The road not taken: life in the Society of Jesus

November 5, 2009

I originally considered entering the priesthood in middle school, when I was naively and bizarrely obsessed with becoming an exorcist—I wanted to wield supernatural powers, probably a side effect of reading too many comic books. This desire (thankfully) matured over the course of my time at my Jesuit high school, and though I had not yet begun prayerful discernment, I became increasingly comfortable with the idea of becoming a priest—specifically a Jesuit priest. When I came to Georgetown in fall 2006, I began to formally gauge my interest in becoming a Jesuit and to understand exactly what such a life would entail.

Above all, I have learned that at the root of a vocation to the Jesuits is the deep desire to fall madly, truly, deeply in love with Jesus Christ. Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, taught that God works directly with each and every human being, communicates with us in and through the interior movements of our hearts, our joys, sorrows,  desires, and loves. We each have a path, and in discovering what brings us the most joy and happiness, what causes us to fall in love, we can discover exactly where God calls us. Daily Mass and a disciplined life of prayer have led me to realize that I most deeply yearn to be a “sinner yet loved” (in the words of Ignatius), to hand my entire life over to the Society of Jesus and the Church in the hopes of serving Christ and the people of God.

And so, as I begin my application to become a Jesuit novice, I am brought to reflect more and more deeply on the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—and how exactly I am called to live them. I would like to offer a brief reflection specifically on celibacy and more broadly on the meaning of chastity within the context of life in the Society of Jesus. I think that chastity is often the most misunderstood vow, and hopefully the following thoughts can offer some meaningful insight.

Quite simply, the ultimate purpose of each of the vows is freedom, a freedom to love and serve as needed. One Jesuit described chastity to me as the “unlocking of the capacity to love others with wild and reckless abandon,” given that the true nature of chaste love is one of fundamental purity—purity without ulterior motives. Chastity and celibacy offer the freedom to fully love anyone with a chaste heart.

This past summer I began writing my fifteen page “spiritual autobiography” for my application to the Society—while dealing with the fact that I had slightly fallen for a wonderful young woman I met in May. A tension inevitably arose from the reality that I felt inclined toward married life at the same time that I was writing about why I wanted to enter the Jesuits. But, as St. Ignatius teaches, fruit is only borne of tension.

If God so wills that I enter the Society of Jesus, I will never raise a family with a woman I have fallen in love with—this knowledge caused me great sorrow this past summer. I will always miss being a father, and while on silent retreat before the semester began, this sorrow was the focus of my prayer.

My spiritual director advised that I was “mourning the loss of a life [I] will never lead,” an insight which brought me a wonderful consolation and peace of mind. The nature of any commitment is such that in choosing one good, a person closes the opportunity to partake in any infinite number of other goods. In choosing the good of becoming a symbolic father to the faithful, I simultaneously eliminate the potential to become a biological father.

Although my sorrow runs deep, it offers a paradoxical consolation, as it stems from the knowledge that my relationship with Christ will be the only constant I will ever have in my life. I will never have a wife and family to return to at the end of the day, only a prayerful and vibrant relationship with Christ.

Some might not be able to grasp the fact that one can live a truly meaningful life without sexual intimacy, without the joys associated with becoming physically close with another human being. While this is perfectly understandable, I have come to realize that in actively choosing celibacy, I am choosing the ability to live joyfully through the ability to love purely and chastely.

I have no idea if the Society will choose to accept or reject my application, but I am confident that in thinking deeply throughout the application process, with an open heart and an open mind, I know that at the very least I have become a better person and a better Catholic. Through developing an increasingly intimate relationship with Christ, I’ve developed a relationship that has taught and prepared me to love with my whole heart.

Read More

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Blair Munhofen

Excellent article. Good luck with the application David. God bless

Matt Wagner


I just thought I’d mention that your article was really thought-inspiring and moving, even to a non-Catholic (heck, generally-non-religious person at all) like me. Best of luck in joining the Jesuits – from the limited experience I have with clergy of all different faiths, they’re some truly exceptional guys and a group you should be proud to identify with. Thank you for taking the time to write about it, for the less-Jesuit-minded among us.

Adam Carter

Fabulous article. Best of luck with your application. If the Jesuits are not quick or smart enough to sign you up on the spot let me know! I once heard it said that “chastity is a rose in God’s garden that not everyone is called or able to smell” and it strikes me as a very special gift that you have been given to see this and understand it from an early age. All God’s blessings on you.