The Virtues Proper to the Novice
The Constitutions say that the novice must be trained in the practice of a series of virtues “first of all to be able to respond to their own vocation.” This is the reason that spurs the novices to a life of union with God through the virtues of faith, trust, humility, seeking God’s will, rightness of intention, unceasing prayer and fidelity to their own vocation. They are urged to pursue the unity of the missionary life and to grow in the virtues that are most admired by people and that give more credibility to a disciple of Christ.
We deal with the topic of the virtues in two chapters. In this present one we are going to look at the virtues proper to the novice in his specific formation situation. In the following one, on the other hand, we will study the virtues proper to every Claretian Missionary, also recommended to the novice for living his missionary vocation. The division into two chapters is strictly for teaching purposes. We develop the present chapter in these sections:
I. THE VIRTUES OF FAITH, TRUST AND HUMILITY
II. THE SEARCH FOR GOD’S WILL AND FIDELITY TO VOCATION
III. RIGHTNESS OF INTENTION, UNCEASING PRAYER AND OTHER VIRTUES
I. THE VIRTUES OF FAITH, TRUST AND HUMILTY
1. Lively Faith
Faith helps one to give oneself totally and freely to God. It is a personal adherence to God in Christ, through the power of the Spirit. It all begins with a personal encounter with the living Christ, who calls us to follow Him. This encounter is real, although it is realized on the supernatural or faith level. So then, the following Jesus proposes does not only involve safeguarding faith and living it, but also involves witnessing to it and spreading it. It is a vocation to be with Him and to take on His work of spreading the Gospel in the world.
1.1. Models of Lively Faith for the Novices
Who are the models for the novices of this new way of living with Christ and following Him, carrying on His work? They are the prophets, the apostles, and the martyrs, to which we can add the ideal figure of the apostolic missionary, particularly the Fr. Founder.
a. The Prophets. The missionary has to proclaim to the world, as they did, the plan of God and to stimulate conversion. But the prophets are, above all, people of faith, people who live in close communion with God, who calls them and sends them. The missionary will also have to be a prophet by his faith, by his witness of life and by his faithful proclamation of the message of salvation.
b. The Apostles. Our faith response to our vocation is also that of the apostles. We follow Jesus like they did, in his company, in communion of life with Him and with the others who are called, committed to a mission that is universal and life-long.
c. The Martyrs. We share with the martyrs the same vocation to be witnesses to the faith in every situation, dedicating our own life, even unto the shedding of our blood. The Martyrology is full of illustrious names, but models particularly near and dear to us in the Congregation are our martyred brothers, especially those of Barbastro, already beatified.
d. The Apostolic Missionaries. Many other figures stand out because of their apostolic zeal. All these models are distilled into the ideal figure of the apostolic missionary –the preacher of God’s word-, whose faith moved them to wholeheartedly embrace poverty, self-denial and all the sacrifices necessary to be able to extend the Kingdom of Christ.
Of course for us the very model of the apostolic missionary, by the very name we bear, is our Founder himself.
1.2. Living the Faith During the Novitiate
During the novitiate it is urgent to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of a lively faith in order to be able to attain full configuration to Jesus, the Missionary of the Father. It is necessary to take advantage of the time and keep silence, listening like Mary to the Word of God, that echoes in one’s heart.
The novitiate is, in a certain way, a laboratory for vocational faith, and outstanding place and occasion for being initiated, out of one’s faith, into responding to God’s call, from the outset giving a sense of meaning to one’s future missionary life.
Faith illumines the mind to think like Christ. It orients the impulse to love toward the charity of Christ. It is manifested in words both when one prays and when one enters into relationship with others. And it gives meaning and quality to every undertaking.
But the initial faith must be strengthened. The novice, who is starting to follow Jesus, experiences doubts and difficulties, as the apostle Peter in the sea of Galilee (cf. Mt 14, 28-31); but if he strengthen his faith with the power of Jesus he would always win.
Faith is that armor of God with which, St. Paul tells us, we must clothe ourselves in order to resist the devil and overcome his snares (cf. Ep. 6:11). Our Father Founder wants the novices to be covered by this armor of faith.
The Constitutions also urge them to be well grounded in faith and to really live by faith, especially when they are troubled by doubts about remaining faithful to their vocation. They ask the novices that, when they feel these doubts, they learn to live by faith. They will be able to overcome their doubts if they know how to nourish themselves with the Word that sustains faith (cf. Rm. 1:17). The truths of the Gospel, well meditated on, will be an impregnable shield that will make them invincible.
The life of faith flows into a Gospel trust that enables us to succeed in being missionaries according to Jesus. From a lively faith is born a great trust, because faith discloses to us the foundations on which trust is based, providing knowledge of God’s infinite power, the Father’s goodness, wisdom and faithfulness.
The life of consecration that we embrace through profession and the mission that we receive bring with them a serious responsibility to overcome of limited human capacity. Human qualities, however great, are not enough and cannot provide a natural psychological optimism. A superior power is required, which must constantly be sought from God. That is why faith is talked about first.
On the other hand, the discovery of one’s own limitations should not be an insurmountable obstacle nor overly frighten one. Recognizing them can even be a grace that helps one trust in God and find one’s support in God.
2.1. Temptations Against Trust
The Constitutions then deal with feelings of lack of trust that can harass those who are being initiated into religious life, encouraging the novices to have “great trust in God, confidently looking to Him for the ability to accomplish their mission well (cf. Ph. 1:6).”
In the history of our Congregation there are numerous cases that fully confirm this truth.
• health, or the fear that he will not have sufficient powers to carry out the apostolate;
• knowledge and other qualities, whose absence casts tarnishes the evangelizer’s reputation,
• the virtue required, or discouragement arising from his own human frailty and the difficulty he has overcoming it.
One who gives into negative feelings, pessimism or frustration in the face of the immensity of the apostolic endeavor and his weak powers will be tempted to abandon his vocation. He will feel sad, anxious, preoccupied, etc., forgetting that his strength and power is the Lord.
a. Prayer. In assiduous and intimate communion with the Lord the novices’ trust will grow and the will feel more secure in embracing their vocation and responding to it.
b. Renewed awareness of vocation. God called us out of pure kindness on His part. In moments of lack of trust, then, we have to remember that God is the origin of our vocation and that God will thus give us His grace to carry out the mission God has entrusted to us.
c. Internalization of the reasons for trust. Meditating especially on the Word of God and how God acts toward those God has chosen.
d. Personal collaboration. The novices must commit their own effort in responding to the grace of vocation in order to be able to overcome obstacles. They must, then, be ready to contribute their work and all their energy to the gift of the vocation they have received.
e. Lastly—besides what has been above—, it is appropriate for the novices to go to their novice-master or to their confessor (as the situation warrants) when they are troubled, tempted, anxious or sad.
3. Gospel Humility
The Constitutions ask the novices to “safeguard their
3.1. Humility, the Foundation for All the Virtues
The Fr. Founder, in his Autobiography, tells us the story of his own spiritual experience of acquiring the virtue of humility. It is interesting to see the explanation he offers there—using the allegory of the forge—of how the Lord made him enter and grow in humility.
Our Founder quickly discovered the importance of this virtue of humility:
The missionary vocation, as Claret witnesses to it, requires clothing oneself with many virtues. The foundation for them or the starting point is humility: the first thing we have to do is recognize that we lack them and then work to acquire them, always relying on the Lord’s help.
3.2. What true Humility Consists In
In our Founder himself we find fitting words on the nature of humility:
“I have come to know that the virtue of humility consists in this: in realizing that I am nothing, can do nothing but sin, and depend on God in everything—being, preservation, movement and grace—and I am most happy to be dependent on God rather than on myself.
I have realized from the outset that […] I have nothing to boast of or be vain about because, of myself, I am nothing, have nothing, am worth nothing, can do nothing and do nothing. I am like a saw in the carpenter’s hands.”
So then, true humility, which consists in knowing we are dependent on God and in recognizing our own lack of substance, still does not hinder us from acknowledging and valuing our own gifts, which have to be placed at the service of the community and the mission. Both reasonings appear in the text of the Constitutions of 1924, in the recommendations they make to those being tested.
3.3. Motives for Cultivating Humility
Humility has its deepest motivation in relation to God Himself, i.e., in the personal conviction that everything we have and have received comes from God. But there is also another motivation related to the neighbor, which is manifest in fraternal life together.
And there is even a third important motivation for living Gospel humility: the example and the will of Jesus. He is presented to us with a humble character who wants his missionaries also to be humble. This conviction is what encourages our Father Founder to imitate Jesus Christ in the practice of humility.
3.4. Means to Achieve Humility
• The first means is prayer of supplication: to ask for humility in the name of Jesus.
• The third is meditation: meditating primarily on the words of Jesus concerning humility; meditating on the meaning of humility in His actions, in the way He conducted Himself with the Twelve and the way He carried out His mission.
• The fourth is to practice humility: a theoretical conviction is not enough. It needs to be embodied in concrete works.
In the past, it was the custom to give practical suggestions in order to foster humility. Today, the Constitutions extend the invitation to carry out some practices of humility, “an absolutely necessary virtue for any minister of the Gospel.” In the chapter dedicated to novices and their novice-master, the Constitutions, when talking about humility, do not mention the details of the practices of years gone by. Out of a more positive view of this virtue, they urge the novices to recognize the divine origin of all the gifts they possess and to make them bear fruit in order to serve all people.
They appeal to the novices’ good sense to take advantage of those ordinary occasions of life where humility can be practiced, and also to their creativity in order to adopt the means that are able to contribute to the cultivation of this spirit of humility. They obviously count on the opinion of the novice-master. We indicate, by way of example, the following means:
• Fostering a healthy and balanced self-esteem, sensibly recognizing one’s talents and, on the contrary, rejecting anything that signifies an over-estimation or exaggerated sense of self-worth.
• A calm recognition of one’s own limitations and a positive attitude of self-criticism.
• Cultivating trust in God in the midst of temptations, failures, griefs, dryness and dark nights of the spirit that they go through.
• Accepting fraternal correction.
• Readiness to lend a hand to others, especially the sick, the poor and the needy.
• Going out of their way to perform some domestic service, whether cleaning or organizing.
II. THE SEARCH FOR GOD’S WILL AND FIDELITY TO VOCATION
1. The Search for God’s Will
The missionary is one sent. He acts in subordination to a mission. He lives under obedience. For the Claretian, obedience is also an evangelical counsel for which he is publicly consecrated by a religious vow.
The Claretian novice is thus being initiated into the living of the evangelical counsel of obedience, which in our Congregation has a strongly missionary character, and which especially affects him in his present situation of vocational discernment.
1.1. Discerning God’s Will Concerning One’s Vocation
During the novitiate obedience above all is a search for God’s will, i.e., discernment of the divine call to live one’s own vocation.
The discernment process, begun prior to entering the novitiate, continues now to prove with greater certainty if one has been truly called by God to the Congregation. Once discernment has been carried out and one is convinced of this call, he must make the effort to respond to it: he then begins to live evangelical obedience—as he lives the other specific values of religious life—with the characteristics proper to this form of life in the Church.
1.2. A Perfect Evangelical Obedience (in Faith and Love)
Evangelical obedience is not simply resignation to the orders of those who are in charge. Nor is it blind submission to authority, nor lack of dialogue. It is, rather, a mature acceptance, fully conscious and done out of love (in faith and love).
The Constitutions are specific when they talk to the novices about obedience. The language is very clear, recommending docility to the Spirit and asking for whole-hearted cooperation with human agents. The specifically talk about:
• Docility to the Holy Spirit: in seeking God’s will the novices must be “led by the Holy Spirit,” because only the Spirit allows them to correctly interpret the mysterious signs from God in God’s way and not in human ways.
• Cooperating responsibly with human agents: in seeking God’s will, the novices must learn to submit to specific human agents in community life. The Constitutions, which urge all Claretians to collaborate in seeking and carrying out God’s will through prayer, counsel and fraternal dialogue, also invite the novices to accept human agency in this search for God’s will. They exhort them to cooperate responsibly with the novice-master and the superiors and to accept their decisions in faith and love.
2. Fidelity to Vocation
The Constitutions say:
“The novices should highly esteem their missionary vocation and earnestly engage in the process of discerning whether they are truly called to the Congregation. When they discern that they have been called, they should strive to respond gladly and generously to God’s fidelity towards them by their own fidelity toward God.”
• Valuing its greatness and pursuing its discernment;
• gratefulness for the gift received and to effort to respond to it;
• and combating temptations that arise against one’s vocation.
2.1. Valuing the Greatness of One’s Vocation
An essential objective of the novitiate is pursuing the process of vocational discernment, begun earlier. Through this process one’s succeeds in recognizing the greatness of the missionary vocation and, with a spirit of gratefulness, faithfully responds to it.
Does our religious and apostolic vocation really deserve such esteem? The Father Founder was convinced it did. He considered apostolic vocation and ministry as a sharing in the saving ministry of Jesus Christ. The appreciation that St. Anthony Mary Claret had for his own vocation and for the members of the Congregation that consecrated their lives to the missionary apostolate, is evident in the moving letter he sent to Fr. Xifré, in which it is expressed in the following words:
“I have so much affection for the Priests that are dedicated to the Missions that I would give them my blood and my life, I would wash and kiss their feet a thousand times over, I would make their beds, I would cook their meals, and I would not even take a morsel so that could eat. I love them so much that my love for them drives me crazy. And there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for them and when I consider that they work so that God may be ever more greatly known and loved, that souls may be saved and not condemned, I don’t know what I feel… And now as I write this, I have to keep putting my pen down because to wipe my eyes… O Sons of the Immaculate Heart of my most beloved Mother!…, I want to write to you and I can’t because my eyes fill with tears. Preach—and pray for me.”
2.2. A Grateful Attitude and Ongoing Response
Once one is ware of the gift one has received, a feeling of gratefulness logically follows on the part of the one called and an attitude of uncompromising effort. This gratitude is a disposition that blossoms into perseverance until death.
One’s response to one’s vocation must be ongoing, i.e., it must be made each day. God is faithful in His call and also expects a constant fidelity, lasting one’s whole life, with generosity and joy.
2.3. Fighting Temptation
Let us recall some circumstances that can arise in the novitiate that represent a serious danger or pitfall for one’s vocation:
• Unjustified maintenance of certain relationships to the outside world during the novitiate. It must be necessary to terminate—or at least moderate—contact with certain environments, situations, persons, etc., in the outside world. The new situation that the novice is in requires adequate distancing that safeguards the novice from unnecessary distractions and guarantees that he will be able to concentrate on only what is necessary at this period of his formation.
• An inordinate self-love: a condition of following the Lord Jesus is the renunciation of oneself. An inordinate self-love causes ongoing temptations for a vocational project based on self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice.
• Another source of temptations against one’s vocation can be relationships and friendships with certain people that do not focus on, or are not happy with, one’s vocation. In any case, the young men should learn to make use of their own critical judgment and to openly evaluate the influence this contact can have on them in conversations with their novice-master.
III. RIGHTNESS OF INTENTION, UNCEASING PRAYER AND OTHER VIRTUES
1. Rightness of Intention
1.1. Three Types of Intention in Working
• It will be right when one acts works only for God’s glory, to thank God, to work for love of God.
• It will be bad when the end is inordinate, such as personal vanity or to have people think highly of one or to gain human respect—in short, to satisfy one’s love of self in any of its manifestations.
• It will be imperfect when the principal goal is the glory of God but love of oneself also is mixed in.
1.2. The Motive for Our Working as Claretians
The Claretian vocation is lived congregationally, i.e., in a communion of life and mission with others that have been called by God and that are animated by the same spirit. A congregation is a society and, as such, defines what its objective is, what its goals are. Thus our Constitutions clearly state what the purpose—or three-fold objective—of our institute is:
“The aim of our Congregation is to seek in all things the glory of God, the sanctification of our members and the salvation of people throughout the world, in keeping with our missionary charism in the Church.”
This three-fold objective of the Congregation must govern the action of every Claretian and also of the novices. They specifically have rightness of intention when the reason or motive for their action is duly indicated by this three-fold objective. The Constitutions explicitly allude to the first objective when they exhort the novices that “in everything they do, whether studying, eating or simply relaxing, God’s glory should be the aim and wellspring of their action.”
The other two objectives (one’s own sanctification and people’s salvation) are implicitly but unequivocally referred to throughout chapter 10, dedicated expressly to the novices and their novice-master.
1.3. Difficulties in Living Rightness of Intention and Ways to Practice It
Inordinate intentions (ones that are inappropriate, imperfect, etc., and often unconscious) that lie in wait for the novices in general are: a vain estimation of oneself, one’s own complacency and human respect.
The novice can feel unconsciously tempted to phariseism, which is trying to appear perfect when one is not. The Lord foresees this and advises us:
“Be on your guard against performing religious acts for people to see. Otherwise expect no recompense from your heavenly Father” (Mt. 6:1).
For practical formation in rightness of intention, one is advised:
• and doing away with false motivations through vigilance and ongoing personal renewal;
2. Unceasing Prayer
2.1. Prayer Life
The Constitutions exhort the novices to “cultivate prayer without ceasing or lukewarmness. Thus,”—say the Constitutions—“by the time they leave their year of probation, they will have made real progress.”
In the novitiate, besides personal prayer, there are various communal acts of piety. The main concern is that the novices do not perform them merely out of routine, fulfilling an established norm. What is required is that those acts of piety be done with spirit. This is necessary for them to be an expression of a deep spiritual life and, at the same time, a means for fostering such a life.
But prayers and pious acts, whether communal or individual, are not enough. Thus they are encouraged to cultivate an unceasing prayer. An unceasing prayer is synonymous with a life-long prayer (prayer life, continuous prayer, etc.), which would be summarized in the following characteristics:
• a support for the practice of prayer understood as a friendly relationship with God;
• the acquisition of a habit of prayer at all times and in all places, following Jesus observation that there is a need to pray always and not lose heart (cf. Lk. 18:1);
• the practice of the presence of God;
• a prayer like that of Mary, who treasures and meditates on everything in her heart (cf. Lk. 2:19).
2.2. Orientations Concerning Prayer Life
• Those that tend to foster personal encounter with the Lord and personal acceptance of Mary as Mother;
• those that favor, in a setting of silence, self-awareness and listening to the Word of the Lord, in order for it to penetrate the heart;
• meditation, so that one’s own way of thinking keeps being modified according to the thoughts of God; in order to understand and fulfill one’s life from the aspect of religious consecration;
• those that strengthen one’s will;
• those that enkindle apostolic zeal, like those of the Father Founder in the novitiate. The prayer of the novice and of those in formation, in general, should be a prayer with a purely missionary character;
• and, lastly, those that initiate them into liturgical prayer, animated by a lively awareness of Church.
2.3. Silence as a Condition for Prayer Life and for Attaining Certain Values in the Novitiate
“Silence plays an important role in our missionary life,” our Directory says. In religious life, silence is not simply a means of discipline, or a form of mortification, or an exercise of will, or a mere absence of words and human contact…, but the environment that permits the development of basic attitudes in a person: love, justice, peace, wisdom, interpersonal encounter and also the practice of prayer. Thus it is strongly recommended:
“The spiritual masters insist on the need to prepare for prayer with an ordered life, a pure heart and an effort to free ourselves from the noise and distractions that surround us. Only in this way can we create in our heart a place for the silence necessary to welcome the Word of God and let ourselves be transformed by it.”
Silence continues to have value today and continues to respond to the motivation pointed out above. But its observance is not being required as urgently as before. Today the accent is on other values that are also important, such as familiarity and spontaneity in our day-to-day relationships, interpersonal communication, etc. Thus dialogue around the common table is encouraged more, along with interchange or fraternal relationships in other community settings. Thus, when silence is recommended, it has to be from a perspective, different from that of the past, which was predominantly ascetical. Thus, the Constitutions say:
3. The Practice of Other Virtues
The Constitutions say that the novice-master inculcates into the novices the virtues most admired among people and that are most becoming in a disciple of Christ. They do not go into minute detail about each of these virtues. It is clear that they are not minor and that they always affect the caliber of the witness the true disciple of Christ offers both to those in the house and those people he has a relationship to. Vatican II, in its decree on priestly formation presents a catalogue of virtues that are recommendable also to novices: self-composure, prudence, decision-making ability, right judgment, self-control, spiritual endurance, sincerity, an ongoing concern for justice, keeping promises, good education, moderation in speech and disciplined life formation.
The documents of our Congregation have been echoing this conciliar teaching, emphasizing the value of these human virtues, especially in the setting of community and in the exercise of the apostolate. The Constitutions only allude to, very summarily, to maturity of judgment and constancy of purpose, who must go on being developed in the life of the novices according the specific character of each novice.
4. Conclusion. The Unity of Missionary Life
The chapter on the virtues of the Claretian novice can not end without us talking about what the Constitutions call the unity of missionary life. This is not reduced simply to the practice of a specific virtue. Nor is it a single virtue, but rather the harmonious living of the entire complex of virtues; the balanced living of union with God in the midst of day-to-day activities and of the very apostolate that is carried out.
This integration or personal unification, called unity of missionary life, is a deep and complex reality, and today it is more necessary than ever. Given its importance, its study is expressly taken up in chapter 15 of this manual. We defer our discussion of it until then.
 Cf. CC 62. One can find models of lively faith in the figures of the prophets and apostles whose vocation is related in this Manual in the chapter referring to the experience of vocation in the Bible.
 The Father Founder said: “The Divine Master often preached about this [about faith] to those he has chosen for this office, and strongly reprimanded them when he saw them waver in it; thus, those being tested in our Congregation must frequently focus their understanding on faith, insistently asking God for it and having recourse to it when they see themselves beset by the devil, by the world or by the flesh” (CC 1870 I, 83).
 “The Holy Founder predicted the difficulties that […] the novice had to encounter blocking his way […]. He wants them to prepare themselves for all these with a great trust in God who makes His omnipotence shine forth, giving strength to useless, and evil, instruments in order to work great things His divine glory” (NI, p. 279).
 A special source of temptations against one’s vocation is sadness, which Fr. Xifré says is the missionary’s greatest enemy. Cf. EsC 71-72; cf. J. M.ª PALACIOS, Notas históricas sobre la formación en la Congregación, General Prefecture of Formation, Rome 1997, pp. 46ff.
 The GPF recommends the following means for fostering an atmosphere of the desert and of breaking, proper to the novitiate: “Taking advantage of the conditions that derive from the location of the novitiate; critical and moderate use of the social communications media (radio, TV, newspapers); moderation in external relationships with family and friends; actions that favor detachment and availability” (GPF 357).
 CC 66. “What Missionaries being tested must never forget, what must clamor for their attention before all else, and what they must practice ceaselessly without weakening and without lukewarmness, is prayer” (CC 1924, II, 110; cf. OPML III, pp. 264ff. and GPF 213-220).
 In reference to the need for prayer in the novitiate we have these very appropriate words of our Holy Founder: “If you want to advance on the path of the spirit and not be swept away by the current of the passions, be a person of prayer […]. If you want your mind to be filled with holy thoughts and your heart filled with great, effective desires for perfection and fervent feelings of devotion, be a person of prayer […]. If you want to uproot all your vices and acquire all the virtues, be a person of prayer. Lastly, if your want to enter into contemplation and greater union with God, be a person of prayer” (CLARET, Dialogues on Prayer, EE, p. 96).
 “I offered my all to God without reserve, I was continually thinking and planning what I could do for the good of my neighbor, and since the time had not yet come for me to set out on my work, I busied myself with prayer” (Aut 153; cf. 154-164).
 “This unity of life becomes more important in a world characterized by fragmentation. It is not primarily the result of asceticism, so much as the fruit of an experience of God revealing Himself in Scripture, in prayer, in the sacraments and also in the vicissitudes of history, particularly in the situations of the most deprived” (OPML III, p. 299-300).