Simple and dramatic: first vows
On the Feast of St. Peter Canisius SJ, Friday 21st December, Luke Taylor SJ made his first vows in the Society of Jesus at Manresa House in Birmingham. It was an occasion both simple and dramatic, profound yet understated, intense but also relaxed and cheerful, marking an important moment in the relationship between Luke and the Lord through his commitment to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Society of Jesus.
Fr. Provincial Damian Howard SJ celebrated the Mass while Fr. Simon Bishop SJ and Fr Kevin O’Rourke SJ – both of whom have served as novice masters over the past two and a half years – concelebrated. Others who attended in support and celebration were Luke’s sister Mary, brother-in-law Chris, fellow novice Pascal Calu SJ (who made his own vows in October in Paris) and many other friends and colleagues, both lay and religious, from the worldwide Jesuit community.
In his homily, Fr. Damian focussed on the relationship between Luke and the Lord. Luke was making a total gift of self to One who has already, with utter generosity and gentleness, given Himself to Luke. At heart, then, the relationship is “a circle of gift, a mutual self-giving,” beautifully captured in the prayer of St. Ignatius in the climax of the Spiritual Exercises: “ . . . you have given all to me, to you, O Lord, I return it . . .” It is like the relationship of two young lovers or the hidden dance of a child leaping in his mother’s womb, sensing blindly the incarnate Word approaching.
It was indeed in this spirit that Luke looked directly at the host and made his profession before communion: an emotionally charged, gracious and beautiful moment. Then followed a rendition of M. Frisina’s Anima Christi, led by the novice choir. As Fr. Paul Prior nSJ put it, “there was a convergence of sentiment in the singing and profession: entrusting oneself to the Body of Christ both physically and metaphysically.”
A palpable sense of companionship burst forth: that Luke is accompanied by, cared for and cheered on by innumerable Jesuits, friends and family both living and dead. At the end of the Mass, Luke was presented with a vow cross formerly belonging to Fr Peter (“Bertie”) Granger-Banyard SJ, who had been a Jesuit for almost 70 years and who died earlier in the year. Fr. Bertie was a poet with a heart for Christian unity and a long-term connection to Scotland – characteristics he shares with Luke.
A relaxed and cheerful atmosphere continued in the reception, where a delicious feast prepared by Br. Mick O’Connor SJ and chefs Karen and Mack was thoroughly enjoyed. As per tradition it included a huge cake baked by long-term friends of the community, Martina and Colette. Fr. Dries van den Akker SJ with the accompaniment of John Bosco Noronha nSJ on the trumpet led songs celebrating the vows of Luke and Pascal, as well as life in Manresa House.
Luke expressed gratitude for everyone who helped prepare the day, to all those who have supported him over the last two years, and in a larger sense all those who have allowed him to come to this moment: family, friends, colleagues as well as Jesuits. At the same time, the experience was a great blessing for those in Manresa House and all who attended. As Karen – the wonderful and caring chef who has helped at many vow days – observed, the experience brings great benefits to the Manresa House community itself: “One thing I always like is that it shows how the community pulls together as one . . . It shows new novices what lies ahead.” This is something Fr. Tony Nye SJ also acutely pointed out: “Luke is doing something wonderful for us as well.”
After Easter Luke will leave for France to deepen his knowledge of the language in preparation for studies at Centre Sèvres. For the next three months, he has been asked by the Provincial to carry out an exercise to help the Province come to a clearer knowledge of the number and character of our “partners in mission”.
He commented the following day: “I feel the same central peace which brought me to the novitiate and took me to vows. At the same time, it feels like having walked through a large door.”
Let us pray for Luke – that his journey may continue to be full of supportive companions, warm encouragement and abundant blessings.
Report by Dunstan Rodrigues nSJ