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Krivak’s ALong Retreat

(Article published in the Dec 3, 2008 issue of Manila Standard Today)

Eight years ago this yuletide, Amelia Dunlop received as a Christmas gift of a hundred pages of sundry stories.  The gift was from her husband, by then, of less than a year; the stories were about his previous life with a religious order that at one time or another has been and still is much loved by some and much hated by others.  And the hundred pages form the backbone of Andrew Krivak’s A Long Retreat published in 2008 first the USA by Farrar, Straus and Giroux of New York and then in the UK by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd. of London.

Like Heroic Leadership by Cris Lowney , A Long Retreat is a good read both for the pro- and for the anti-Society of Jesus. Andrew Krivak and Cris Lowney are ex-jesuits: Krivak was eight years a Jesuit; Cris Lowney, only seven, short by one. Both were obviously touched deeply by the Society enough to make them publish their experience of the Society.

But whereas Lowney, the older of the two, made, in his Heroic Leadership an extrospective exposition of how the values of Jesuit formation could conceivably constitute the foundations of a good leader, Krivak the younger one, in his A Long Retreat, took to the introspective narration of how the formation of those values presumably made him a good, if not better, person.
 










     

Andrew Krivak had a good Catholic upbringing: practicing Catholics parents, his mother Irene in fact a Marian devotee.  But he did not get his education in a Jesuit school.  His first long term and day to day grinding experience with the Jesuits was when he entered the novitiate of St. Andrew’s in Syracuse in August of 1990. Hence, it took him eight years to realize that life as a Jesuit was not for him. 

In contrast, those who went to the Ateneo high school, at least in my time, usually resolved that issue quickly and early, even before graduation.  I myself recall consulting together with a classmate at the Ateneo de Manila H.S. with the master of our seniors’ closed retreat at the La Ignatiana located at Padre Faura, Manila. After just 15 minutes of prayerful conversation, we were out of Fr. Guerrero’s room, breaking the silence rule with talk about the jam session we had planned to go to the following week-end.

But, in fairness to Krivak, it did seem that he had a calling of sorts.  At 14, upon reading The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, he wanted to be a monk and, even after years of schooling, at 25 got as far as talking to a Brother Aelred, director of vocations in the Trappist Monastery of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.  He desisted and continued to get into writing, but was at the Jesuit Community in Hunts Point in February 1989 signing up for spiritual direction one Saturday a month at Fordham University. This led to his living with some Jesuits working for seven weeks of that summer in Bronx.

He also had experience that easily blended with “in the world but not of the world” lifestyle of the Jesuits.  He was a poet and studied the classics at Columbia and, at various times, worked as a yatch rigger and ocean lifeguard.   He admitted to not being a virgin to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but was not obsessed with or addicted to anything or anyone. 

It was not a surprise therefore that Krivak was thoroughly at ease with the famed process of Jesuit formation, the detailed account of which constitute Krivak’s story. He easily got along with the rest in his primi batch and was appointed “beadle”, performing essentially the function of a barangay tanod, assisting in the chores of the master of the novices who was basically the cabeza de barangay.

A primus is one in his first of two years as a novice, or, a new comer.  The primi, who stay on after one year, become secundi.  Those two years constituted an aspirant’s novitiate which is some sort of a spiritual boot camp.  The more famous Jesuit novitiate in the Philippines for the longest time has been the Jesuit house in Novaliches. In the novitiate, Krivak learned to live the Jesuit ordo, or a structure of community life set out by Ignatius of Loyola and refined through the centuries.

Mainly for that feature of living in a community under fixed rules or a regula,  may the Society of Jesus be considered nowadays as a “religious” order. Taking “religious” to mean “spiritual” is certain to spark debates among Ateneans, involving arguments raging and ranging from ethics to ethnology and, as the drinks run out, down to, etymology.

Central to Jesuit formation (and renewal) is the four-week long retreat which the retreatants go through called the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  The Holy Week retreats many of us now attend, starting usually at the evening of Holy Wednesday through the whole of Maudy Thursday and Good Friday and ending on Holy Saturday, are extremely water-downed versions of the real thing. 

The long retreat that Jesuits regularly make is rigorous and strenuous, “retreat” only in the sense of pulling back from the world, to achieve a serious confrontation of self and God. More of a military exercise in the dessert, undertaken to marshal forces for an attack on D-day.  For Krivak and his fellow novices, it was the crucial time, as their retreat director put it, “for knowing not only if, but how” they should continue to be Jesuits.  Understandably, Krivak’s account of those four weeks, which inspired the title of his work, was at the center of the book taking up more pages than any other episode of his Jesuit experience.

Two of the three novices who made the retreat with Krivak left the Society right after the retreat.  Krivak stayed on.  He later  said his perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as a Jesuit on 15 August 1992.  He went through the standard drills in the Society that a Jesuit goes through: work in hospitals and immersion in the slums; prayer and study; teaching and ministering.  Then, after his retreat during the last stage of formation prior to ordination, Krivak left the Society. He subsequently got married to Amelia with whom, as of 28 August 2006, he had a son named Cole Augustin.

The storyline is quite familiar to local friends and foes of the Jesuits in the Philippines. Particularly soon after Vatican II, word got around that, that “Father this” and, before him, “Father that” had left the Society and married “Miss this” or “Miss that”.  The Ignatian insistence on situating his religious community in the secular world, necessarily subjects the hark of the Hound of Heaven to static from the environment, particularly the scent of a woman.

Amelia’s voice, for instance, was not the only siren song that Krivak heard while in the Society.  There was an unnamed coed classmate in the undergraduate course in Spanish, then Ruth a social worker in a hospital in downtown Syracuse, later students Melinda, Michelle, Lisa, and Beth at Le Moyne College, el al. Amelia, however, was at the right time and right place. Krivak met her at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, where she too went to study theology.

Despite the plot being very close to our  home, A Long Retreat is still good reading for the literate and I would certainly recommend it to those, literate or not, that I will meet at the Ateneo de Manila Grand Alumni Homecoming 2008, this coming Saturday, 6 December. 

        My prime target is Fr. Luis Candelaria, S.J.  It was he who recommended that I read Cris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership.  I will return the favor and suggest that he reads Andrew Krivak’s A Long Retreat.  If I am not mistaken, he has been with the Society for more than 50 years.  The secret of his edad is lots of kape and pasensya, enabling him to travel the road Krivak opted not to take.
 

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