Br. Christopher Damian Johnson, O.P.
Novice, Central Province, USA
So what do you do as a Novice? I received this question quite frequently from family, friends and others that I met this past year. My answer has evolved, but my initial response is usually, “A lot of nothing…”
This answer sums up the year fairly well; to the busy, frantic world, it seems like we are doing nothing productive as novices. As I heard another brother describe it, the novice experience is all about detoxing; ridding ourselves of the bad habits of our former life in the world, and taking on the new habits of St. Dominic.
Beginning in August when I took on the habit of the Friars Preachers both literally and figuratively, I have sought to replace the worldly habits of busyness, constant noise, impropriety, and self-centeredness with the habits of contemplation, silence, modesty and humility. I began the year “doing prayer,” in other words, seeking to accomplish a list of set prayers and meditation, I’ve slowly evolved to just “being,” seeking to dispose myself to quiet, so that my Creator can come and be with me.
In taking on the habit of St. Dominic, my novice brothers and I have worked to embody the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Dominic; to recognize that our lives must be lived in service to the ideal of bringing about the conversion of souls and the sanctification of our brothers. This demands a certain sense of humility and the willingness to subvert our “wants” to the needs of the Church, Order and our brothers.
This is best exemplified through our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and in facing the challenge of learning to live in community; learning how to be a brother to men who came from throughout North America with vastly different life experiences. We were to be not just roommates and co-workers, but to be brothers; to build a community of accountability, trust and faith.
Finally, in taking on the habit of St. Dominic, I had to learn how to wear it; how to sit, stand and bow in chapel, how to behave in public and how to become the face of the Order to the world. I, along with my brothers, was given the opportunity to serve the community at schools, nursing homes and charities, as well as to address audiences and recall the faith journey that brought me to this place. It is an unnerving experience at first to be called upon to be the incarnation of an 800 year-old institution, one in which I frequently asked myself, “Am I walking, talking and acting like a Dominican?” But as time went on, I grew into the habit and learned how to walk up staircases, eat soup and how to interact with parishioners and the people I worked with in my ministry. I learned to be the best-version-of-myself; Dominican novice Brother Christopher.
I am grateful to God, the Order, and our benefactors for giving me the opportunity for a novice year, and I prayerfully await the continued revealing of God’s plan for my life in the Order.