For several years, until his recent untimely death, Fr Herbert Alphonso SJ accompanied us closely as guide and mentor. As a native of India, he had been dean of the Institute of Spirituality at the Gregorian University in Rome. He was also the long time former director of the Ignatian Spirituality Centre at the Jesuit Headquarters in Rome, where he lived until his return to the heavenly Father on June 15th 2012.
Fr Herbie’s long standing support of our community had been deeply appreciated and his frequent visits helped us realise how central his understanding of one’s ‘personal vocation’ is to our charism.
Deceptively brief and simple, this is a profound reflection on identifying one’s “personal vocation”-not just discovering what one really want to do, but discovering the very essence of one’s being, what is unique and unrepeatable about oneself. Doing flows from being, so this is the spirit that animates everything one does; this is the secret of unity and integration at the heart of life, how one is ‘called by name’.
Fr Herbie showed how discovering this special way of being is the deepest, furthest-reaching goal of the Ignatian Exercises. The way of being is a reality of God, difficult to express. Sometimes it may be perceived as a phrase that comes to define one’s life: “Abba,” “remain in my love,” “unconditional acceptance,” or “simply gift”-all poor examples of what is experienced on the innermost level. Once uncovered, this reality becomes the criterion of discernment for every subsequent action. It is a transforming discovery that prompts us to reach out more effectively to others and to live more deeply our commitment to our Christian life and mission.
In his book ‘Personal Vocation’ Fr Herbie ends by showing how to change the examination of conscience from an exercise in morality-What did I do wrong today?-to a way of discernment-How did I live out my personal vocation today? This consequently enables us to change at a deeper level so that we can live life with greater depth rather than at a superficial level. It helps us live life to the full.