’t fall for that for a second. But it’s a change of mood, a change of atmosphere, which feels like an aggiornamento.

How did you feel when Francis was elected?

Well, the first thing I thought was: “Who the hell is he?”. The second thing I thought was: “He looks like Ted Berry”. And then the third thing I thought was “Oh, the Holy Spirit might be surprising us”. I thought he was fascinating. Lots of friends of mine who are much more conservative than I am were rather expecting it to be business as usual, if you see what I mean: a papacy that would be continuously a conservative entity like that of Benedict XVI, and when he said “Francis” they all assumed it meant Francis Xavier. I remember that realisation spreading on Facebook: no, it’s Francis of Assisi, not Francis Xavier. That was just so fascinating, to have made such an interesting choice of name and tradition. And then they said that he was a Jesuit, and I thought: “Ooh, Jesuit pope, that’s a new one!”

Well, it was supposed to be an impossibility, or that was the received wisdom.

You can be Patriarch of Venice, can’t you, but that’s as high as you get. So he’s surprised people; and he seems to be making a serious effort at engaging with the more problematic aspects of the papacy of Benedict XVI, although I’m fascinated by Benedict XVI, too, and find him endlessly captivating.

Do you have a favourite Jesuit saint?

I’d have to say my favourite Jesuit would be Gerard Manley Hopkins. Well, I say he’s not a saint—not formally. I think it may be a while! I don’t think he was a happy Jesuit—I think he was rather a wretchedly miserable Jesuit. That’s a bit unfair, perhaps, but I don’t think he was ever someone who was easily going to be absorbed into a culture like that. One of the stories—quite a heartbreaking story, actually—is of him in community, being rather ignored or overlooked because they all thought he was a bit thick, because he used to just stand sometimes stock still, staring at a wasp or a blade of grass. He did have this intense focus.

Also, I have a parish connection, because Gerard Manley Hopkins’ great unfulfilled passion—I think it was unfulfilled—was with the extraordinarily vivid character Digby Dolben. He was the son of the Lord of the Manor of Finedon, and he’s buried in my church. He was an extraordinary figure and rather eccentric. He started wearing a habit and calling himself Brother Dominic and wandering around in that, which in the Victorian Middle English circles that he lived in was quite surprising. And then, I think when he was at Eton, he disliked having his hair cut and used to singe the ends off with a candle. What’s that about? And then he wrote a rather arch and very passionate series of poems, which are quite wonderful, actually—as juvenilia, I guess—and inspired the passion of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who adored him. And then he drowned at the age of nineteen. He was swimming in the river Welland with the son of his tutor, and the boy got into trouble, and he went in after him and just drowned. Prefigured in one of his poems in which he writes about drowning in a river—an extraordinarily prophetic thing. Anyway, that’s the end of Digby Dolben, as a teenager. A tragic loss.

And he’s buried at your parish church.

He’s buried in my churchyard, yes. And also, I have a connection with Gerard Manley Hopkins because my point of entry to the church as an adult was St Alban’s, Holborn, where Hopkins used to worship before he converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Jesuit. I don’t know, it’s not an entirely rational thing, but we can feel that we walk with the saints.

 

Problem Exists between Keyboard and Chair

Apologies to any blog followers who just ended up with two dead links. I was trying to be clever and have two drafts open simultaneously: the English and the German versions of the Wolfgang Müller interview.

It did not go well.

I’ve since renamed and republished both, and it seems to be working now. That will teach me to attempt sophistication.

Wolfgang Müller SJ, St. Michael, Göttingen

Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Müller SJ

Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Müller SJ

Fr Wolfgang Müller worked for many years with the German Christian Life Community, leading courses on the Spiritual Exercises. Since 2011 he has lived in Göttingen, where he provides pastoral care in the parish of St. Michael and the Neu-Mariahilf Hospital.

Fr Müller has been a great force for good in my own life, so I am very pleased that he agreed to answer my questions by email. The translation is my own (original version here) and so are any errors.

When and how did you feel the call to join the priesthood? What brought you to the Jesuits?

It happened like this: I was a devout, faithful Catholic in a majority Catholic environment. (Freiburg is the capital of the Black Forest region, and is mixed Catholic/Lutheran: the father of a classmate at my school, a Gymnasium specialising in classical languages, was a Lutheran Superintendent. The Protestants were always the smaller group in the class, and they had to go into another classroom during Religious Education.) I wasn’t an altar server, but I was in the parish youth group. When I’d just passed my Abitur (with a mark of “Good” [the second highest mark attainable]), a chaplain from our parish asked me if I’d enrolled in the Collegium Borromaeum, the Freiburg seminary, because he obviously assumed—knowing me—that I would become a priest. I said: “No, but I could do that…” And, with the encouragement of our assistant priest, I did.

Once I’d studied theology for two years in Freiburg (while based at the seminary) and then for one in Munich (the so-called Externitas), I returned to the seminary. There the spiritual director asked me: “Have you thought about joining a religious order?” I said: “No, but I could think about it…” He said that my path might be towards the Society of Jesus. And so he enrolled me in the Jesuit Novitiate, and I began my “career” with the Jesuits.

Which experiments did you undertake as a novice? Did any of them have a particular effect on you?

My only experiment beyond the Novitiate (in Neuhausen, near Stuttgart) was at a Catholic hospital in Stuttgart. For four weeks, I lived in the well-known Stuttgart Hospital, which was run by nuns, and was once again exposed to “the world”. Then, of course, there was the “big” thirty-day retreat run by the Society, at the Novitiate, where it still takes place today. I have good memories of both these experiments. The “spiritual” side was decisive for my path into the Society; I’m not “practically” minded. My Enneagram Type is Nine, with a strong wing type of One.

How did you come to the Enneagram, and what role does it play in your daily life?

My Superior in Augsburg, who was the Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Christian Life Community in Germany for a long time, had, at the age of fifty, spent a year in the United States (1981-82). He had worked zealously to extend and deepen his Ignatian/Jesuit studies at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago. His big “discovery” was getting to know the Enneagram, which he told us about. I think he also met the two original authors while he was there: Fr Richard Rohr OSF, an American Franciscan, and Pfarrer Andreas Ebert, a German Protestant minister, who had together—working ecumenically—written the book that would be the first prominent publication in German on the Enneagram: Die neun Gesichter der Seele / Nine Faces of the Soul. This was the publication until other good books started to appear, which were also translated into German. Unfortunately I don’t know of any translation of the work of the well-known Irish Jesuit, Peter Hannan SJ!

The German CLC wanted to make use of this new method of knowing the concrete person, in order to work more authentically with those who wanted to undertake the Exercises in the original Ignatian way. And so, as a CLC staff member, out of both personal and “professional” interest, I began to run basic and advanced courses together with lay members of the CLC. I conducted many of these through the years. I also ran courses independently of the CLC, with members of religious communities and usually in conjunction with the Exercises: in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary (where I had translators), in Romania and in Africa, in Zimbabwe and Malawi. To me, the Enneagram without its spiritual side is unthinkable, even if good work can be done from a purely human perspective (for managers, businesspeople and so on).

How does your personal, spiritual development as a Christian and as a priest come together with your work in the CLC and as a course leader? What do you learn from those who come to you for teaching and counselling?

As I worked with the CLC for over 25 years, it is meaningful to think about what this work has brought to my personal faith experience and development. First of all, I was always dealing with people who were interested in Jesus Christ and in belief in him, and who tried to live according to that belief. These were mostly individual courses or group retreats with an Ignatian character. I worked a great deal with individuals (men and women, religious, priests) and saw their personal paths at close quarters. Through this, I came to know and value Scripture more and more in its immense significance for our individual paths. Working with the Enneagram in the many courses offered by the CLC was also important for me. I am very grateful for that. In the search for my “specialism” in the Society, this personal work with groups and individuals has proven its worth above all. I worked for years teaching Religious Education in school, but this wasn’t my strong point.

I’d also like to ask how you experienced Vatican II, especially in your life within the Society. I know that’s a big question.

As I received my cultural imprint in the Catholic Church before Vatican II, I had to learn anew and try to practise the new emphases in spiritual direction and counselling: the new freedom in which we could, and should, celebrate the liturgy, in our native tongues and with a great deal of personal freedom of expression in carrying out the basic “tasks”. I also learned better to understand the personal dispositions and gifts of others, to uncover and facilitate their vocations. I was never involved in parish pastoral ministry, so work with large groups is unfamiliar to me. So is academic work per se.

But, as I have said, the awakening of the Church at the Council was a joyful experience. I had the good fortune to follow the progress of the Council “live”, through a Swiss Jesuit, Mario von Galli SJ, who regularly reported enthusiastically on how the “movement” was going. I am very aware that young people (even those at fifty!) only know the preconciliar Church through history books and can’t understand what we older ones lived through in the course of that year.

What does the Jesuit identity mean to you?

Although I’m surely not the “typical” Jesuit, I am very focused on the devotional prayer Sume et Suscipe (“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty…”). I pray it from conviction when I get up and when I go to bed. I want to “seek and find God in all things”. I always want to be ready to receive, ready for encounter, ready to start anew. Ever more to act out of the conviction of faith: God has loved me (and not cast me) into being. He has loved me on my own personal path (cf. Phil 3.13f: “I do not reckon myself as having taken hold of it; I can only say that forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front, I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”). He takes me by the hand on my pilgrimage. He is always with me, through the Holy Spirit, who always teaches me afresh to distinguish and to discern (cf. John 14.26: “…the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you…”).

This is really my belief.

P. Wolfgang Müller SJ, Seelsorger, Sankt Michael Göttingen

Mueller

English version

P. Wolfgang Müller SJ ist ehemaliger Mitarbeiter der Gemeinschaft Christlichen Lebens und hat viele Jahre Exerzitienkurse gegeben. Seit 2011 wohnt er in Göttingen und wirkt als Krankenhaus- und Pfarrseelsorger. 

Wann und wie fühlten Sie sich berufen, Priester zu werden?  Was hat Sie zur Gesellschaft Jesu gebracht?

Bei mir lief es so: Ich war ein frommer gläubiger Katholik in der mehrheitlich katholisch geprägten Umgebung. (Freiburg ist die Hauptstadt des Schwarzwalds – Black Forest – gemischtkonfessionell; der Vater eines Mitschülers im altsprachlichen Gymnasium war lutherischer Superintendent, und die kleinere Gruppe der Klasse war immer die evangelische: sie musste in ein anderes Klassenzimmer gehen während der Religionsstunde). Obwohl ich nicht “Ministrant” war, war ich in der “Pfarrjugend”. Ein Kaplan unserer Pfarrei sagte mir einmal, als ich gerade mein Abitur – gut – gemacht hatte: Hast Du Dich schon im CB (Collegium Borromaeum), also im Freiburger Priesterseminar angemeldet, weil er selbstverständlich damit rechnete, so wie er mich kannte, dass ich Priester werde. Ich sagte: “Nein, aber ich könnte das ja tun…” Und habe es auch getan (gleichsam auf die Anregung unseres Vikars hin). Als ich zwei Jahre in Freiburg (vom Seminar aus) und dann ein Jahr in München (der sog. Externitas) Theologie studiert hatte, kam ich ins Seminar zurück. Da fragte mich der Spiritual im Collegium Borromaeum (ein Jesuit): “Haben Sie schon einmal an den Ordensberuf gedacht?” Ich sagte: “Nein, aber ich könnte es mal überlegen…” Und er meinte, es könnte durchaus der Weg im Jesuitenorden sein. So meldete er mich im Noviziat der Jesuiten an, und ich begann meine “Laufbahn” bei der SJ.

Welche Experimente haben Sie als Jesuiten-Novize gemacht? Gab es ein Experiment, das eine besondere Wirkung auf Sie hatte?

Das einzige “Experiment” außerhalb des Noviziats (in Neuhausen bei Stuttgart) war das Krankenexperiment in einem katholischen Krankenhaus in Stuttgart  Ich wohnte diese vier Wochen in dem von Schwestern geführten bekannten Stuttgarter Krankenhaus und war erstmals wieder “der Welt” ausgesetzt. Dann natürlich das ordensinterne Experiment der vierwöchigen “Großen” Exerzitien, wie sie auch heute noch üblich sind im Noviziat. Diese beiden Experimente habe ich beide in guter Erinnerung; für meinen Weg im Orden war die “spirituelle” Seite entscheidend; „praktisch“ bin ich nicht veranlagt (meine Enneagrammprägung ist die NEUN mit einem starken EINS-Flügel).

Wie sind Sie zum Enneagramm gekommen, und welche Rolle spielt es in ihrem Alltag?

Mein Superior in Augsburg, der “Kirchlicher Assistent” der GCL/CLC/CVX in Deutschland war für lange Jahre, hat – als er 50 wurde – ein Jahr in den USA verbracht (1981/82), dort bei den amerikanischen Jesuiten im “Institute for Spiritual Leadership” (Chicago) eifrig seine ignatianischen/jesuitischen Studien vertieft und ergänzt und als große “Entdeckung” das Enneagramm kennengelernt und uns davon berichtet; ich meine, er hat auch die beiden ersten Autoren dort persönlich kennengelernt: Fr. Richard Rohr (OSF), amerikanischer Franziskaner, und Pfr. Andreas Ebert, deutscher evangelischer Pastor, die miteinander – ökumenisch – ein Buch geschrieben haben, das das erste bekannte deutsche Enneagrammbuch wurde (“Die neun Gesichter der Seele”). Es war das Buch über das EG, bis immer mehr andere gute EG-Bücher erschienen, die auch ins Deutsche übersetzt wurden (leider kenne ich keine Übersetzung der Bücher von Peter Hannan, dem bekannten irischen Jesuiten!).

Ja – da die “Gemeinschaft Christlichen Lebens” auch dieses neue Medium zur Erkenntnis des konkreten Menschen, der “Exerzitien” in der ur-ignatianischen Weise machen will, einsetzen wollte, um noch authentischer die Exerzitien nach dem Exerzitienbuch zu geben, habe ich als hauptamtlicher Mitarbeiter der GCL aus persönlichem Interesse und “von Amts wegen” zusammen mit Laienmitgliedern der CLC solche Kurse (Grundkurse und Aufbaukurse) angefangen und sehr viele im Laufe der Jahre gegeben. Auch unabhängig von der GCL (für Ordensleute). In Deutschland, der Schweiz, Österreich, Ungarn (ich hatte Übersetzer), Rumänien, in Afrika (Simbabwe, Malawi), vor allem im Zusammenhang mit Exerzitienkursen. Losgelöst von der spirituellen Seite ist für mich das Enneagramm nicht denkbar, auch wenn menschlich gesehen da gute Arbeit getan wird (für Manager, Geschäftsleute usw.).

Wie hängt Ihre persönliche, individuelle spirituelle Entwicklung als Christ und als Priester mit Ihrer Tätigkeit als GCL-Mitarbeiter und Kursleiter zusammen? Ich meine, was lernen Sie von den Menschen, die zu Kursen und zur Seelsorge zu Ihnen kommen?

Da ich über 25 Jahre Mitarbeiter bei der GCL war, ist es sinnvoll zu überlegen, was diese Arbeit für meine persönliche Glaubenserfahrung und –entwicklung bedeutet – “gebracht” – hat. Ja, zunächst hatte ich immer mit Menschen zu tun, die sich für Jesus Christus und den Glauben an Ihn interessiert haben und danach zu leben versuchten. Es waren meist Kurse von Einzelexerzitien oder Gemeinschaftsexerzitien, die durch die ignatianische Prägung bestimmt waren. Ich hatte viel mit einzelnen Menschen (Männer, Frauen, Ordensmänner, Ordensfrauen, Priestern) zu tun, war also nahe an den persönlichen Lebenswegen dran. Dadurch habe ich die hl. Schrift immer besser kennen und schätzen gelernt in ihrer enormen Bedeutung für den Lebensweg der einzelnen Menschen. Wichtig war für mich auch die Arbeit mit dem Enneagramm in vielen Kursen, die die GCL angeboten hat. Dafür bin ich sehr dankbar. Bei der Suche nach meinem “Fachgebiet” innerhalb des Ordens hat sich vor allem eben diese persönliche Arbeit am Menschen bzw. mit den Einzelnen bewährt; die mehrjährige Arbeit in der Schule (Religionsunterricht) war nicht meine starke Seite.

Ich möchte auch gerne erfahren, wie Sie Vaticanum II erfahren haben, besonders in Ihren Ordensleben. (Ich weiß, das ist eine sehr große Frage.)

Da ich vor dem II. Vatikanischen Konzil meine Grundprägung innerhalb der katholischen Kirche bekam, musste ich umlernen und die neuen Akzente in der Seelsorge zu praktizieren versuchen, also die neue Freiheit, mit der Liturgie gefeiert werden konnte und sollte (in der Muttersprache und mit viel persönlicher Freiheit der Gestaltung bei den grundsätzlichen “Vorgaben”). Ich habe auch gelernt, mehr die ganz persönliche Veranlagung und Begabung der Menschen kennenzulernen, ihre Berufung zu entdecken und zu fördern. In der Pfarrseelsorge war ich nie, deshalb ist mir der Umgang mit größeren Menschengruppen nicht vertraut. Auch die eigentliche wissenschaftliche Arbeit ist mir eher fremd.

Aber wie angedeutet, der Aufbruch der katholischen Kirche beim Konzil war ein freudiges Erlebnis. Ich hatte das Glück, immer “live” über das gerade laufende Konzil informiert zu werden durch einen Schweizer Jesuiten (Mario von Galli SJ), der uns regelmäßig lebendig erzählte, wie die “Bewegung” war. Mir wird sehr bewusst, dass die jungen Leute (auch die schon 50-jährigen!) nur noch aus Geschichtsbüchern von der vorkonziliaren Kirche Kenntnis haben, also uns Alten gar nicht mehr nachfühlen können, was wir jahrelang “erlebt” haben.

Was bedeutet Ihnen die Jesuitenidentität?

Obwohl ich sicher nicht der “typische” Jesuit bin, bin ich ganz orientiert an dem Hingabegebet “Sume et Suscipe” (“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty…”). Ich bete es nach dem Aufstehen und vor dem Zu-Bett-Gehen aus Überzeugung. Ich möchte ”Gott in allem suchen und finden”, ich möchte immer “empfangsbereit” – “begegnungsbereit” – “aufbruchsbereit” sein. Immer mehr aus der Glaubens-überzeugung handeln: GOTT hat mich ins DASEIN geliebt (nicht “geworfen”) – ER hat mich auf  meinen persönlichen WEG geliebt (vgl. Phil 3,13f. “I do not reckon myself as having taken hold of it; I can only say that forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front, I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus…”) – ER nimmt mich auf meinem Pilgerweg an der Hand (Ps 18,36), ER begleitet mich ständig (durch den Heiligen Geist; der mich immer neu unterscheiden und entscheiden lehrt [vgl. Joh 14,26: …the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you…]”).

Das ist wirklich mein Glaube.