Novices Discover Novitiate Life is Not that Different from Social Distancing

The Basilian novitiate in Houston, Texas welcomed novices in August 2019. They will spend one year and a day, as prescribed by canon law, away from friends, family, work, and most things familiar to everyday life so that they may build a strong foundation of prayer and spirituality for the rest of their life as a Basilian.

Father Paul English, CSB, director of English-speaking novices, shares some recent highlights:

The prayers of the Basilian novices in Houston and of their formators are with people around the world affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. The novitiate community is most acutely aware that so many Catholics are unable to attend the celebration of the Eucharist. This is a great loss, yet we rely on the grace of our loving God in this time of danger and opportunity. They are cognizant of the fact that those privileged to be able to celebrate Eucharist each day in a religious house must not take this for granted, but rather to offer to Almighty God in a very special way the prayers, needs and hopes of other Catholics as we worship. In a recent Keon House community Mass, Father Mitch Dowalgo, CSB remarked, “We’re all in the novitiate now!”

Precisely because of the limitations in movement and contact with the “outside world” that form the novitiate experience, the novices are not experiencing a significant difference in their daily life. Still, they keep themselves informed and keep those affected constantly in their prayers. Some of the best advice we have heard is not to act as if we are untouched so far by the virus, but instead to act as if we have it and are contagious. With this focus, we take every precaution to avoid endangering others.

During the weeks since the Coronavirus first began affecting day-to-day life, the novitiate continues to maintain its regular schedule, with meditation, Morning Prayer, a conference each weekday, Eucharist, time for study and prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline. In recent months, due to the smaller number of confreres present regularly at supper, the members of novitiate have been present with the Keon House confrères, and continue to share in the cleaning-up after supper. The novices expected to participate in home visits with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, but the new circumstances have called for creativity: the novices participate in calls to those clients (“friends”) via the house phone. Even in this format, the encounters have been impactful.

They began March with a three-day retreat led by Father Maurice Restivo, CSB. We meditated on the call to love mercy, live justly and walk humbly with Our God. After the retreat, the novices spent a few minutes visiting with the gathered superiors and rectors back in Houston. Soon after that, warnings and then more direct instructions came forth regarding COVID-19, and outside activities, for the most part, ended. The novitiate viewed the film, “A Man For All Seasons” in conjunction with their reading of Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism, and its section on the Saints.

Thanks be to God, all are in good health. We rely on the goodness of our God and pray that leaders will make wise, Spirit-directed and science-guided decisions for the well-being of all. Prayers, particularly for our elderly and infirmed confrères!

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