Just a few weeks ago five young men arrived at the Holy Cross Novitiate, located just outside of Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. For the next few days they were introduced to the property, the schedule they would keep for the next 52 weeks, and the purpose of the novitiate. Then, on August 13th, the five men gathered in the chapel, together with the Novitiate staff and Holy Cross Religious from the area. During Vespers, Fr. Jeff, the novice director, put to each of them these brief but powerful questions: “What do you wish? What do you seek?” They replied, “I wish to discern the call to live religious life in Holy Cross. If this be God’s will for me, I also seek to follow Christ through profession of vows in this religious family.”
Although nothing in the chapel had changed after their answer, something profound had taken place within each of those five men. Fr. Jeff called each one by name to come forward, sign his name in the novitiate book of enrollment, and gave him his religious habit (for novices, a simple black cassock and cloth cincture). Each of the men were now formally religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Although they have not yet professed vows, they are now novices, prepared by grace and formation to live the life of a Holy Cross religious and discern what God has in store for them.
The novitiate is a unique time in the life of any Holy Cross priest or brother. It is a time of deep and profound prayer, wonderful and frustrating time with community, and a year devoted to perhaps the most important question each person hopes to answer: How is God calling me to holiness? Because of its unique and intense nature, Holy Cross men tell stories about their novitiate year for the rest of their lives. It is a year that is set apart (the novices spend much of the day in silence and they don’t have cell phones, regular access to the Internet, or trips home). For that reason it can be a little mysterious to our families and friends. The purpose of the year, however, is not so strange. Our Constitutions say that 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.” Every aspect of our life, from the times in the chapel to weekly time for ministry, assists the novices toward that end.
In essence, the novitiate is a year set apart for men in formation to set the foundation to be happy, healthy, and holy priests and brothers in Holy Cross. There aren’t nearly as many distractions as there are in normal life, so they are able to focus on the things that matter most. They are able to live out the answer to the question that Fr. Jeff put to them on the day they were received. They can discern, prayerfully and thoroughly, whether God is calling them to religious life, and, if so, prepare for professed life in our congregation. It was love of Christ and a desire to serve Him in the Church that brought Stephen, Matthew, Jordan, Kevin, and Thomas to the novitiate. This year through all of its joys and challenges, will strengthen that love, no matter where God calls them.
After the new novices were received, I was able to take a closer look at the book of enrollment. Decades of novice classes are listed there. I recognized many of the names. They are Holy Cross priests and brothers. They are missionaries and preachers, teachers and pastors. And now they are my mentors, brothers, and friends. These five men have been added to this list, and with our collective prayers will also find what they seek.