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Loving the Question

To say the Jesuit novitiate was Spartan is an understatement. It was terrible. We knelt on wooden blocks for three hours a day--we all had housemaid's knees. The doctor who examined us for the military draft said, "Do you guys shoot craps for a living?"

"Uh, no. We pray."

One day I was walking along in my long black skirt, and I thought, What if there is no God? I went up to the novice's chapel, a small little chapel on the third floor of our novitiate, and I prayed, "This is mayday. This is mayday. O God, help me, if you're there." And nothing happened.

So I went down to the larger chapel, the community chapel--I thought I'd get better service there--and I said, "O God, please help me!" And nothing again; nothing happened.

Someone has written that God lets you love the question until you can live the answer. I think that's what God was letting me do, because on a night in the spring of that year God touched me. I was in the corridor of the novitiate, and I felt filled with the presence of God, just before our night prayer. It was like being alone in a room and suddenly feeling a hand against your face. That novitiate became a heaven on earth because God touched me, and suddenly nothing was the same. Oh, I knew it!

I previously had gone to the master of novices telling him I was an atheist. He was from the Carl Rogers school of counseling: he said, "Uh huh, uh huh." (You have to get new ball bearings put in your neck every Christmas when you do that.)

Well, I went back and said, "Father, guess what?"

And he said, "I know. I know."

But I had to experience four months of the hollowing out before the grace of God could repose in its place, in the emptiness that had been created by God's absence and by my doubts. When I read that sometimes doubt eats away old forms of faith, so that new and deeper ones can be born in us--I truly believe it.

I think that is a main condition for success in prayer. I think without a doubt that prayer really changes things: It changes us! We change. We become ready. But I think that the main condition is that I have to seek God's plans rather than my own.

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