I am ready to get to the Novitiate. It is what I spent all last year preparing for and what I have been talking about, praying for, and discerning for a long time. There is so much to be excited about. It’s a year in beautiful Colorado without any classes in which we get to work on our prayer lives and be formed to be more Christ-like.
As I prepare to leave, one of the struggles that I have had is describing to others what exactly I will be doing in Colorado for a year. The idea of a novitiate is not familiar to most people (at least not the people I talk to), so it involves a little bit of explaining.
The Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross describe the Novitiate this way: “The Novitiate is the beginning of life in the congregation. Novices are helped to form themselves in meditation and prayer, in the mutual services of a common life, in apostolic service, and in knowledge of the history and spirituality, character and mission of Holy Cross. In short they are challenged and helped to open their hearts to the gospel, to live under the same roof with one another, and to create a brotherhood of disciples. The Novitiate is their apprenticeship in celibacy, poverty and obedience” (6:62).
While the Constitutions describe the Novitiate broadly, I have found it helpful to talk to Holy Cross religious about their Novitiate experiences. Every religious I have met loves to tell Novitiate stories. Each one includes a description of where their novitiate was held, why their novice master was the most (or least) strict, and some story about how the previously mentioned novice master tested the novices’ “resolution and suitability.” After seeing the uneasy look on the faces of their pre-novitiate audience, each religious usually adds, “… but you will love it! It was the best year of my life.”
I am first and foremost looking forward to deepening my prayer life and relationship with God. The Novitiate provides the space and time for us novices to explore how God is calling us in our lives, and it provides formators and spiritual directors to assist us in that endeavor. I am looking forward to having lots of time to pray, to developing a routine of prayer by saying the full Liturgy of the Hours every day, to learning new types of prayer, and believe it or not, to spending extended periods of time in silence.
The silence and rhythm of life at the Novitiate will provide an atmosphere and setting allowing me to be more attentive to God. Such a space and rhythm would be hard to establish as a full-time grad student. I know that I will miss my computer and cell phone, but I will not miss the distraction and idle chatter that they provide. I’ll miss sitting in front of the TV at the end of the day, but I have a list of books that I plan on reading. I won’t spend much time on Facebook, but I do plan on picking up a practical hobby.
The limited distractions will also force me to focus on community life. I am hopeful that community life will be as fruitful and life-giving for me at the Novitiate as it has been in the past. Community is essential to life in Holy Cross, and the Novitiate will present us with an intense experience of living in close quarters. I am excited to pray, work, cook, eat, hike, live and grow together with my classmates. I am not naïve enough to think that this will always be easy, but I look forward to working through those challenges.
Learning to embrace community happens intensely at the Novitiate because we are away from the other communities to which we belong. Being away from and out of instant contact with family and friends will be really challenging. People I have talked to everyday will only be in touch occasionally. Instead of exchanging text messages with my siblings and friends, I will be sending (and hopefully receiving!) snail mail. My hope is that being out of “easy” contact will make me more intentional and deliberate in communicating with others.
As the Constitutions say, the Novitiate is the “apprenticeship in celibacy, poverty, and obedience.” If this is the life that God is calling me to, I am excited to start living it.
Keep us in your prayers, and we will do the same.
Mr. Brendan Ryan was a postulant at Moreau Seminary this past year. He and his classmates will be entering the Holy Cross Novitiate in Cascade, Colo., on August 7. Learn more about seminary life and formation in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Check out the homily from last year’s First Vows Mass in Colorado Springs.