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.