Our novices have been staying with us this week, having finished the novitiate program. They take their temporary vows tomorrow morning. In your charity offer a prayer of thanksgiving for their vocations, and for their courage as they go forward in our formation program.
Their presence reminds me of one of the ways I have changed my mind in the course of my religious life. In the community, we always make much of the young. Candidates and applicants are paraded around, and their 'vocation stories' get published in our newsletters. Brothers in formation are celebrated and treated quite well most of the time. I used to think this was a symptom of an unhealthy community; I worried that we were looking for our own validation through the young guys who were entering. It is they who should be excited about our life and work--presumably this is why they seek to join--rather than us finding our comfort in them. The classic tradition of religious life (across religions even) teaches that candidates should be discouraged in order to test their desire and resolve. Such was my worry.
I've changed my mind. I realize now that this behavior is the natural way families behave. As a sort of family in the spiritual order, the community makes a big deal about its babies, showing them off and trying to give them every good gift. Perhaps this is helpful and supportive for those who are going through the stresses of being formed into the community, but I now realize that it's mostly for us who are 'grown up' in the Order. To encounter and celebrate the guys who are younger in religion is just spiritually healthy. One sees their zeal and simplicity, and is reminded of these things in himself, before all of the internal compromises and friendships made with various forms of laxity and conformity to the spirit of this world. You are reminded of how you were once that way, and the desire to be so again peeks out from the stresses and details and all the anxieties of daily life and ministry.
So, as I've grown up a little bit in the Order, I realize now that we make a big deal about the new brothers at least in part because they minister to us, reminding us of how undivided our own hearts used to be in our desire for God in this life, and presenting a living invitation to accepting that zeal and simplicity once again.