What’s a Novitiate, anyhow?

Novitiate, it’s all the news here at the Coffeehouse….. But, it’s not exactly the local college now, something everyone is familiar with, been to, done that.

I mean….just what exactly is the Novitiate, anyhow?

I know, right?

Well, as you know by now, maybe, my son is going to the Novitiate for the Eastern Province of the Dominicans of St. Joseph.  A mouthful, to say the least. We typically shorten it to say, “He’s entering the Novitiate.”

But what does that mean?

Well, (and this is mom-speak; not officialese) the Novitiate is a little like the freshman class at a graduate program, and a little bit like boot camp, and a little bit like a year long spiritual retreat. What it means is that he has discerned that God might be calling him to religious life, specifically to the priesthood, and with the Dominican Order (as opposed to the more familiar neighborhood parish priest).

It is only open to college graduates, it is not for boys, or the elderly – strength is needed to answer this call. Thus, Chris has applied and been accepted into the Novitiate class for this summer. Meaning, my son and 14 other guys will live and work and pray together as they live as Dominican brothers (little brothers, in a  way) at a parish about five hours away.

This is the year for them to live as Dominican’s and see if the call they are discerning is real. It is a “final answer” kind of year.  Sort of.  Really, they have until final vows, years from now, to really change their mind if the need to.  But this year, in particular, is the one that they usually find out for sure, if their call is real.  This year is the year that they go through some of the spiritual rigor, the loneliness, the changes, the giving up most things, the stepping out of the world, and by living it learn if it is for them, or not.

Most often, this year leads to a confirmation of their vocation and great joy.  And, with that, first profession of vows (“First Vows”, “First Profession” – same thing) next August.  {The second and “final vows” come about 4.5 years from now, usually…and the Ordination to Priesthood happens around seven years in}.  But this is about THIS big year.  And sometimes, this year of discernment leads to the realization that this is just one step on a different journey and they leave the Novitiate house and step into a new direction, maybe back to grad school, a different job…That’s not a fail, that’s a listening, discerning thing.  It is part of the work of this year ahead.

But this is the year that these young men attempt to answer the call to leave the world behind and live for God, any way and any where he calls them. It takes great courage I think, especially in our modern age and culture.

My son will be allowed to bring only a few things with him: a few books, his guitar and mandolin (Dominican’s love music and the Novitiate has a piano, yay), some work clothes, some exercise clothes, a 15 decade rosary, breviary.  That’s it.  Nope, no cell, no computer, no email.

Yeah, this is where I kinda have to remind myself to keep breathing….

We can all use snail mail, and he will call now and then.  But we won’t see him for a year; except for one short parent only weekend.

He will live in community with the other novices.

He will be given a habit, white robes, belt, rosary.  He might well be given a new name.  (Ok, that’s a whole ‘nother post, isn’t it?)  They mostly have their own rooms, I think.  Simple rooms, bed, desk, basic.

What do they DO?? They get up to pray together, they have classes, they work, they eat together, they have time to play basketball or read, they help out in the parish, they sing, they pray alone too, they study. They learn to give up their comforts and their crutches, they learn to lean on God and prayer and to find the joy in that and in service.  They detach from the world, even from their families and old friends….

That sounds so hard, especially for me as mom, but I have been assured that they then become closer than ever to their family, after the novice year…..perhaps because some of their youthful selfishness has been burned away. Perhaps because we will all have learned how to love better, with less leaning on our own desires for physical proximity, instead, leaning on the sturdy bridges of deep love and faith…the stanchions that are firm, strong, made to last through all.

I don’t know.  We wait to see that, with hope and continued reminders to each other to breath….deep breaths as we miss our Chris.  But the key for him, this year, will be our continued prayers for him and his continued prayers for discernment.  I believe he is called to this, so does he or he wouldn’t go.  But the prayers are key, for him, for us…for two reasons.  One – because great things and changes are best done prayerfully, every step of the way.  Two – because prayer unites us, it is the best kind of connection because it beyond time and place.  And if that’s how I can be close to my son this year, that’s where you will find me.

The Novitiate, not for sissies.  For men.  And now, well, in one more month – for my son.