Home Articles Spirituality Father Master Post

RSS Syndication

Subscribe to my RSS Feed!
feed image


Father Master Post PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, July 27 2004 19:00
Long ago, when I entered the Jesuit novitiate, Shadowbrook, my prime model for implementing religious ideals was the Master of Novices, Father John Post. He was a spiritual leader with a reputation for having control of his emotions. In my two years under his direction, I never saw him do anything spontaneous.

His normal mien on entering the refectory for a meal was strictly programmed: eyes downcast, face held serious and steady, gait measured. Though his body, in outline underneath his cassock, appeared robust, his posture and the way he held his head suggested that he had learned to hold his physical self in check.

The Master’s demeanor changed radically, however, when Christmas arrived. Then he would enter the dining room smiling, something I had hardly ever seen him do previously. This holy day triggered in him a release from his normal look, as if he had heard a message from on high that cheerfulness was now required.

Whether that relaxation extended to other forms of compromise I do not know: it was rumored of this model of asceticism that, though he was a formidable tennis player, his habit was deliberately to lose games so as to preserve in himself the virtue of humility.

When one knocked on his door, he would say “Come in” with carefully modulated tones that, like everything else, suggested self-control. His favorite phrase in response to personal problems was “Brother, beat it down,” words that had become a slogan among his novices and material for parody.

But taken seriously, as I took it, this phrase meant that natural inclinations were to be subjected to control by higher faculties, the body made to obey the soul.

At this early stage in my spiritual development, I saw such rigid responses as required by my quest for perfection. Much of this effort focused on the uprooting of the deeply implanted root vice that underlay my sinful actions and my self-love that prevented me from moving closer to God.

In his daily conferences, Father Master presented a six-item menu of what he called “predominant passions,” for each of which he suggested remedies. From this list, I chose pride as my central vice, the chief reason why I was so unspiritual.

Father Master warned us that the struggle would not be easy because of the character of our adversary. He attributed much to the cleverness of the devil. In one of his conferences the master explained it this way: “Because of our nature we are thrown off easily by a pure spirit and his intellect is sharper than ours. The devil has 25 thousand years’ experience.”

Taking individual direction from the master, I received his approval for a strategy designed to defeat pride, the chief barrier on my road to perfection. Among his recommendations for fighting pride were the following remedies: “To hide oneself except when obedience or charity require; to put oneself below others by obedience;  .  .  . avoid speaking of oneself.”

During the night of March 12, 1956, three years after I had left that place, a great fire lit up the night in the Berkshire Hills town of Lenox, Massachusetts, burning Shadowbrook to the ground. In that spectacular blaze, three Jesuits priests and one Jesuit brother were trapped in the north side of the mansion and burned to death. Wakened from sleep at the other side of the huge house, some two hundred novices and other young Jesuits escaped with their lives, although a few were injured.

Father Post was trapped by the flames and had to leap from the second floor of the building. In his fall, he suffered serious damage to his back, his legs, and other parts of his body. Recovery from some of his wounds would take a long time and crucial disabilities remained with him for the rest of his life.

This was the man portrayed here as rigid in his observance of rules and unbending in his overall approach to Jesuit life. However, after the fire and, inspired by the Second Vatican Council, he became a different person, open to change and flexible toward the new conditions of his life.

His life continued to provide a lesson for others, but in ways that none of us, his former novices, could have foreseen. Now he even dared admit that the way he had directed novices had been misguided because it was often more stoic than Christian.

It was as if the fire had purged him of his stiffness, enabling him to accept a new church and a new world with astonishing grace.

Richard Griffin