What happened to me in a year? There are still moments when I find it hard to describe what happened during novitiate. My sense of time was stretched. A day would go by in a blur of activity yet that same day would feel infinitely long during prayer and quiet.
Let me start with the basics. What is novitiate? It’s a period of one to two years for people to enter more into the life of religious community. The novice learns about the religious community, its history, its mission (charism) and its regulations. Spiritual and human qualities are fostered through prayer, reading and service to cultivate more interior freedom to make the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The time allows deeper discernment of a person’s call to a life mission (or “vocation” in Catholic parlance).
Five of us entered novitiate on Aug. 1, 2016. Two left and the remaining three made our first vows on Aug. 5, 2017. Each departure was painful for me, but God brought each the gifts they needed in seminary and led them back out.
Here are the top 5 things from my novitiate and accompanying suggestions to build your spiritual life:
Before entering novitiate, I had thought that some memories were too painful to revisit. But Jesus showed how powerful he is in walking with me through them to bring healing. Dr. Bob Schuchts’ Be Healed, John Eldredge’s Desire, Neal Lozano’s Abba’s Heart and Gordon Dalbey’s Sons of the Father provided many ways to allow Jesus to be the healer in my life. I suggest starting with Schuhts’ material and move on to Eldredge, Lozano and Dalbey.
Throughout the year, the Virgin Mary offered and then reminded me that I had a closer relationship with her. I was confused about the meaning until the last month of novitiate. She was helping me say “yes” to God just as she did at the Annunciation. I couldn’t have thought that I would be so much closer to her than before. If you want to grow closer to Mary, you can read Father Mike Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory.
Everyone in novitiate was hit with a loss. We attended four to six funerals that year. My mother informed me at the end of January about the death of Chip, my family’s Yorkie, in the middle of that month. My greatest loss came in May. The mother of my childhood friend Harold wrote to me that he had died in mid-April. I was stunned for a few days. How healing and soothing tears are when they are shed for a friend. I’m amazed how we’ve all grown in consoling and sharing our sorrow. Consider praying for a deceased friend or relative daily.
- Media fast
This was a great blessing. To hear God better, the novices reduced the noise of everything else. Community phones replaced personal cellphones. Social media was put on hold. Email and phone calls were limited to the weekends. Movies were limited to mostly religious themes. I was grateful not to be on social media during that divisive presidential election. Social media and email didn’t have a hold on me as they did before novitiate. Media fast’s end means my growing responsibility for my email and social media use. Maybe you can schedule an hour away from all social media and pray and read the Bible.
Novitiate wasn’t serious all the time. Time was set aside for fun. There was paintball, archery, fishing, skiing/snowboading, driving range, kayaking and Boda Borg. (Don’t know what Boda Borg is? It’s one of the coolest things ever.) I enjoyed all those planned activities and the spontaneous ones. (How about a Rube Goldberg machine built in one night?)
Is there a place you want to try? Invite some friends and discover together. You might get a dud, but the gems of a find are so worth it.