by Friar David Lenz, OFM Conv.
On July 19, 2017, twelve men were invested in the Franciscan habit at the Conventual Franciscan Novitiate in Arroyo Grande, California. This simple tunic, shoulder cape, hood, and rope around the waist, as all the peasants wore at the time of St. Francis, becomes their garb.
In 1220, Pope Honorius III decreed that a novitiate should be established as a period of discernment. This odd year and a day calculation comes from the medieval practice of recognizing a run-away serf as free if he could reside undiscovered in one of the emerging cities for a year and a day. If a novice can persevere for a year a day away from his old life, he too becomes a free man in a new spiritual life.
It was my privilege to direct these twelve novices in a spiritual retreat beginning on the day following their investiture with the Franciscan habit. The scriptural passage for the retreat was the parable of the return of the Prodigal Son as accounted in Matthew’s Gospel. Reflecting on all the characters in this parable – the father, the elder son, and the prodigal son – we considered how we might see ourselves in all those mentioned in the parable.
After this reflection, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was offered to all the novices. Thus invested in the sacred habit and graced as well by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the novices begin this discernment period under the direction of Friar Joseph Wood and Friar Maurice Richard. All of us can assist the directors and the new novices by our prayers during this year and a day journey.