Fr. Cornelius Ngoka, OMI, Assistant General
The novitiate is a time of initiation into religious life during which the Oblate novice, guided by the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the master of novices, grows in friendship with Christ. During this time, the novice experiences the Oblate charism, deepened and lived in community and, in prayer, he develops his conscious and joyful response to God’s call to become an Oblate, through the experience of the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and perseverance.
We often find for ourselves some opportunities to renew ourselves in our oblation, to awaken in ourselves the joyful enthusiasm of the beginning and to remember or tell about the experience of the novitiate: it is when we participate in a first vows ceremony, when we are preparing for final vows or when we celebrate the anniversary of our own first vows. For many Oblates, the experience of novitiate remains a unique time in their journey towards Oblate religious life.
I would like to quote an Oblate who just celebrated 50 years of religious, as well as some novice masters and former novice masters to tell about what the experience of the novitiate means for them, and how it contributes to the formation of an Oblate to a solid religious identity.
Fr. Gilberto Piñón, who just celebrated 50 years of oblation, shares this with us: “The Oblate novitiate experience was a special moment in my life, a time of serious discernment of my own vocation. The decision to become an Oblate had been made before, but the novitiate was the living experience of the Oblate vocation. This was the moment when I could examine my life to see if it really was God calling me; when I could evaluate my own ability to live the Oblate ideal; when I could see if I was really happy and at peace in this Oblate religious lifestyle. I remember that the novice master offered us a lot of questions to help us reflect and pray. The novitiate community also helped me a lot. Sharing my daily life with others helped me in my discernment. And sharing my interior life with the novice master and my spiritual director, I learned to know myself better and know what God expected of me. It was a difficult but very rewarding experience whose fruit is still with me today.”
The testimonies of novice masters agree with the experience of Gilberto and in which many Oblates, I am certain, can recognize themselves. They underline the fundamental elements of this experience of the novitiate which it is worthwhile to recall.
The experience must “begin by encountering the cross. This experience is central to formation in the novitiate. The novices, guided by the Holy Spirit, begin to discern their deepest motivation … If we accept entering into the experience of the cross, we open the door to what is the heart of the conversion process. And its fruit is the offering — the gift of self. The novice begins to understand that the adventure of life is to be lived in faith, and in this adventure, formation and conversion are one and the same. In the same context of the encounter with the cross is the connection of the novice with the demands of asceticism in his life, to put the prayer life in first place and to give the Spirit of Christ the opportunity to form his heart. Finally, contact with the poor — even if it is limited during the time of novitiate — gives the opportunity to live as missionaries: to serve others and never wish to be served.”
Another element of the novitiate mentioned by a former novice master is silence. “Religious life began in the desert; thus, the desire for solitude and silence. Even though we are not monks or hermits, we need to know and to love the silence, and this is even more important in our noisy ‘entertaining’ civilization! Being able to leave aside, during the time of retreat, the laptop, the computer; having mastery over these modern means of communication.”
During the novitiate, he must also know how to give value to things. “The value and the joy of prayer, the value and the joy of community life, the value and the joy of going to the poorest, the value and the joy of sharing. Hence the importance of personal accompaniment, which must also b e valued. This requires openness and confidence in self and in the formators.”
Since it is an introduction to Oblate missionary and religious life, the last element of formation in the novitiate I want to emphasize here is the deepening of knowledge of the Founder and the Oblate charism, which the time of novitiate must provide. “The novices are introduced to the lifestyle of the Oblates not only through the teachings they receive, but also thanks to the experience of the Oblate charism within the novitiate community, the living testimony of the master of novices and his collaborators, and through contact, though limited, with Oblate communities and missions. This is why it is appropriate to appoint the right people at the novitiate.”
The congress on the charism in context can be an opportunity to fan the flame of the Oblate charism, which was lit in us during the novitiate experience — a flame which must continue to burn during every season of our Oblate religious life.
(OMI Information No. 557, July 2015)