A LONG RETREAT, by Andrew Krivak; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 321 pages. $25.00

For eight years, Andrew Krivak was on the path to become a Jesuit priest. He entered the order in 1990, shortly after six Jesuits had been murdered in El Salvador. The slain priests had been university professors and humanitarians, outspoken in their beliefs. Krivak was in awe of the work they did.

In his new memoir, "A Long Retreat," Krivak describes life within the Jesuit order.

Jesuits follow the same path Ignatius Loyola followed. Though they spend time in prayer daily, and though they live in community and spend long stretches in silence, they are not monks in the traditional sense. They are not cloistered. "The world is our house," the Jesuits say.

Nonetheless, the life of a novitiate begins in solitude and prayer. Krivak's priesthood began with him making what is called the long retreat. During that 30 days of silence he reflected on the Gospels and on his own desire to serve.

According to the rules of the order, no one is allowed to become a Jesuit unless his life and doctrine have been probed by long and exacting tests. And so Krivak learned to examine his conscience daily. He studied. He taught. He gave up all his possessions. He worked in hospitals in the U.S. He prayed with those who were dying of AIDS.

Eventually, through long months, through many twists and turns, Krivak says, he came to believe he had, indeed, been called to the life of a Jesuit priest. He writes, "I had — I've marked in my journal — made my decision to stay in the Order and become a Jesuit on that morning. ... I say a decision, but it was more like that moment of discovery I had been hoping for, believing that I was being led into and through this life, and all I needed to do was trust."

On that day, Krivak found himself able to trust that he was doing what God wanted him to do. But then he continued to have to pray about it. The finding of faith over and over again and the searching for God's will, this is the story Krivak tells.

He writes, "This isn't some lazy attitude of indifference, where we accept as God's will whatever direction in which we're pushed. It's the hard work of constant watching and trusting."

Krivak grew up admiring the priest in his own boyhood church in Pennsylvania. He writes, "He held our parish together with something more than duty, something that strengthens faith and proves love, something that he alone understood and desired: the search for God every waking hour of the day through the holy dialectic of prayer and work."

And so, in the end, he does not easily give up the priesthood.

Krivak had been a poet all along. After leaving the priesthood he became a writer of nonfiction, eloquently able to describe the details of a Jesuit's life.

Prayer can open pathway to inexhaustible font

St. Jane de Chantal called prayer a familiar conversation with the Divine Majesty in one's soul. By the time I entered the Jesuits, I had had an eclectic but scattered experience of prayer, not yet like the conversation promised by de Chantal. Still, the thinnest experience of prayer can open a pathway into a place that seems almost certain to be an inexhaustible font, and so something worth staking your life on.

I knew the Mass was prayer, perhaps my earliest form of the act, from the opening and closing blessings of the priest to the gradual understanding that the liturgy is the unifying prayer of the Church, as though it, too, were a person kneeling down to pray for the space of an hour. I got that much. At home we said the rosary, novenas to the Sacred Heart, and a whole host of devotional recitations many Catholics seem to absorb through osmosis. The meditative experience that comes with the recitation of a thing like the rosary regularly when one is young can create a powerful metronome in the heart and mind. So, while I had given up this piety by the time I entered religious life, the prosody — the song — of this prayer has never left me. — from A Long Retreat, by Andrew Krivak


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