By Fr. Joe Pedersen, C.S.C.
Sometimes people ask what it is we do up here at the Holy Cross novitiate all day. It’s a fair question. The postulancy for the Congregation of Holy Cross is filled with academic coursework at the University of Notre Dame, regular ministry in parish settings or direct ministry with the poor, the daily rhythm of the Church’s prayer, and the active schedule of community life at Moreau Seminary. Life here at the novitiate takes a very different shape. It happens at a much more deliberate pace than the rest of our life in Holy Cross, and there’s a reason for that. By separating ourselves, physically and electronically, from the busyness of normal life we’re able to make time for an essential piece of the novitiate — prayer.
Every stage of formation is about helping men to develop their relationship with God and be more and more conformed to his Son. Within that, the purpose of the novitiate in particular is to discern whether to profess vows in Holy Cross, and, if so, to prepare to live those vows well. Prayer is foundational for both the discernment and the preparation (and, of course, developing a relationship with God). So, everything in our life is built to help foster prayer. The structure of our days, weeks, and months encourages prayer and makes it possible.
In the novitiate we pray all of the Liturgy of the Hours together each day: the Office of Readings, Lauds, Daytime Prayer, Vespers, and Compline. We also have two daily meditations, and regular Eucharistic Adoration. And, the high point of each day, Mass. All told, we’re together in the chapel for several hours a day.
Because of this, our chapel is truly the heart of our home and of our community life. Overall, it’s a simple space. The furnishings aren’t fancy. Only the view of the mountains out of the large, south-facing, windows would catch your eye. Still, it’s in this simple chapel where most of the “work” of the Novitiate is done. It’s where God also does his work on the interior life of each novice.
For most of the time that Holy Cross has been here in Cascade, the chapel hasn’t had an official dedication, an official name. Just this past year, though, it was named the Chapel of the Transfiguration. Just as Jesus went up on a mountain and was transfigured before his disciples, so everyone who enters as a novice, and comes up to this mountain, seeks to be transfigured. Through our entering into prayer in a deep and sustained way, God begins to reshape us, according to his own image. After a year of prayer and meditation it’s hard not to come away changed.
From time to time the novices will joke that when they get to talk to their families and friends on the phone, they get all the news they can from the outside world but don’t have much to share themselves. Not much seems to have happened! It’s not entirely true, though. Not much has happened that you’d be able to observe from the outside. Perhaps not even something you could readily describe, even if you wanted to. Inside, though, each of these men is being transformed. Slowly but inexorably God is making the novices more and more like himself.