March 2011

March 2011



1951 - 2011

Ft. Gerard NovitiateNOVITIATE

Fr. Gerard D'Souza, OCSO, Novice Master
March, 2011

A candidate who is discerning monastic life at the Abbey has usually been engaged in this process for an extended period of time. His visits and contacts with the community, the month long observership, his reading has enabled him to form some expectations about monastic life. It is only when he finally enters as a postulant that he begins to know monastic life from within. This is a very important point of transition and it is marked by entry into the novitiate.

All transitions pose many adjustments and challenges, some foreseen, some that could not be foreseen in advance. There are difficulties that are proper to this stage that are associated with a change in identity. ‘Often these are connected with the physical and affective separation from the activities and relationships that were part of the postulant's life before entering the monastery' (Ratio Institutionis) These transitions must be negotiated well if the novice is to become a monk. Our Ratio recognizes the importance of this transition when it states ‘The experience of centuries expressed in the Rule of St Benedict as well as in the legislation of the Church and the order have provided for a gradual initiation into the monastic way of life'. It is in the novitiate that postulants and novices are gradually introduced into the life of this monastery.

Postulants and novices are under the care of the novice master. St Benedict says ‘A senior chosen for his skill in winning souls should be appointed to look after them with careful attention.'(RB, Chapter 58) ‘Through prayer, ascesis, growth in self-knowledge and participation in the life of the community, the novices are led to a more intense personal experience of what is involved in the living out of the Cistercian conversatio (way of life).'{(Ratio Institutionis}. The novice master ‘is to help them to develop a life of continual prayer; to love the Divine Office and to find in it a large part of their spiritual nourishment, (he is ) to guide them on their journey to take up the cross after the example of Christ.'

St Benedict provides the novice and all those involved directly with the formation of novice some criteria for the discernment of a vocation to monastic life. ‘The concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God and whether he shows eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials.' For St Benedict, there is only one reason for entering a monastery – the novice must truly seek God. This seeking is not confined to some vague interior intention that the novice professes. It is genuine only when it manifests itself in external behavior and clearly discernible attitudes. If we examine the criteria provided by St Benedict, there is a common thread running through them – can the novice put on the new man in Christ? Can he put the self behind him? Can he die to his old identity and take on the new one?

Each of those criteria – eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience, for trials constitute tests of the genuineness of the novice's search for God. Each of them entails, in some shape or form, the renunciation of the self, of going beyond the narrow confines of one's previous identity. This ability to let go of self, this dying to self reveals that the novice is living from another center – the new life in Christ. He is truly seeking God because he is able to disengage from the old self and watch it crumble away even as he identifies with the only Person, Christ Jesus, who can reveal the Father.

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