“Jesus was led into the wilderness…”: Reflection of fr Blake Crossley on the novitiate experience

“Jesus was led into the wilderness…”: Reflection of fr Blake Crossley on the novitiate experience

On Saturday 27th January, after a five day silent retreat, I was clothed with the habit of the Dominicans, officially commencing my year as a novice. St Paul says in his letter the Romans “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom 13:14). Thus, the reception or “putting on” of the habit is akin to putting on Christ. It serves as both a reminder to the wearer of the promises and commitment they have made to live in consecrated life and to the observer the habit serves as a visible sign of Christ in the world.

At the beginning of the clothing ceremony we prostrate ourselves cruciform on the floor in front of the Provincial (superior) as he asks us; “what do you seek” and we reply “God’s mercy and yours”. In doing this, we humble ourselves by acknowledging God’s mercy is the source of every blessing and the Dominican Order is the divine instrument through which the blessings of our vocation are bestowed.

The Provincial then clothes us in the habit one by one before entrusting us to the care of the Master of Novices. The Dominican habit has seven elements or parts. First is the white tunic – white to symbolize our intent at purity for a life lived for Christ. A black belt in then fastened around the waist to symbolize chastity and justice. Rosary beads are hung from the belt to represent the special role the rosary plays in the life of a Dominican. Next a white scapular (a piece of fabric that goes over the head and hangs down the front and back) is put on to represent taking on the yoke of Christ. The white capuce is then placed over the shoulders as a sign of our religious consecration. The distinctive black cappa (hence the Dominican’s being known as ‘black friars’) is put on before the black cappa-capuse, which is the same as the white shoulder cape and hood. The black cappa served a practical function in the cold European winter, but does also reminds us that we are still sinful men that need to do penance.

So what is a noviciate year? It is a year to withdrawal from the world to ponder more deeply what we think God is calling us to do with our lives. The year is marked by very little access to phones, internet, visitors and the outside world. Many people find this a hard concept to grasp, especially in our technology-addicted western society, but the purpose is to remove external distractions so you can more fully devote your time to study and prayer. It also removes external influences to allow the novice to make their own decision about the direction of their life and not to be pushed into or pulled out of religious life by their family. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that the eldest son inherited the farm, the eldest daughter was married off and any subsequent children where sent off to join the nearest convent!

Throughout this year, we novices will participate in the regular observances of the community – prayer, meals, social activities – but also spend time studying all things Dominican. This is the only year in our seven year formation that we spend looking at the 800 year history of the order, its constitutions and various aspects of religious life. The rules and timetable are very rigid – you cannot spend your own money, you need to have permission to leave the building, meals can only be eaten at certain times with nothing in between and for the first time in 15 years I’m being told when to go to bed at night! Ouch! But as one of the brothers reminded me, if you can’t follow the simple rules, how are you going to follow the big ones!

Well, my computer time is almost up! Thank you again to those who have written and for your continued prayers!

Br Blake Crossley, a brother novice of the Province of Australia and New Zealand

(15 February 2018)