Ministering in Prayer

Just a few days ago, the novices returned from their winter ministry experience. Each year, right around the mid-point of the novitiate, the men are sent out for a month to live and serve in one of Holy Cross’ active apostolates. This year, two novices served at our parish in Austin, Texas; two were placed at our parish in Goodyear, Arizona; and one went to Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. During these weeks away, the novices got to experience full-time ministry while living in community. They lived the daily rhythms of life in a school or a parish. They served lots of new people. They got to test out how they could sustain the routines of prayer they established during the first half of the novitiate in the midst of a very busy schedule. They also, I am assured, had a lot of fun.

You might wonder why we would take a whole month out of the novitiate year — a year that is unique in our life in Holy Cross — to engage in the sort of ministry that we might do for decades to come. It’s a fair question. The foundations of prayer that we develop at the novitiate sustain us for the rest of our lives in Holy Cross, so all of the time we can devote to building those foundations is crucial. At the same time, we in Holy Cross are apostolic religious through and through. Along with the sanctification of its members, the whole purpose of Holy Cross is to sanctify the world. For us that means working diligently in parishes and schools. It means educating, preaching, and providing the sacraments. Our vocation is to work zealously for and with God’s people. The winter ministry experience allows the novices to live that apostolic vocation even now.

As the novices discern where God is calling them, their experiences in ministry are invaluable data points. All of the experiences this past month, along with the ministry that the novices engage in every Wednesday and Sunday (they serve in our local Holy Cross parish as well as with nearby hospitals and homeless outreach efforts), help them see more clearly whether God is asking them to give over their lives in this way. They get to ask themselves honestly whether serving the Church as a religious gives them life, energy, and hope — whether they are their fullest selves in this way of life. The ministry experience breathes new life and energy into the novices as the rhythm of the year begins to feel familiar. Then they have a chance to harness that new life and test it, to see where the Spirit might be leading.

The ministry experiences of the novitiate also give the People of God the opportunity to give their input. Through their affirmation and gratitude they offer confirmation. They point out all of the ways that the novices have touched them and helped them grow closer to God. They also point out (almost always kindly) areas where the novices might need to grow. New questions are opened for the novices and new opportunities for reflection arise.

From the beginning, the Church has responded to Christ’s call to spread the Good News of the gospel. The Congregation of Holy Cross takes up that call each day in all of our houses and apostolates. The Novitiate is a time set apart, but it still has its part to play in the mission of Holy Cross.

Published on February 14, 2024

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