My Three Jesuit Vows: Living with Radically ‘Open Hands’

 

Before I go to sleep at night,
I examine my hands,
I make sure they are empty —
for this means I have given it all in my day.

Before I wake up in the morning,
I examine my hands,
I make sure they are empty —
For this means I am ready to receive it all in my day.

When I follow Christ,
I examine my hands,
I make sure they are empty and bear his wounds —
For now giving and receiving have become one.

”Open Hands” Poem by Michael A. Martínez, S.J.

I was freaking out. It was the day before I would profess vows to live poor, chaste and obedient for the rest of my life! 

My heart was pounding. In search of some peace, I pulled one of the older Jesuit priests in the house to a community parlor and word vomited all my fears and anxieties about living these promises until the day I die. He reassured me in his typical Cuban-Jesuit wit and wisdom: 

“Professing vows is not magic, as if once you read your promises in the Mass you are automatically self-actualized into a completely poor, chaste and obedient Jesuit. Only God can self-actualize instantly, and last time I checked you are not God. As a human, you are promising to become poor, chaste and obedient — on the journeyas you follow Christ. Thus, you are promising to become — every day of your life — a little more poor, a little more chaste, and a little more obedient until the day you die. The promise you are making is that when you look back on your life, you have become poor, chaste and obedient in pursuit of the ultimate goal — God’s Kingdom.” 

My peace returned. 

So, what actually occurred that day of taking vows? 

On August 28th, 2015, on the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo (exactly four years ago today)…

…during a schoolwide “Mass of the Holy Spirit”…1

… at my middle and high school alma mater, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, FL 

… accompanied by more than 1,700 persons, Belen students and teachers…2

… alongside my Jesuit brothers 3 (including some former teachers and counselors)…

… college friends from Fordham University ‘13…

… my high school friends from Belen Jesuit ‘09, their parents, my family… 

… I professed vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Society of Jesus until the day I die.4 

… and as I reminded all the people in the Mass that day: their concrete stories, prayers, friendships, love and lives give me strength everyday in pursuit of God’s Kingdom. I felt as if I took the vows with them and for them as well.

They too are on the adventure with me and for me. 

—-

So, what’s on that piece of paper? 

My personal handwritten vow formula

Every Jesuit has to handwrite their “vow formula” three times on three seperate sheets of paper; one sheet is mailed to Rome, another to one’s Province office (in my case to Dominican Republic) and the last copy to keep for oneself. 

Ever since the day of my vows, I have made it a point to keep my handwritten vows by my bedside. As the final thing I do before going to sleep, I read them out loud. This is not some pious requirement asked of Jesuits, but rather a personal choice. 

 

It’s my simple way of saying to God: “I have received it all from You, and I give it all to You.”5

— 

What do “Open Hands” have to do with the vows?

As a synthesis of my experience as a first-year Jesuit novice in 2014, during my thirty-day silent retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises, I wrote the above poem “Open Hands”, which captures the core invitation God was making me: to follow His Son Jesus radically and live in the world the way Jesus lived — poor, chaste and obedient to God’s Will. 

Originally written in Spanish, the poem “Manos Abiertas” sums up the ‘open hands’ I needed to receive all of God’s gifts, and the open hands to give away those same gifts to every person I encounter. 

It was not until 2016, during my graduate studies in digital media at Loyola University Chicago, that I set “Open Hands” to music and adapted it into a “moving poem” that also abstractly encapsulates my vocation story. The various hands in the video belong to Damian Torres-Botello S.J., various youth from St. Jerome Catholic Church and my own hands. 

My Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, help me to live with radically ‘open hands’ to serve any and all ‘open hands’ I encounter. The vows are a call to love radically. 

Can we really live this way for life?

The answer is only by grace, so let us pray:

My Lovingly Liberating God,

Give me hands as free as those of your Son, Jesus Christ

To radically love, give and work.

May poverty invite us to hold all things with radical freedom to receive and give.

May chastity invite us to hold all people with radical embrace and compassion.

May obedience invite us to hold all projects with discernment to radically pursue God’s will and firmly reject that which contradicts it.

Give us Your open hands.

Amen.

  1.  Jesuit schools traditionally begin their academic school year with the “Mass of the Holy Spirit,” going back all the way to the first Jesuit school in Messina, Sicily in 1548.
  2. During my thanksgiving speech, I called on one student sitting in the corner of the bleachers (totally unexpected) to please stand. I let him know that I was sitting right there when I was in 6th grade and that the last thing I expected was that 13 years later I would profess vows as a Jesuit in this very place. Funny enough, he was my student last year in my first year of regency.
  3. Listen to the tremendous homily and rap song given by former president of Belen Jesuit, Fr. Pedro Suarez, S.J.
  4. Check out video of the official moment of my profession of vows before Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and received by my Provincial, the Very Reverend Fr. Javier Vidal, S.J. (Antilles Province)
  5. P.S. Check out a surprise “Thank You” Rap I performed at the end of the Vow Mass, all for the greater glory of God.

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