By Fannie Dionne
Sometimes, the path we think we’re on isn’t the one that leads us to our deepest desires. Justin Sauro, SJ, found himself at such a crossroads.
“I had already decided what I would do with my life. I had studied political science and joined the army because I wanted to help people,” Justin recalls. Like many, he sought to give meaning to his life through well-established paths: career, service, discipline. But one piece of the puzzle was missing.
“At first, the army seemed to be the answer to my aspirations. I wanted to be useful, and the Canadian Army seemed like a way to serve while at the same time learning rigorous discipline. But the more time I spent there, the more I realized that this wasn’t what I really wanted to do with my life. I liked the people I worked with, but something essential was missing. … It was efficient and pragmatic, but the more time passed, the more I saw that this wasn’t my path.”
“At first, the army seemed to be the answer to my aspirations. I wanted to be useful, and the Canadian. But the more time I spent there, the more I realized that this wasn’t what I really wanted to do with my life.”
A community of openness
“During the pandemic, I contacted the Jesuits for a very selfish reason,” Justin admits. What’s remarkable is not so much his decision to continue exploring life with the Jesuits, but rather the way he was welcomed, even with intentions initially focused on himself. “They said to me, ‘You know what, we can work with this. Do you have a spiritual accompanier? No? We’ll put you in touch with a companion, and he’ll work with you from where you are.’”
It was Justin’s moment of clarity. “At the beginning of my conversion to Catholicism, I was passionate about this new faith that had become central to my life. But I soon realized that I couldn’t live this faith to the fullest in an environment as secular as the army. This spirit of openness, honesty, and trust are qualities that many of us seek in our own quests — be they spiritual, communal, or even professional,” he adds.
The path that leads to authenticity
To help him on his way, Justin was given a number of texts, including St. Ignatius of Loyola’s autobiography, which discouraged him at first but ultimately reflected back to him his inner self and his values.
“I thought he was just a stubborn, stupid, and overly passionate Basque! But the funny thing is, when I looked inside myself, I was just like him, full of fervour. Over time, I began to appreciate his personality. But it was really his values that appealed to me, especially Ignatius’ discipline and pragmatism. If it works, do it; if it doesn’t, drop it, and try something else. It’s about compassion and self-effacement.”
“I thought he was just a stubborn, stupid, and overly passionate Basque! But the funny thing is, when I looked inside myself, I was just like him, full of fervour.”
Justin finally decided to change his life path and enter the Jesuit novitiate. Making a decision doesn’t mean the next step will be easy. For this novice, it was the start of a roller-coaster ride but also a journey of inner transformation. “Most of the really difficult periods were mainly due to the fact that I resisted change. Of course, there were interpersonal difficulties, but over time, you realize that these problems reveal something about yourself that you need to change.”
Another difficulty was accepting two years of a new, in his words, very monastic lifestyle, with little latitude. “The whole timetable is preset, with prayers, classes, and work. For people who are already used to managing their lives, it’s a bit frustrating to be under someone else’s responsibility again.”
“I often let fear make the decision for me. The novitiate is a good place to push yourself where you don’t want to go.”
A pilgrimage of discovery
Jesuit novices are sent on the road for a month with $60 in their pockets. Justin chose to go to Vancouver. The trip revealed his vulnerability but also gave him the opportunity to experience some great moments in the little things. The first two days, for example, he begged in Montreal.
“I was very cynical at first, but it was an extraordinary experience to see the generosity of people. A hundred people might pass by, but all it takes is for one to stop and give something, a smile, and that makes your day.” He was able to leave for Toronto, where he worked in a parish for a few days before heading to Winnipeg. From there, he hitchhiked to Regina. “After an hour, a truck stopped. I enjoyed the interaction with the truck driver, who confessed that he would have robbed me a few years ago.”
This last leg of the journey once again revealed the generosity of the people. Welcomed into a Jesuit community, Justin attended a Mass where he explained his pilgrimage. “As the Mass ended, the Jesuit priest simply mentioned that if anyone wanted to help, I was in the back of the church. I was inundated with money. I wanted to give back the surplus, but the priest told me to keep it all: ‘The parishioners entrusted you with this money, and this is what God has given you.’ With that I was able to go all the way to Vancouver.”
Having just taken his first vows, Justin looks back on the novitiate as a difficult journey, but one in which he found moments of peace. “Once I spent 15 minutes petting a stray cat. It was in this moment of joy and prayer that I realized that animals had a connection with me, and that prayer can be much broader than we normally think. These little moments, these little things, gave me joy and hope.” In short, changing your life isn’t necessarily easy, but a glance back at the rough road you’ve just travelled can reveal flashes of light and beauty, as well as a desire to keep going to discover what the next stretch of the road holds.