Fr. Bavinger is the Superior of the Jesuit Community at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also serves as a parochial vicar and vocation promoter there.
What makes me happy to be a religious today?
I suppose the happiest part of consecrated life for me as a Jesuit has been discovering God present and leading me in places that I did not expect to be. Even in my novitiate years, 1969-1971, when I went on a three-month experiment to Guatemala, I worried that the God I had come to know at Wernersville would not be with me in Ciudad Guatemala. But God was there indeed, accompanying me and sustaining me, and still speaking English. (My Spanish was not too good yet!)
Urban alternative schools seemed to be making a difference in my early years in the Society, and I thought I was pretty much headed toward that kind of work, doing my regency at the Nativity School in New York. But while in theology, God drew me to ministry in the parishes. I felt more capable of interacting with adults, and the faith that I observed, particularly active in the African American Catholic Community, was a faith that I longed for myself. I wanted to know the God these folks spoke of when, even though having very little, they often said, "God has been good to me."
Now, in my fifth year at the largest and most diverse parish I have ever worked in, I can say again God has surprised me. The parish leadership--our three Jesuits and our excellent staff--are on a journey "to the edges," as Pope Francis might say. We're aware of the many parishioners we are not reaching, and aware of many more who visit only rarely, or not at all. And being newly involved in spiritual direction and in giving the 19th annotation retreat, I am getting new understanding of the Spiritual Exercises, new awareness of people's hungers, and new experience of the God who has been with me all along.