Fr. Robert Keller, O.P.
Central Province, USA
One of the more cherished virtues of a good novice is docility; docility to change and to challenge. Well, this is also a cherished virtue of a good novice master. I am still learning it after three years in this important role.
I am in my early sixties. I am older than most of the parents of the novices, putting me about three generations different in worldview. This is substantial when it comes to understanding a novice and his life formation prior to the novitiate. How can I assist in introducing them to the principles and practices of Dominican life unless I become aware of their formation and worldview? So, what are some of the features of their generation?
As a group, many come from divorced or blended families, middle to upper-middle class families replete with travel and vacation expectations. Most of my novices are converts (became Catholics in adulthood) or “reverts” (grew up in non-practicing Catholic families and became religious during their college years). Few grew up attending Catholic schools.
As a group, they grew up on electronic media of every sort: computers, cable television, X-box, cell phones, texting and tweeting, and this media has controlled their attention through advertising, Wikipedia, CNN, and YouTube, but also by the invasive presence of pornography at every juncture.
As a group, they are better informed than I am, most are more intelligent than I (what a gift!), but necessarily need refinement in social skills and going beyond information to understanding and wisdom. Basically, it comes with age.
Finally, ‘my generation’ overly affirmed this generation into being merely self-referential, that is, everything is measured “to me, my wants and my thoughts.” Thus reigns relativism. The reaction of this generation to this narcissistic relativism is a yearning to belong to something larger than itself. That surely is what Dominican life is.
In order to put on the Dominican habit, these men are challenged to slow down, quiet down, unplug (from constant electronic stimuli), and listen…to God, to their soul’s desire, and to others. Consecrated life places them in inter-generational living, distinctive from many other living situations (like college—a single age cohort). That requires skills of listening and of committing to care for others (these are skills also of good marriages).
I am amazed to see how they dare to yield themselves to these challenges. Often a novice will confess he has grown this year more than any previous year. I believe it. My challenge: If I give sufficient respect to their personal journey, those who profess will grow into dynamic friars preachers with all of the love needed by an apostle of Christ Jesus.