Sunday, 30 June 2013

“GOD OF SURPRISES” - Fr Jerry Fernandez sj 50 years in the Society of Jesus



Reflections of a Jesuit after 50 years in the Society of Jesus.


If asked, “When did you dream or decide to become a Jesuit?” my honest answer would be “I didn’t, but some higher power had this dream for me and I am not sure I had much of a say in the matter. Somewhat like an eagle that flows and glides with the currents of the air, allowing it to guide its flight into the unknown.” And after 50 years, one is convinced of it. A simple “yes” to situations that God or His people ask you to respond to, to the best of your ability. Jesus once said, “You did not choose me but I have chosen you”, but he could also have added, “sometimes because of who you are and mostly despite of what you are.” And that humbling mystery carries on day after day in a Jesuit’s life. This is no pious platitude. This is based on a personal experience, as evidences in my life about this “God of surprises” who works in our lives.

I remember when I was 15, I had a deep aversion and dislike for priests. I was even once beaten in school for not wanting to be a priest as I found most of them humourless, fat and grumpy. Then I saw a strange Spanish priest, Fr. Perez SJ, as I practiced running on the beaches of 7 bungalows near Versova in Mumbai. I avoided him like the plague. He came cycling from Marine lines just for a swim (38 kms.) and then went back. But he always smiling and laughing as he said hello. When I realized he was not interested whether I went for mass or not, said the rosary or not, I decided to speak with him and found he was a Spanish Jesuit doing his studies in Sanskrit and Pali but working in Gujarat. When he found out I played football he asked me if I would be interested in a small football camp in Ahmedabad in summer 1961, I said yes and that was my first taste of Gujarat and the Jesuits. Later, I asked him whether education was the only thing they did, he mentioned the mission stations. I went to a place called Amod and a certain holy Jesuit priest, Fr. Cabanach took me by motorcycle to a village for mass and then “something happened”. A child of 3-4 years was eating some grams and when I looked at her she got up and gave me some of her few grams. When I saw that child’s eyes, I just knew I wanted to live and die as a Jesuit in such a village. I never told anybody about this haunting and disturbing experience for over a year but quietly researched who these Jesuits were and what they did.

Later I told my parents who encouraged me but they were honestly skeptical since it was my brother who was temperamentally priestly material. The Provincial (Bishop Charles Gomes SJ) told me “no college, just go to the novitiate in Bangalore” as I think he felt that I would drift away. We were 17 who entered the Novitiate in 1963 and only 6 made it to the priesthood. The strange thing is that those 11 who went left for some valid reason or the other were spiritually very sound and intellectually far superior. Maybe that’s why they did not fit in. They are still serving the Church as exemplary laymen or society at large and one of them is a top class scientist in NASA still leading a simple life as an austere monk and a celibate. For some strange reason, God still chooses illiterate fisherfolk compared to the learned, which may not sound very complimentary but it does endorse the adage, that “with God all things are possible”.          

Perhaps my present assignment as Assistant PP in this Parish is a fairly good reflection of my Jesuit journey. It’s gratifying to know that I can try my best to bring meaning into people’s lives despite my physical handicaps and other shortcomings. Henri Nouwen aptly put it, A priest is “a wounded healer” called to heal and at the same time wounded and vulnerable himself. A privilege perhaps, to serve God, but definitely a meaningful and serious responsibility.

                                                                        - Fr. Jerry Fernandez SJ.