“You must love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
When young men join the Jesuit Order they begin with a two year course called the noviceship. Here everything is very tightly regulated as they are tested for their suitability; one of the many rules being that the novices should talk little during the day, and definitely not at night. The night period from 10pm to 6am is called the great silence, and it is to be strictly observed.
The novices slept in small dormitories of about 8, with each having a cubicle for privacy. One of the 8 would be the leader, and when the bell went at 6am, (a time when it was pitch dark), it was his job to switch on the lights and call the others to get up. One night the leader got the idea it was 6am; he switched on the lights, and called out to the others, who duly got out of bed, and began shaving and dressing; but then our man noticed that it was actually only 2am. At all costs, he thought, I must not break the great silence, so without saying anything, he switched off the lights and went back to bed. The others of course were left helplessly unaware of what was going on.
That mentality of sticking to rules, however pointless, characterised the young Aloysius Gonzaga. He entered the Jesuit noviciate in a rigid and legalistic frame of mind, a nuisance to some, boring to many, and frankly with his narrow zeal, somewhat inhuman. Rules were rules for Aloysius, and that was that.
Fortunately there was a wise elderly man in Rome, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who gave Aloysius guidance. He managed to persuade the young zealot that good religion is more about the heart than the head; that loving our neighbour is achieved through our feelings, not by our brains. Slowly Aloysius began to soften and to learn how to frame his lifestyle on the true principal of loving God above all, and one’s neighbour as oneself.
It is characteristic of any College, this one included, that it tries to develop knowledge and thinking ability. And so it should, but a good human person is more than a calculating machine. Our ability to care, to understand, to listen, to connect with others, must keep growing; and this growth is a vital part of a full education.
By the time of his early death at the age of 23 Aloysius had become a very human personality who gave himself willingly and skilfully to the care of plague victims in Rome. Thanks to Robert Bellarmine he had grown emotionally, and had that attractive character that we associate with a saint. Let us pray and hope that in our time here at Stonyhurst, we will indeed pass our exams and learn well, but that we also become ever more genuinely human, so that we serve God wholeheartedly and succeed in loving those around us.