Germany

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. Manfred Hösl SJ, Pfarrer, Sankt Michael Göttingen

Passfoto IEnglish version.

Wann und wo fühlten Sie sich berufen, Priester zu werden?

Ich habe in Regensburg Theologie, Soziologie und Pädagogik studiert. Priester- oder Ordensberuf kam für mich v.a. wegen des Zölibates nicht in Frage. Die Jesuiten kannte ich nur über Literatur. Mich beeindruckte aber die Weltzugewandtheit des Ordens. Und ich schätzte viele Persönlichkeiten: Karl Rahner, Oswald von Nell-Breuning u.v.a.m.

In der Mitte meines Studiums Mitte der 80er Jahre geriet ich in eine Sinnkrise, verlor meinen Glauben. Auf der Suche nach meinem Glauben begegnete ich wieder den Jesuiten, diesmal im Kontext von Exerzitien, geistliches Leben, Kontemplation.

Was hat Sie zur Gesellschaft Jesu gebracht?

Zunächst Literatur. Dann nahm ich an der Uni Regensburg Kontakt mit P. Richard Loftus SJ auf, der dort am Lehrstuhl für Zoologie forschte. Er stellte den Kontakt zu P. Merz SJ her, bei dem ich dann in geistliche Begleitung war. Er hat mich dann auf meinem Weg in den Orden von ca. 1988 bis 1991 beraten. Nach mehreren Gesprächen mit dem damaligen Novizenmeister P. Hans Abart SJ und den normalen Aufnahmegesprächen bin ich dann 1991 angenommen worden und in den Orden eingetreten.

Hat eine bestimmte Aufgabe Sie angezogen, als Sie in das Noviziat eingetreten sind? Gab es ein Experiment, das eine besondere Wirkung auf Sie hatte?

Meine große Frage war: Gibt es überhaupt Gott? Stimmt die Bibel? Ist Jesus wirklich von den Toten erstanden? Alle anderen Fragen wie z.B. nach der Lebensform oder bestimmte Berufe kamen mir nebensächlich vor. Wenn es Gott nicht gibt, dann ist alles egal und nichts macht Sinn. Wenn es ihn gibt, ist der Beruf aber auch nicht mehr so wichtig, weil man Gott auf vielerlei Weise dienen kann.

Mich hat immer die Frage nach dem Tod und dem Leben danach beschäftigt. Im Noviziat habe ich mit Sterbenden gearbeitet (Onkologiestation, Hospizarbeit). Das hat mich sehr geprägt. Auch heute finde ich die Arbeit mit Trauernden, Sterbenden und deren Probleme wichtig und interessant.

Ich werde immer, egal wo ich arbeiten werde, von Jesus Christus, besonders vom Tod und der Auferstehung Jesu Christi, sprechen. Das ist das Wichtigste, nicht der Ort oder die Aufgabe.

Wie sind Sie zur Gemeinde Sankt Michael gekommen?

Der Provinzial machte mir vor dem Ende meiner Ausbildung in Dublin vier Angebote, wo er sich mich nach Dublin gut vorstellen könnte Göttingen war aber nicht dabei. Dann überrumpelte er mich, weil er dringend jemanden als Pfarrer in Göttingen brauchte. Ich stimmte zu und bin sehr gerne nach Göttingen und Sankt Michael gekommen. Die Arbeit hier ist sehr vielseitig und herausfordernd.

Was bedeutet Ihnen die Jesuitenidentität?

Mir gefällt die Spiritualität (sog. MagisMehr, d.h. die Dynamik des Ordens). Mir gefällt die intellektuelle Schlagseite des Ordens. Ich freue mich mein Leben in einer apostolischen Gemeinschaft leben zu dürfen, in der sich die einzelnen nicht fragen: Was will ich? Sondern: Was wollen wir? Ich finde unser Organisationssystem gut und effizient. Die Stimme eines jeden wird gehört, aber dann entscheidet der Provinzial es gibt keine endlosen Diskussionen! Ich finde es gut, dass wir nach 6-10 Jahren immer eine neue Aufgabe bekommen. So kann und muss man immer Neues ausprobieren. Man kommt viel in der Welt herum. In meiner gut 20 jährigen Zeit im Orden war ich bisher an 8 Orten und drei Ländern. Das weitet den Blick. Ich bin gerne Jesuit und verdanke dem Orden sehr vieles. Die Lebensweise in Kommunitäten gefällt mir gut und ich bin gerne Priester.

Manfred Hösl SJ, Parish Priest, St Michael Göttingen

Photo courtesy of Manfred Hösl SJ

Photo courtesy of Manfred Hösl SJ

Fr Manfred Hösl is parish priest of St. Michael, Göttingen, in Lower Saxony. St. Michael has particular meaning for me: it was my local Jesuit community for five years, the first place where I came into contact with Ignatian spirituality in practice, and I was received into the Church there at Easter 2014. So I’m very pleased that Fr Hösl was happy to speak to me about his own path. We conducted the interview over email, with his answers in German; the translation is mine and so are any errors. Deutsche Version.

When, and how, did you feel the call to join the priesthood?

I studied theology, sociology and education at Regensburg. Any religious or priestly vocation was out of the question for me, above all because of the celibacy requirement. I knew the Jesuits only through books. But I was impressed by the orders international outlook. And I held many Jesuit personalities in high regard: Karl Rahner, Oswald von Nell-Breuning, and many others.

In the middle of my studies, in the mid-1980s, I plunged into an identity crisis and lost my faith. Searching for it, I met the Jesuits again, this time in the context of the Spiritual Exercises, spiritual life and contemplation.

What brought you to the Jesuits?

Books, first of all. Then, at Regensburg, I came into contact with Fr Richard Loftus SJ, who was a researcher at the Faculty of Zoology. He put me in contact with Fr Merz SJ, who then became my spiritual director. He advised me on my way towards the order, between about 1988 and 1991. After a number of conversations with the then Novice Master Fr Hans Abart SJ, and the usual entrance interviews, I was accepted and entered the Order in 1991.

Did you feel drawn to a specific ministry when you entered the novitiate? Did any of the experiments have a particular effect on you?

My big question was: does God exist? Is the Bible correct? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? All other questions––such as those about way of life or a particular career path––were secondary to me. If there is no God, then nothing matters and nothing makes sense. If he does exist, career path isnt so important then, either, because you can serve God in many ways.

After this, my other preoccupation was the question of life and death. In the novitiate, I worked with the dying in cancer wards and hospices. That affected me deeply. I still find working with the grieving, the dying and their problems both crucial and interesting.

Wherever I work, I will always talk about Jesus Christ and especially His death and resurrection. Thats the most important thing: not the place or the task.

How did you come to St. Michael?

Before the end of my tertianship in Dublin, the Provincial of the Order made me four offers of potential placements––but Göttingen was not among them. Then he sprung it on me, because he urgently needed a parish priest in Göttingen. I agreed and came to Göttingen and to St. Michael very happily. The work here is very varied and challenging.

What does the Jesuit identity mean to you?

I like that Jesus is the benchmark for the order and not Ignatius, the founder. I like that the order engages with modernity (modern schools, universities, journals, books…). I find the debate with atheism, philosophy, with ideologies and intellectual currents important and interesting.

I like the Jesuit spirituality (called Magis: more, i.e. the dynamic of the order). I like the orders intellectual bent. I am happy to be allowed to live my life in an apostolic community, one in which we as individuals dont ask: what do I want? but: what do we want? I find our organisational system good and efficient. Everyones voice is heard, but then the Provincial decides: there are no endless discussions! I find it good that we are always given a new task every six to ten years. This way, you can and must always try new things. You travel a lot. In my twenty-odd years in the order I have been in eight parishes in three countries, so far. This broadens the mind. I love being a Jesuit, and I owe the order a great deal. I enjoy living in community and I am happy being a priest.