The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
— Albert Einstein
Every Franciscan friar makes an annual retreat. This is a time away from one’s normal work where the friar can spend time in reflection, prayer, and spiritual renewal. Retreats can be either a programmed time under the direction of a retreat master or time spent alone. My preference has always been for a personal retreat where I can focus on those things which are currently on my mind.
This year for Lent, I have come to the Interprovincial Franciscan Novitiate in Burlington, Wisc., to make a weeklong retreat. It has been a faith-filled time, with long periods of quiet for prayer and reading.
Among the four stages of Franciscan formation (as a postulant, as a novice, in simple vows and in solemn vows), the novitiate is a sacred time where the new friar learns about his new order (its history, its spirituality, etc.), studies the rule of life (to which he is about to vow before God and before his brothers to live faithfully), and learns the customs and culture of the order. It is in the novitiate that the novices are first invested in their habit.
More important than these things, though, it is a time when the new friar learns how to dedicate portions of his life to prayer and reflection. St. Francis of Assisi and the early friars spent long portions time in hermitages. St. Francis even wrote a special rule for the way the friars were to live in hermitages. It is during the novitiate that the novices learn to appreciate this special way to pray.
I was humbled during my novitiate almost 20 years ago when I thought about the fact that here there were men who were willing to pay for my upkeep for a year just so that I could focus on developing my spirituality. It’s really a gift to the novices and a very special time in their lives.
There are 12 novices in the novitiate this year journeying towards making their first vows on Aug. 2 of this year. It has been my privilege this week to live with them, share meals with them, and begin to get to know them. They are a quite impressive group.
There are one each from Canada, England, and Ireland; the remaining nine are from the US. They come from California, Texas, New York and all points in between. Their ages range from the low 20s to the early 40s.
I am really gratefully for having gotten this time both alone — to reflect and pray — and also together with our novices.
May the Lord give you peace.
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