By Fr. Joe Pedersen, C.S.C.
A couple of weeks ago the novitiate community had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration. Each novice and staff member prepared a favorite Thanksgiving dish. Before we began our dinner, as we were blessing the food, we went around the table naming those things we were most grateful for: family, friends, our Holy Cross community, and time to be together.
Now, as we move into Advent and toward Christmas, another scene is playing out. You might be able to picture it: five novices walking through the woods. Snow is drifting down. It’s just a couple of weeks until Christmas, and the novices are searching our wooded property for the perfect tree to serve as the centerpiece of our Christmas decorations. Our beautiful property is especially beautiful during the holiday season. (Of course, we only put up some decorations as a means to help us during this time of preparation. Some of our decorating will be left until the Christmas season itself! The blessings of the Novitiate is that we have plenty of time to enjoy the fullness of each liturgical season.)
For most of the young men who come to the novitiate, this is the first time that they’re away from home for the holidays. It’s the first time they’re not sitting around the table with their parents and siblings; the first time without all of the Christmas traditions that have defined the season for them for so many years. As you might imagine, as joyous as the season is, this aspect of it can be really hard.
At the same time, though, there is something beautiful about spending this Christmas season with our small novitiate community. Those of us who discern a life in Holy Cross have come to believe that this is the family that God is calling us to be a part of. Those priests and brothers who came before us beckoned us to join them. The Holy Cross Constitutions say: “We wanted to be part of the family they formed in order to share in their life and work.”
Holy Cross priests and brothers never truly leave the families into which they were born. If anything, our biological families are joined together in a unique way through our vows. They get to know each other as we progress through formation. We in Holy Cross also get to know each other’s parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. We celebrate when a fellow religious’ family member gets married or has a baby. We pray for each other’s families in times of sickness and we pray with them at family funerals.
Both our biological families and our religious family are essential to helping us become the men that God is calling us to be. During this year, the novices have a unique time to build traditions with their Holy Cross family. As our Constitutions say: “It is essential to our mission that we strive to abide so attentively together that people will observe: ‘See how they love one another.’ We will then be a sign in an alienated world: men who have, for love of their Lord, become closest neighbors, trustworthy friends, brothers.”
During the holidays we hope that our celebrations and our communal joy might bring about a sign for an alienated and divided world. It is in Christ that our diverse traditions and practices can find real union, and it is Christ who has brought us together to share these joys with one another.