I am always amazed with the process of making bread. It is a long tedious process of cutting, breaking, grinding, kneading and heating. Yet, the product of this laborious process is something that delights the palate, something that fills hunger, something that gives new strength. Let me briefly describe this awesome process.
Baking bread really starts with a harvest. Any kind of grain— wheat, barley or oats, when harvested are cut from their golden stalks and treshed. Grains are unhusked and then ground to make fine flour. The flour had to go through the baker’s hand and oven. He will mix some other ingredients into the flour: salt, sugar, leavening and shortening. He will then knead the flour mixture until he produces a supple and soft mixture ready for baking. The mixture then is laid to the oven, put under the heat and baked. After a long process, the bread is ready to be served at the table, to be broken once again and be eaten for it to achieve its worth and its purpose.
The bread we eat at breakfast or mirienda is a product of a disciplined process, a “formation process”, so to speak. A good bread is a product of a disciplined process of cutting, breaking, grinding, kneading and heating and baking. Without this long process, there would be no bread to eat.
So is man. Mencius, an ancient Chinese Philosopher once said, “When Heaven is about to confer a great responsibility of any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hardwork, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.” Men who are to carry great responsibility must become like bread -- they must be cut, broken, ground, kneaded and baked.
Reflecting on this imagery of bread making, I cannot help but think about my own formation as a Jesuit.
Like bread baking, my vocation started with a harvest. It started with a paradoxical experience of fullness and emptiness. While I felt so blessed in my life and everything seemed to fall on their proper places there was a correlative sense of lack. I always felt a constant urge to look for something more—something beyond the blessings, something beyond what is convenient. I began to look for a deeper purpose. I realized that there is more to life than just being loved, accepted and blessed. “Unless wheat dies and falls into the ground, it will not bear much fruit.” These words in the scriptures gave me a sense that “harvest time” was at hand.
To harvest means cutting off from the source. I did not realize what being cut-off means until I entered the novitiate. It was a freely chosen cutting-off and yet it was difficult because it meant cutting off from the world, from my family and friends, from the comforts of home and the work place. It was indeed a time of suffering, hard work and poverty, as Mencius would put it.
My formation was like the transformation process of a grain to becoming bread. I was stripped off my false husks so that my true self could emerge. With this, I discovered the beauty of being naked from false self-notions and defense mechanisms. The unhusking eventually led me to the process of grinding and kneading.
In the novitiate, I had to learn and “unlearn” things which were difficult to do. Indeed, to learn and unlearn was a grinding and kneading process for me. From the comforts of life, I had to learn simple living by going up the mountain and live with the people there. I had to learn serving others by serving in the hospitals and in the urban poor communities. From control of my own life, I had to learn to obey the will of my Superiors. From a carefree expression of my passion, I had to turn to discipline and personal mortification to train my body, mind and spirit to be chaste.
I pronounced my vows May 31, 2001. I thought the grinding and kneading would be over when I transferred to Loyola House of Studies for my formation as a Jesuit Scholastic. Some months later, I realized that the grinding and kneading was far from over. The profession of vows was just a stage in the formation—an opening that leads to more grinding and kneading—preparing us to become bread for others.
The Juniorate formation proved to be a practice on eloquentia or eloquence, as we are honed both in our written and oral communication skills. After a year, we are initiated into the rigors and discipline of Philosophy hoping that our minds are formed with sapientia (wisdom). After two years of philosophy, we are then asked to go out of the formal structures of the Scholasticate for Regency. Here, we get to taste the apostolic character of the Society as we engage ourselves in teaching or missionary work. After two years, we go back to the Scholasticate to have another four years of studying Theology. As one goes deeper to the formation process, the greater challenges and demands will be in all aspects: studies, apostolate, spiritual and community life.
Being in the Society of Jesus for seven years now and knowing the process that I had to undergo, I am now more convinced that indeed, I am yet to become bread. Not only would I continue to experience the long and tedious process of breaking, grinding and kneading, I also need to go through the fire. All these are necessary to become the finest bread that I am called to be.
Reflecting more deeply, I was lead away from my own formation process to contemplation on the lives of the great men of our history. An arresting realization came to me. Hindi pala ako nag-iisa. Rizal had to endure his separation from family. Ninoy Aquino had to be incarcerated in a solitary confinement. Mahatma Gandhi had to endure the pain of hunger as he stood for the rights of his people. Francis Xavier had to struggle with language barriers to preach the Good News. Ignatius of Loyola had to be taught by God like “a Master to his pupil.” They are only but few of the great men who have been subjected to tests, stretched, kneaded and baked. Yet, they have become the finest bread for humanity. This realization becomes even more arresting whenever I contemplate Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life himself, who went through the process of “cutting, breaking, grinding, kneading and heating” unto end. This is the same Jesus who in the Spiritual Exercises have invited me, “whoever would like to come with Me is to labor with Me, that following me in the pain, he may also follow me in the glory.”(SpEx 96)
Looking then at my Jesuit life now, I could only humbly admit that indeed I am yet to become bread. With this long process of formation, I could only hope that I may truly be able to follow Jesus. That I too, like Jesus, become a bread to be broken, blessed and be given away.