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.

Donal Godfrey SJ: Associate Director for Faculty and Staff Spirituality, University of San Francisco

Photo courtesy of Donal Godfrey SJ

Photo courtesy of Donal Godfrey SJ

Donal Godfrey SJ is a Liverpool-born Jesuit priest whose ministry has taken him from Ireland to the USA. His book Gays and Grays (2008) narrates the integration of the LGBTQ community at Most Holy Redeemer, San Francisco. (There’s a wonderful Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper report on MHR here).

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

It is hard to answer when I first thought of becoming a Jesuit. I went to a boarding school called Bishop’s Court in Liverpool. There I recall meeting a Jesuit for the first time. Later I attended Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding school in England. There I met and got to know Jesuits personally. Something attracted me to their spirituality. I was part of prayer meetings and the Christian Life Community while at this school. I recall talking with one Jesuit, Fr Tom Shufflebotham, and him telling me that I should remember that I am always held by God in the palms of his hand. I remember another, the late Fr Tom Smalley asking me if I thought I had a vocation. I recall the late Fr Gerry Hughes on a retreat making a deep impression on me also. And how his vision of God seemed very open and broad.

I decided not to pursue this particular vocation after being at Stonyhurst, but rather went on to study law in Ireland. I lost touch with the Jesuits in Ireland, but while at law school, at the King’s Inns to become a barrister in Dublin, the idea kept coming back to me. At the time I had become involved with the charismatic prayer movement. However, it was after going into some depression that the idea of a vocation as a Jesuit came back to me. But there was also a part of me that did not want to go forward with this, and hoped the idea would just go away. It did not. It kept buzzing around within me and eventually I thought I must follow up on it, if only to get it out of my system, so to speak. I wrote to the English Jesuits and they suggested writing to the Irish Jesuits. The Irish Jesuits took a long time to reply and it was not a very encouraging letter, so I thought that left me off the hook! But then I met someone who had applied to the Jesuits and been accepted and he set up a meeting with Donal Neary for me. We met on the border of Cork and Kerry. I hitch hiked to get to meet him there. Then we set up the more formal meetings and interviews and psychological tests. Soon a letter arrived from the Provincial welcoming me to the novitiate at Manresa, Dollymount, Dublin. I was surprised. I imagined I might last a year and then get it out of my system, but I stayed and found a vocation that has been very rich and life giving for me, and hopefully for the people of God also!

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

I did not feel drawn to any particular ministry while a novice. I was open to many possibilities. I do not recall even discussing where my ministry might lead me at this stage. The experiments left deep impressions on me. Walking from Paris to Taizé on pilgrimage in a hot summer was unlike anything I had ever done. Being open to the spirit and the hospitality on the journey was humbling. Being invited in to homes for dinner by poor farmers or a curé was heartening. In many ways the pilgrimage became a metaphor for my life in God, the journey of faith and trust despite all the many difficult times that come along in life.

I also loved spending time in Portadown at the Jesuit community in a council estate. I loved the people and being part of a very dynamic and engaging Jesuit community that was a pioneer in this kind of ministry and work, on the edge. I also got to meet and spend time with some remarkable people like Davy Byrne, Paddy Doyle, Declan Deane, and Brian Lennon. All people who in very different ways inspire me still to be a better Jesuit and follower of Jesus.

What do you bring to your role in university chaplaincy? What do you take from it?

I love being a chaplain in a university ministry. These days my work is mostly with the faculty and staff. I develop programs for them, such as the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius offered in daily life, Faculty and staff lunches with discussion about our Jesuit mission, spiritual direction, book clubs, developing a Faculty Forum which is a kind of Ignatian formation program for faculty.

However, as the only Jesuit on our chaplaincy staff, I also work with students, of course, and enjoy this work also. They keep me young! Life is very different for our young from when I was their age: it really is the digital age. But the quest for meaning and God is real now as it was then. It is just that we have to adapt and be willing to go where the young are now and accompany them in their pilgrimage in life.

As Catholics are a minority here among students, faculty and staff, it is a challenge to make all feel part of our Jesuit Catholic mission. However it is a challenge that I enjoy and love. Our new president Fr Paul Fitzgerald told me that I seem to have a gift to make people feel welcome and own our mission even when they do not belong to our tradition. I love being able to cross the boundaries of different faiths and cultural traditions to make sense of our mission.

In 2008 you published Gays and Grays, your book about the integration of the LGBTQ community at Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco. What kind of responses have you had to it from within the Catholic community? From without?

The publication of my book Gays and Grays has changed the perception people have of me. It has made me someone that people turn to on this topic in San Francisco. I have been interviewed by newspapers, on radio, and television. For the most part I have had a positive reception from people, especially LGBTQ Catholics. However, some in the blogosphere have attacked me, sometimes in personal ways and, while I welcome critique, this is usually done in bad faith, and anonymously. Those who who attack me there do not speak to me in person or want any dialogue. However, their writings have had certain unfortunate consequences for me at times.

Nonetheless, in prayer I feel invited to do what Jesus asks, to shake the dust from my feet and move to where God is working so powerfully in the church and particularly in the LGBTQ community. It is time for the church to welcome LGBTQ people. I pray and hope that Pope Francis can say as much in the final document coming from the Synod on the Family. I sent Pope Francis a copy of my book. I received a nice response from someone in his office, but I imagine that owing to the huge mail he receives Francis has never personally seen my book. I would love him to look at it, not because I or my work is especially important, but because the voices of faithful LGBTQ Catholics are important and need to be heard. I wish that some of the voices in my book could speak to the Synod so that their witness and testimony is part of the communal discernment we are making in the Church on family right now.

As a church we need to accept that family goes beyond traditional lines. I don’t expect the teachings to jump to acceptance in one day, it will take decades. In the meantime we need to accept people pastorally as they are and where they are. For now, this would be sufficient. Later the teachings will catch up and evolve.

Finally, what does the Jesuit identity mean to you?

I hope my Jesuit identity is part of who I am, but an important part. I see it as my particular way of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus. It does not make me a better Christian than anyone else, but it is my way of struggling to follow Jesus. Like any vocation, it has had ups and downs over the years. And it also means discipline, the discipline of being a part of something bigger than I am on my own. I live in community, and that is important to me. So I follow Jesus in this way, with others, who are all different and have different views on many things, but the same mission. Prayer, community, discernment. My vocation allows me to be present in a privileged way in the lives of so many people, to have the sense that I am part of what God is doing in helping to create a more just and compassionate world in some small way. I am so grateful to God for my vocation as a Jesuit!

Normal service will resume in 3… 2…

It’s been very quiet here on Project SJ – much quieter than planned. I’ve had some health problems (much improved now) which have necessitated running in bare-essentials mode for the last couple of months. However, I’m happy to say that we will be back with a bang in the New Year. Upcoming interviews include USF Jesuit and LGBTQ rights activist Donal Godfrey; Wolfgang Müller of Sankt Michael, Göttingen, and the Christian Life Community; and Anglican priest and radio/TV presenter the Reverend Richard Coles, who’ll be telling us about his experiences on a Jesuit vocations weekend at Osterley Park.

Tomorrow I’m off to London to meet Dominic Robinson SJ of Heythrop College and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre. Today, please accept my apologies for this long silence, and enjoy this reflection from James Martin SJ on Good King Wenceslas. Have a wonderful Christmas, and see you in 2015!

 

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.

Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno SJ and Paul Mueller SJ

imageAs a reviewer for Vulpes Libris, I sometimes write reviews in dialogue form if the book at hand is just too complex or interesting for a linear treatment to do it justice. As Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? is written in dialogue, what could be more fitting? So let me introduce Good Kirsty (who isn’t so much good as conscientious: she takes care of the academic-ish side of things) and Bad Kirsty (who isn’t really bad, just outspoken and unashamedly subjective).

Good Kirsty: OK, then. Let’s get started.

Bad Kirsty: You first.

GK: Fair enough. Well, Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? is something not in the usual line of books about science and religion. For one thing, it features not one, but two members of the Vatican Observatory: Br Guy Consolmagno SJ, planetary scientist and head of the Vatican Observatory Foundation (interview here); and Fr Paul Mueller SJ, philosopher of science and Superior of the Observatory’s Jesuit community. For another, it’s written as a series of dialogues set over six days in a variety of imagined locations (five are real and one, a very famous one, is fictional). Each dialogue addresses a question, from the validity of Genesis through the nature of the Star of Bethlehem to the matter of alien baptism. And perhaps the best thing about it is that it combines good science communication with very decent theology outreach.

BK: Only ‘very decent’, eh?

GK: It’s a compliment, honest. Neither man is a theologian, although both have more training than the average bear (being Jesuits). They’re not writing new theology or even getting into the really exciting stuff.

BK: By which you mean complicated and abstruse?

GK: No, I mean exciting. Things like the nature of the Trinity or transubstantiation, although they do have a fantastic conversation about the use of the term ‘transubstantiation’ on Day 3 (What Really Happened to Galileo?). But on the whole, what they’re doing is using their shared basis in science as a springboard for the big and necessary questions: life, death, truth, God, meaning.

BK: Oh, right. Just the basic stuff, then.

GK: They do it very well. I also learned a great deal about physics.

BK: I learned something, too. I learned that the number of cheesy puns increases in proportion to the number of Jesuits in the room. Speaking of which, this here is a blog about Jesuit vocation and identity. What has a book about science and religion to do with that?

GK: Everything. Think about it. These men, just by virtue of being who they are, incarnate two things a lot of people don’t believe can cohabit at all, let alone in one body: scientific rigour and religious belief. That’s why they get all those emails about alien life and Vatican conspiracies. That’s also why they’re a natural focal point for other people’s curiosity about how science and scripture fit together. But, more to the point (and Br Guy is especially eloquent about this) their involvement in science doesn’t just sit alongside their religious vocation, or even slot together with it. Scientific analysis and religious experience are lenses that show them different perspectives on the same picture. The idea of throwing out one in order to privilege the other is ridiculous to them. That’s a purely external expectation, and one they address here because it’s both so common in their interactions with the general public, and so alien to the way they experience the world.

BK: And yet this isn’t a Jesuit book, in the sense that The Fifth Week is a Jesuit book.

GK: Not explicitly. But lots of Jesuits crop up in conversation just by virtue of the subject matter: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, for example, and Georges Lemaître, who proposed the Big Bang theory. So it is fairly Jesuit-rich.

BK: You make it sound like a pair of socks. Black clerical socks, naturally.*

GK: So obviously this book’s of interest to those who want to understand how people of faith can also do science. And it’s interesting to those who are curious about how scientists might also be people of faith. But it’s also very interesting as a dialogue between two academics, with quite different specialisms, who share not just an interest in science and a common religious outlook but something else, something particular: a Jesuit identity.

BK: And the cover picture is really cool.

GK: On which note, that’s us away. See you again, perhaps, at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

BK: Moooooooo.

Random House 2014. Hardback, 216 pp., ISBN: 9780804136952. I read the Kindle edition, ASIN: B00JNQMM30

* Father Ted reference.

Well, would you?

imageEvents (moving-related events, and infinitely frustrating they are, too) have conspired to foul up my reading and writing schedule for Project SJ. So today’s post is half-placeholder, half-reflection on the book I’m currently reading with an eye to review: Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno SJ and Paul Mueller SJ of the Vatican Observatory. (That’s Guy at the bottom right of the homepage, showing a meteorite to the Pope. You can read his interview for Project SJ here.)

Since becoming Christian, I’ve ended up reading a great deal more about science. I’m not a scientist by inclination (although I did marry one). But one of the unanticipated side-effects of being not just a Christian, but someone who writes about religion, is that I encounter people who want me to explain my relationship to science. Do I still believe in it? How do I reconcile science and faith? The immediate answer is that I have no need to reconcile two things that, for me, have never clashed. My relationship to science, like my politics and my feminism, is something I began to discern long before I really thought about my theology. Discovering my faith was like switching on a light in a furnished room. It illuminated everything. It clarified many things, and it showed me what was lacking and what needed work. But, in material terms, it didn’t change what was there.*

The problem (and it’s quite a nice problem, in that it drives me to read more) is that this sort of answer doesn’t always satisfy those who persist in asking the question. For those who see Biblical literalism as the defining characteristic of Christianity, the gulf between religion and the physical sciences is vast, and it is concrete. From this sort of starting point, the existence of someone like Guy Consolmagno (a Jesuit astronomer) or Paul Mueller (a Jesuit philosopher with a focus on religion and science) represents a puzzle, a contradiction, sometimes even an affront. It’s not surprising they get so many emails.

Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? treats half a dozen of the most common questions the authors receive from members of the public. Each chapter takes the form of a dialogue set in a different space, real or imagined. The idea is evidently to bring the reader into the conversation; to anticipate and answer his or her particular concerns. It’s about discussion, not didacticism. But does it work?

I’ll tell you what I think next week, once I’ve finished it. But the signs are good.

If you have something to say about WYBAE, or the topic in hand, please leave a comment below.

*If I’ve unconsciously nicked this image from somewhere, I apologise.

The Story of a Vocation, by Bruce Botha SJ

imageWhen I emailed my questions to Bruce Botha SJ, parish priest at St Martin de Porres Soweto, I got this wonderful piece of spiritual memoir in reply. Enjoy.

It is only in recent years that I have been able to trace back the roots of my vocation to childhood circumstances and events. They were the rich soil in which the seed of a question—”have you ever thought of the priesthood?”—was able to grow.

I grew up in Durban, South Africa, to Catholic parents, in a traditional and conservative home. I don’t think my family were much different to most in our small suburban community. My parents were not pious, but we went to Mass every Sunday and they ensured that I and my brothers went to catechism classes.

My maternal grandparents stayed in a small town, little more than a village, about an hour’s drive from Durban. Every holiday, the children of the family would be sent to my grandparents, to ride horses, walk in the wild, and other equally fun things. My grandmother was the hub around which the family revolved, and she was a much loved figure by her children and grandchildren. She had a down-to-earth spirituality, practical and characterised more by love in action than piety.

One of my earliest memories is of going to pray the rosary with her and Fr Canisius, the parish priest of her small village church. I remember that the lights were out in the darkened church, apart from the candles in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary. Three souls telling beads in a darkened church, drawn together in mystical communion. It was events such as these that prepared my heart to say “yes” when eventually I heard God’s call.

As a teenager I was a dutiful Christian, doing all the right things but without much conviction. It was a mechanical, and maybe even a Pharisaic faith. That changed when I got to university and joined a club for Catholic students. It was an experience of community and friendship that led me to be more at home in my faith. We had a Dominican chaplain, Fr John Allard, who saw something in me that I could not; at least, not then. He asked me if I had ever thought of becoming a priest. I hadn’t, not in any mature sense, but he had planted the metaphorical seed. Over the next year, the question niggled at me, and I mulled over the implications of priesthood for me. What would my friends think? What would my family think? I spent a long time thinking “what if?” until I woke up one morning and realised that I had stopped thinking “what if” and was thinking “when”. That realisation filled me with great joy. I had made a decision on a subconscious level and had yet to test and confirm it, but that sense of peace and joy seemed to be a sign.

Fr Allard left the country to return to America, and our next chaplain was Fr Nick King, a Jesuit. I was comfortable with him, liked him, and so asked him to be my spiritual director. I saw him often on campus or in the Jesuit community when groups of students went there for a function. He directed me on an eight day retreat. It was mind-blowing. My spiritual experiences both in the retreat and in daily life convinced me that my life would be empty, a meaningless void, without Christ. I felt the calling to a deep unity with him. I knew that he was calling me to follow him, but was not sure where, or how.

I knew from the very beginning that I was not being called to the diocesan priesthood, because the priests that I saw, admittedly from the outside, seemed lonely and isolated. I knew that community was important to me, that I wanted to live my life with a band of brothers. I had read a lot about the different orders, and met a whole variety, but it was the Society of Jesus that resonated most with me.

In those early days of fierce burning desire for Christ, I was filled with spiritual ambition. I wanted to do great things for Christ, and my reading on the life of St Ignatius and his early companions had convinced me that if I followed the way of Ignatius I could also do great things for God. The early companions had their share of proud and wilful individuals, of the arrogant and headstrong, and despite their flaws they went on to do amazing things for God, because they allowed the way of Ignatius to shape and inform their lives. This decision was again confirmed for me through prayer, and it was then that I applied to join the Society of Jesus.

I had already finished my Higher Diploma in Education and was teaching in a high school when I applied to the Jesuits. I was stunned when I was told that they didn’t think I was ready yet, and that I should wait for three years and then apply again. It was a difficult period, made all the more difficult by not know where my shortcomings were or how I should grow. It seemed to boil down to not having enough life experience, whatever that meant.

In retrospect it was the best decision possible. I continued in spiritual direction with Nick King, I experienced life, fell in and out of love, flirted with another religious order and grew to know myself much more deeply. At the end of my waiting period I was accepted, and entered the novitiate in Cape Town.

I entered aware that I could be called to do any kind of ministry in my Jesuit life, and was very happy with that. I was also aware that because of my background in education I could be used to some kind of educational ministry, either as a teacher or as a chaplain. In the novitiate, one of my experiments was to work in an AIDS hospice, as well as to do some basic counselling training and then pre- and post-HIV-test counselling.

This experience has marked me deeply. I fell in love with this ministry, filled with righteous anger at the plight of those with AIDS in South Africa, moved with compassion for their suffering. When I returned to the novitiate I wanted to continue with this ministry on the two days of the week we were allotted for apostolic work. I was told that there was another project in Cape Town that had requested help, and it wasn’t in the area of AIDS ministry. When I expressed my unhappiness at this my novice master posed a question: was I a Jesuit or an AIDS counsellor?

As I have grown in the Society of Jesus I have made my own certain touchstones of identity, in particular “being a loved and called sinner” and the “Magis”. More recently, our General congregations and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI have emphasised the “call to the margins:. These ways of understanding myself and my apostolic call were not available to me as a young Jesuit, faced with the stark reality that a Jesuit is often called to take up ministries that would not ordinarily be his choice, and that he is often called to sacrifice passions, dreams and relationships for the greater good.

Gone Fishing

I’m about to move house (move countries, as it happens) and so Project SJ will be taking a short-as-possible hiatus. In the meantime, please enjoy these videos featuring some of the Jesuits and allies who’ve participated in the project so far. Click on the hyperlinked names to see the original interviews.

Br Guy Consolmagno was my first Jesuit interviewee, both on Project SJ and elsewhere. (This interview took place in 2010, when I barely knew what a Jesuit was; note how graciously he answers my rather silly questions.) Here he is at Heythrop 400, talking about the Jesuit contribution to science.

My next interviewee was George Williams SJ, whose words on prison ministry are here. This video from America Magazine gives some idea of how he works with the prisoners at San Quentin, and how some of them respond.

Peter McVerry SJ, of The Peter McVerry Trust, spoke frankly about vocation, freedom and charity. His homily at this year’s Portlaoise Novena is a window into his experience working with those who are homeless and marginalised, and what they have taught him. (I couldn’t, unfortunately, embed it: right-click to open in new window.)

Peter McVerry SJ: Portlaoise Novena 2014

Finally, Rowan Williams is not just a churchman and theologian, but also a poet and literary scholar. Here’s his inaugural lecture at the University of Chester on “The Messiah and the Novelist: Approaches to Jesus in Fiction.”

Enjoy! And I’ll see you again soon.