In the Pauline novitiate
The sound of the monastery doorbell. The door opens. There stands a young man with a rucksack. 'I feel I am called, I want to enter the novitiate', he says. Earlier such situations happened more frequently, today there are rare. Participation in vocational retreats and six-week pre-novitiate in the Skalka seminary in Krakow are the first steps of candidates for the Order of St Paul the Hermit. Another step, one-year novitiate in the monastery in Lesniow, is to help them gain their first experiences of religious life and to confirm, or not, their decision as their chances to fulfil themselves.
Candidates to the Pauline Order, coming from all over the world expect Hungary, stay in the novitiate in Lesniow. On 8 September 2006, 21 brothers, including foreigners, began this special stage of their lives. Every year this celebration in the Sanctuary of the Mother of God Patron of Families is special. The brothers who finished novitiate take their first vows and another group of those who answered God's calling, join the religious community. Their ways to reach this place were different, many a time very long ways.
Adrian graduated from history. He has been interested in religious life for a long time, but he wanted to wear a Benedictine habit. 'One day I looked at web pages to find information about vocational retreats, and it turned out that a vocational retreat organised by the Pauline Order was to be held in the period that suited me most. I went there but after the retreat I gave up the thought of religious life. In November 2005 I was in the Jasna Gora Shrine because I wanted to pray, and suddenly I felt such a strong inner order to join this community that I became frightened. I asked the monks for advise and they proposed to begin postulate at Jasna Gora. Actually my main motivation was to prove God that he was wrong since I did not have any vocation. Now I am in the novitiate and day by day I like religious life more and more; my hesitations and dilemmas ended.'
George was raised in New York. For 10 years he was an altar boy in the Polish parish in Manhattan. After he had graduated from high school he worked in a restaurant, then in a lawyer's office. His pilgrimage to the American Czestochowa yielded the fruit of saying his family what he had thought for a long time. He is the only child so his parents could not accept his choice of religious life very easily. They agreed that he would begin novitiate and discern if his vocation was authentic and lasting.
The novices say that the turning point in making the decision to join a certain order is often connected with a sudden feeling of light or extraordinary peace in their souls. Dariusz has completed two years of philosophy. His decision matured in a complicated way. 'I was connected with the Pauline parish in Wieruszow', he says. 'It was already in the grammar school that my family told me I would join some order. But I was afraid of taking the decision under the influence of the environment. I chose to study at the university and my decision was accepted. But after having completed my second year I prepared documents and went to Jasna Gora to submit them. I met one of the Pauline fathers I had known before, and after I had explained him why I came there he asked me, 'And do you feel peace about all these things?' At the moment I felt light and certainty that that was a right decision'.
Human being is a mystery that falls outside any description. It is even more difficult to describe the way God leads a young man to choose religious life. The Pauline novices vary a lot. Those who have entered the novitiate this year are 18 or 19 years old, they come from towns and villages, with a slight predominance of the latter; they graduated from vocational schools, grammar schools, universities, some had jobs. Some come from deeply religious families, some from religiously indifferent families. Some felt their vocations from childhood; some were far from the Church for many years. Some have just left their families; others have already experienced hardships.
'We are here to help each of them to discern their vocations although this process will last for many years', says Father Maksymilian, the master of the novitiate. 'Novitiate is a unique time in the life of every Pauline monk. If we had been able to ask the Apostles about their over two- year 'novitiate' they would have expressed their astonishment that they were chosen, that some mysterious power drew them to follow Lord Jesus. They would not have hidden their fear and uncertainty about the end of their adventure. The Apostles were certain of their callings, but they did not understand much. They did not imagine their future lots and did not understand the depth of what the Divine Providence asked them to. The uncertainty can also be seen on many faces of the novices, which is a school of life and discernment of vocation, a time of inner maturity. This is a deep, long, and many a time, painful process. This is a time to get to know oneself, entering into 'self'. In this inner struggle God reveals them the painful truth about man's sins; he cleanses them, removes their sins, and by transforming them he prepares them to a fuller new life in the light.
In the novitiate, like in any monastery, they follow a schedule, always centred on Christ - Master and Teacher. Young monks usually get up at 5.40 am. They spend their first moments of the day at the feet of Lord Jesus, the Source of our life, to get to know him, adore him and draw streams of graces from his Heart. Their next hours are thoroughly filled with prayer, lectures and work. Novices serve in the shrine, in the monastery and the garden. They seldom watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers and use the Internet. Silence is obligatory because it is a necessary condition to meet God and it helps them to listen to themselves.
'Inner and outer discipline is not the aim in itself. It is part of formation because without religious discipline there is no progress in spiritual life', Fr Maksymilian says. 'Every Catholic who wants to grow up in God must have his own discipline, his time for prayer, concern for heavenly kingdom. In his 'Spiritual Exercises' St Ignatius Loyola compared formation of spiritual life to digging a well and encouraged people not to stop in spite of effort and frequent lack of external effectiveness. When your hands hurt you must go to the Lord and ask him to cleanse, transform and bless you. Novices gradually discover the value and effort of prayer; they fall in love with God, they get matured so that they will discover the whole beauty of the Pauline vocation and charism some day.
'On the first days I heard the sentence: if you do not experience a crisis in the novitiate this means that Lord God has forgotten about you', says one of the novices. The reasons behind psychological crises vary: longing for family and friends, work they cannot do, small misunderstandings fear of the future. 'God often gives crises to help us understand and change something', says Adam. 'Once it seemed to me that if someone had a vocation and entered an order he would follow an ideal way where all things would be fine. The testimonies of brothers and fathers have convinced me that all of us experience similar problems in the beginning and crises are necessary since they give inner strength'.
The most effective antidote for hesitation is prayer. 'In the evening, when I go to the chapel, after even the most difficult day, I feel unique peace, joy that I am close to Jesus' says Tomek. 'The difficult situations make me aware that I have not known myself yet. Talking to my confessor and the master of the novitiate, spending time before the Blessed Sacrament I discern what I should change in myself, what I should work on. In spite of hard days, in spite of high standards, novices are courageous, creative and joyful. When asked what they gained during their several months in the novitiates in Lesniow they provide a lot of answers. 'I have discovered that life without television, telephone, the Internet is possible and interesting. I have learnt how a true Christian should live. I have realised how valueless is things that the world offers: career, desire for material goods, in comparison with the life deep in God. Now I know how I can open myself to other people. Everyone should experience such retreats to get to know the value of prayer and work. I have discovered that the most beautiful manual of life is the Gospel...'
The novitiate in Lesniow, which has existed for 70 years, exerts a unique mark on the lives of those who have experienced it. 'In the novitiate we discover anew that the real happiness is inner peace which Jesus gives and which results from a deep relationship with him and is the fruit of the healing love of the Lord', says Fr Maksymilian.
That's why, the Pauline monks who come here after years recollect that extraordinary year of 'religious childhood'. The novices who have returned to secular lives admit that for many of them the period turned out to be a signpost of prayer, love and behaviour, following the model of Christ.