Today, we mark our four months in the novitiate.
By this time, I guess we have already, so to say, acclimatized. We have finally grown comfortable with the language, with the culture, and with the reality that we are on our own.
The honeymoon stage is over; and all of us may have tasted already some scolding and correction from our formators.
But the challenge to be a novice, to grow in virtue is still a call for all of us—our formators included. Hence, it is wise to listen to a mentor, a guide, an adviser whom we can turn to each time we find ourselves in dire situation.
I did a little research about the novices during the time of Don Bosco. And mama mia! He did not only address them through his talks and conferences, but he wrote them letters.
If Don Bosco were to write us a letter, what would he tell us?
The concept of this sermonette is not my original. I got the idea from one of my closest friends, who happens to be one of my models in the Congregation, who delivered a similar stuff when he was a novice himself some years ago.
My beloved GC Novices,
I bestow upon each of you my paternal blessing. I hope that this letter reaches you in the pink of health. The Lord has entrusted you with an important mission, and it is fundamental that you care for your health. Please note that "after the grace of God, good health is the greatest treasure you all possess."
You have this year of the novitiate in the crucial time when important matters need to be discussed in the forthcoming General Chapter, and while it is impossible for you to be there, I am sure that you can do your little share in making the chapter a success. Please continue praying for the success of the Chapter. The entire congregation counts a lot in your prayers, and especially in your formation.
I have written a lot to the novices especially when I was still there. I never intended to write to you. I just delight myself when you address me in your prayers, and when you kiss my mortal remains when the last day of the month comes, but with the prompting of Novice Donnie to write you, here I am, pounding on my keyboard, and energized to impart with you with some nuggets of advice.
My dear novices, "you're the apple of my eye." As before, I will never be tired in repeating this line in my letters. Each novice is a treasure to the Salesian Society, for each of you "indicates that the Lord loves the congregation."
By this time, you must have been familiar with some sections of our Rules. I hope that you don't only learn it using your head, but more importantly, master it using your heart; after all, is it not that education is "a matter of the heart?"
Some of you, I am aware, desire to become Saints. In your prayers, I hear frequently those formless thoughts that convey me this message. The great mystic, Teresa of Avila, advised her sisters that when they observe their Rule no further miracle will be needed for their canonization, heed her advice.
I left with you a potent guideline to become holy. Study it, practice it, live it.
It is worth mentioning here that I am pleased with the teaching style of your Constitution professor. He is practical in his teaching methods. He is conscientious in preparing the lessons, and his efficient use of the whiteboard is laudable. Maximize the opportunity to enrich yourself with his help.
When I say enrich yourself, please don't mistaken that you should only grow cerebrally. The Salesians are known to be intellectuals, but they should be, first and foremost, integrally developed human beings.
The novitiate is not a house to convert sinners, but a place to nurture your virtues. You were accepted to proceed as novices in our congregation because you are on a par with the moral standard as certified by your respective formators. I implore you that you give justice to it. Don't disappoint them. Don't fail your respective provinces. Don't let me down.
The theme of the current General Chapter is to rework the credibility of the Salesians in becoming a sign and bearer of God's love for the young. I ask you to grab the opportunity to examine your strengths as possible contribution to the development of our Society. But do not gloss over your weaknesses and frailty that may not only affect you but may spell the ruin of our Congregation.
Donnie, Noble, Miguel and Boni, here's my message for you: Take your formation seriously.
Structures are provided to each of you. You have a comfortable dormitory, well-ventilated place for study, state-of-the-art computer room, cozy chapel, and competent set of formators and professors. However, formation, at the end of the day, boils down to the person. Formation is something personal. And even if the Salesian community in your midst does all what it can do to help you out, it is always an unfinished task. Most of the work should be done by you.
Soon, you'll have your years of philosophical studies, a couple of years more for practical training, and some four years to study Theology. However, Novitiate comes only once. We only allot a year for this stage. Make the most out of it.
In the future that you are burned out of work or you struggle because of some personal crises, you will only blame yourself for not seizing opportunities to store up knowledge and concrete experience of prayer.
A novitiate is a home you should always be delightful to come home to. But this will not be the case if you waste your time focusing on poorly chosen priorities.
Da mihi animas coetera tolle!
Heaven. Heaven. Heaven. I will not be tired in repeating this over and over and over again. Heaven!
Choose only endeavors that will make heaven become a reality to the young and especially a concrete experience for you. The soul of the young is of paramount importance to me. Make it also your own priority. And don't begin talking about this in your own places of apostolate. Start with your own selves.
Please send my warmest greetings to Nioret, Wilbert and Dominggus. I know their struggles. And I am pleased that they are still hanging on, that they are striving, day in and day out, in becoming a concrete sign and efficient bearers of my Big Boss's message of love for the young. I delight in them in, too.
Yours affectionately in Christ,