Jesuit Father Ron Gonzales share his thoughts on Final Vows:
Taking final vows in the Society of Jesus reminded me of something Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Well in some ways it was just that but a lot more, much more. Even though we Jesuits take first vows after two years in the novitiate, we still remain officially in formation up until the time we are invited to take final vows (sometime after ordination and tertianship). Although the process of formation can seem long and cumbersome to some observers, without a doubt each and every phase contributes to the overall spiritual formation of the Jesuit. Of course with a longer formation period also come the opportunities for self-awareness and hopefully experience and wisdom.
I explained final vows to my parishioners, some of whom thought I was being ordained as a priest! Think of it as the Society of Jesus saying to itself, “You know we’ve had this fellow, Ron Gonzales, with us for about 18 years. Why not keep him?” When I took my first vows back in 1994, my intention and hope was to continue in the formation process until such time when the Society would say, “We, too, fully accept you.” Being fully accepted as a Jesuit is truly a great feeling of belonging and completion, in spite of my human weakness.
There is also a keen sense of humility knowing that our superiors and our Jesuit companions are quite aware of both our strengths and weaknesses. I liken it to a marriage covenant between spouses in which each one feels a peace and acceptance knowing that there is a commitment as well as an acceptance of one another, no matter what happens. Perhaps some in academia would appreciate another analogy, namely that of tenure. We recognize the work and effort that precedes tenure, yet we know the hard work continues long after final vows and even after retirement age. It is not a time to “rest on our laurels” as there is much work to be done.
Another feeling for me was one of poignancy, in that the stages leading towards final vows are officially complete. One of the things I loved especially during these 17 years of formation was looking forward to the next stage, such as philosophy studies in Chicago immediately after novitiate. In each stage I knew that I would have wonderful and challenging experiences, live in a different city, meet new and interesting people (some of whom are still close friends), and then after three years move on to yet another experience. While it is true that I still fondly remember some stages more so than others, I can say that each one was integral in shaping the Jesuit priest I am today.
It was during formation, for example, that I realized that perhaps the high school apostolate was not the best fit for me (even though I was a reasonably successful high school teacher for three years prior to entering the Jesuits). Still, this change in ministerial direction would not have occurred were it not for the variety of experiences and possibilities briefly explored during my formation. Most men come to the Jesuits with an idea as to what they will do as Jesuits. Inevitably Jesuit formation opens us to serving in many capacities. Part of Jesuit “detachment” and “availability” invites us to be completely flexible and open to other ministries, even if they initially are not appealing. God surprises us where we would never expect to find Him.
Because “finding God in all things” is essential in reflecting on all experiences, both good and bad, throughout formation, it is quite clear that the Lord had an even better ministerial fit in mind for me: pastoral work. Since ordination in 2003, I have worked exclusively in the parish apostolate in various parishes starting with Immaculate Conception in Albuquerque, Sacred Heart in El Paso, Our Lady of the Sioux in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and finally now as pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Antonio.
Each day is different – filled with meetings, funerals, confessions, daily masses, hospital visits, counseling and surprises that inevitably come up. It is unpredictable, but the fact that we have three priests and one brother, all of whom use their talents generously, makes the work load manageable. We each have a passion for areas outside of the parish as well, with pro-life issues, community organizing, social justice issues, participating on boards for America Magazine or Hope for the Future, to name a few. Single-priest parishes often call us to help them out on the weekends, and usually we are called on for hearing confessions after the popular ACTS Retreats held nearly every week. We have a small Jesuit community, but we enjoy our work and each other’s company.
Who knows what the future holds for those still in Jesuit formation? But, regardless we can trust that the Lord has brought us this far and has never abandoned us. It is through complete trust in the Lord that we will serve Him as He desires. His love and His Grace are enough for me. [New Orleans Province]