36. New Members
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New members bring with them the promise of new life for our brotherhood. They contribute new gifts for our common good and our mission, both personal talents and gifts of the Holy Spirit. This promise of newness of life and hope for the future should be a source of joy. We shall often pray to the Father for the gift of new members, trusting that our prayer will be answered: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
It is an important responsibility for the novice guardian and Superior to lead the community in a collective process of discernment to discover whether an applicant is genuinely drawn to our way of life and has certain basic, necessary qualities. Through observation, prayer and conversation we seek to find that the candidate has a love for the gospel, a desire for prayer, an attraction to ministry and signs of personal adaptability. We also draw on the results of professional testing to provide evidence that his mental and physical health are adequate for the demands of our life.
Postulancy is a preliminary test of a man’s calling. Normally it lasts for six months but the Superior may lengthen or shorten the time as he sees fit. The postulant takes part in the life and duties of the novices so that we can discover whether he has the resilience and maturity to set out on the path of formation. The postulancy culminates in a directed retreat. If the postulant then shows a strong desire to go forward, the Superior will decide whether to admit him to the novitiate, first consulting the novice guardian.
Integration into a brotherhood like ours is a slow process. Brothers are to be welcoming and supportive to those who are with us for a trial period. At first the bonds we establish with new members will be light, allowing them to feel unconstrained in their freedom to leave. Deeper mutual commitment comes later. It is important that the professed brothers express their considered reactions to the new member’s early days of adjustment when they meet to conduct evaluations.
Our sober recognition that only a few of those who come to test their vocation will go forward to life profession ought not to discourage us as we initiate new men into our way of life. We trust that God always uses a man’s time in our Society for good. Every call is entirely in God’s hands.
I liken the process of testing vocation to choices that I have had in my own life: the choice to become a member of a church and the decision to remain a member or leave, the choice to seek new employment or change career path, the decision to remain in a relationship or not. Making those choices and changes is hard. It is helpful to be reminded that God uses our time in a church, job, or relationship for good, that discernment is critical and we can call upon others to help us discern, and that every call is entirely in God’s hands.