In spiritual terms, entering the novitiate is a journey into the interior desert of the heart, that place of encounter with God.
Upon their arrival at the Novitiate, the novices are vested in the novice habit, and from that moment forward, they bear the initials of the Congregation of Holy Cross after their name: C.S.C. … (Congregatio a Sancta Cruce). So begins their sacred journey at the novitiate, a journey leading to a conversion of heart and mind as they seek to conform their lives to Christ.
Regarding the nature of this year, the Constitutions for the Congregation of Holy Cross state:
“The novitiate is the beginning of life in the Congregation. Novices are helped to form themselves in meditation and prayer, in the mutual services of common life, in apostolic service, and in knowledge of the history and spirituality, character and mission of Holy Cross. In short, they are challenged and helped to open their hearts to the gospel, to live under the same roof with one another, and to create a brotherhood of disciples. The novitiate is their apprenticeship in celibacy, poverty and obedience …”
(Constitution 6.62: Formation and Transformation)
The novitiate is a unique year of formation in the religious life. Novices are asked to embrace a form of asceticism for the purpose of developing interior freedom. Their focus is on the development of the interior life, learning to “listen” for the movement of God within. It is a year set apart wherein the novices withdraw from normal interaction with family, friends and peers. Surrendering the use of cell phones and the readily available access to e-mail, the internet, and other forms of social media, novices learn to live with ever greater simplicity in order to foster habits of attentive awareness of God’s presence in life.
The Novitiate is an “apprenticeship” for the Consecrated Life in the Congregation of Holy Cross. The immediate goal of the Novitiate is to prepare the novices for the profession of vows and ongoing formation in Holy Cross, while the ultimate goal calls for an interior transformation in Christ. Novices
spend a full calendar year in this semi-contemplative environment for the purpose of developing the “habits … character … attitudes … desires …” (C6.57) necessary for living the vowed life. A guided development in prayer and reflection, both common and personal, is given to the novices in order to assist them in establishing a healthy spiritual foundation to serve an active apostolic religious life in service to the People of God. Through conferences, workshops, Spiritual Direction, and individual meetings with formators, the Novitiate offers a setting in which the novices are invited to attend to the work of opening their mind and heart to God’s grace working in and through them.
While the focus of the year is on interior life, novices are provided limited supervised apostolic experiences: serving a rotation at Penrose/St. Francis Hospitals, Namasté Alzheimer Center, and Catholic Charities. In addition, they assist on Sunday mornings at the Tri-Community and Our Lady of the Woods parishes. Through their apostolic experiences, they further strengthen their spiritual foundation, thus becoming true contemplatives in action: men of prayer, deeply grounded in their love for God … empowering them to be men “with hope to bring!” (C8.118)
They year culminates with the profession of First Vows:
At the beginning of our novitiate
we were given the Constitutions
of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
After having studied them and meditated upon them,
we now desire to dedicate our lives to God
through profession of vows.
With the profession of first vows, the novices then return to their academic studies in preparation for life and ministry as a Brother or Priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross, as they strive to conform their life to Christ.
“Your whole novitiate, rather your whole life should have as its aim to so well assimilate the thoughts, judgments, desires, words, and actions of Jesus Christ, that you can say with the great apostle, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ … You must identify with your Divine Model … become in some way another Christ, following the request he made to the Father for his followers, ‘May they be one with me,
as I am one with you,
Father, and may they be one in me as I am in them.'”
(Sermon, 1856: Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC Founder, Congregation of Holy Cross)