Christopher Meister, SJ, (back row, second from right) completed his long experiment—a several month ministry at a Jesuit apostolate that every novice partakes in—at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.
As a Jesuit, I learned how to love more fully and to be more present to those I encounter.
By Christopher Meister, SJ
When I first inquired about the Jesuits, I was most intrigued by the idea of the pilgrimage: a 30-day, $30 challenge to travel around the United States. That was all I needed to give me the final push into the novitiate. While waiting until April of my first year to go on the pilgrimage seemed like an eternity, when the moment finally arrived for me to hop on the bus, fear gripped my soul! A few deep breaths and the start of the bus made me realize that God was with me and it would all be fine.
My pilgrimage focused on engaging with organizations and people who were (and still are) committed to social justice. My trip took me to Chicago, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Wheeling, W.Va., and New York City. In each location I worked with people from all different backgrounds, races, and creeds.
Moreover, I saw and participated in all the amazing and generous works that people did for others: working with at-risk youth; accompanying refugees in their new lives in the United States; building bridges with the LGBTQIA community; connecting the developmentally disadvantaged with God; protesting for workers’ rights and the protection of our environment; working on a farm commune to provide affordable produce; ministering to and being ministered to by those at the Catholic Worker in New York City; and working with prisoners and better understanding the criminal justice system.
Through all these ministries,I was able to meet all of the tremendous people running these organizations that I just described. All of their motivations? Love. That love was contagious and something that was so important for me to see. This love was expressed through the generosity these people showed others, often strangers (like myself). They lived out the words of Jesus and were some of the truest disciples that I had ever seen. They also embodied the words of St. Ignatius who asked us all to love without counting the cost.
This deep love is what made their ministries so successful. There was no “us” and “them,” no “giver” and “receiver,” only friends supporting one another. As I entered in these relationships, I saw that the only things that we could give was time—to accompany one another. Through accompaniment and relationship building, I discovered that I received far more than I gave. This experience helped me to see that it was not my job to only give. To go into a situation with the intent to only give, in fact, is arrogant! Rather, it was my job to be in relationship with them and to receive all these people and their gifts and wisdom with open arms.
Bringing all of these experiences to discernment, I worked with my formators to do my long experiment at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. What Homeboy Industries did for me was to affirm and deepen everything that I had learned on pilgrimage (this reflection is based on the parallel experiences I had at Homeboy Industries that shed light on my pilgrimage experience). As Marcos Gonzales, SJ, told me, at Homeboy Industries, I would, “Learn how to love the people of God.” And learn to love them I did. Being at Homeboy Industries made me realize that the “Homies” didn’t need me, I needed them. In fact, we all need each other.
All of these beautiful experiences of love and relationship building led me to first vows. As a Jesuit, I learned how to love more fully and to be more present to those I encounter. As a Jesuit, I have the structures and support to allow me to continue to grow in loving others. And as a Jesuit, I will be able to share God’s love in a unique way with all those I meet.
I felt truly alive engaging with people in this way, and I knew that I needed to continue on this path.