I did my novitiate in Germany. We were a small community totaling about 25 people including novices, religious, priests and two cooks. Fr. Fergus was our instructor of novices and in charge of the entire community. He was a deeply prayerful man, humorous and joyful. A regular day in the novitiate consisted primarily of prayer, Mass, study, classes and housework. It was quite the contemplative setting.
There was, however, a disruptor named Fr. Eamon Kelly, LC. He was an apostolic whirlwind that was constantly on the move. He would often bring guests to the house, or bring novices with him on mission. We admired his zeal and felt honored when we could assist.
One evening it was my turn to travel with Fr. Eamon to a meeting about an hour away from our house. The meeting went well, to the best of my recollection. It also went long. We did not get back to the house until about 11 pm, which for a novice who had to get up at around 5:30 am was considered the wee hours of the night. More significantly, we had not eaten dinner. Weighing my options of either going to bed right away or grabbing a snack, fatigue won out. Off to bed it was. I was sharing a dormitory with seven other novices, four bunkbeds in a medium-sized room. It was pitch black when I got to the room. There was little danger of waking the others who were sound asleep.
Just as I joyfully lay my head on the pillow, I saw a flashlight shining at the entrance of the room. It was Fr. Fergus. He must have heard from Fr. Eamon that we had not eaten dinner. He should have already been asleep, but he probably waited up for our return. He came to my bunk with a large chocolate bar and a glass of milk and said, ‘Take this,’ and left.
Fr. Fergus was a busy man, but not too busy to notice.
While I remember some of his jokes, I remember almost none of the classes and homilies he gave us during my two-year novitiate. I will never forget the chocolate bar.
We all long for connection and community. It is essential to our very being since we are made in the image and likeness of a God that is Trinity, which is community.
I would like to offer some very concrete suggestions to help us connect with those around us:
Learn the names of all your coworkers or classmates. Do not give up because it is a big group. Just learn one name at a time.
When walking in an office building or on campus, put the phone away and greet people as you walk by. Do the same while standing in line for something.
Invite coworkers or classmates to lunch instead of always having a working lunch at your desk.
Join a club, a choir or something of the sort that puts you in contact with real people.
Do not leave Mass immediately after it is over. Almost all parishes and university Newman Centers have donuts and coffee afterwards [if not, make sure it is Catholic].
Call a friend, as opposed to texting, just to say ‘hello.’
Some of these efforts may seem cumbersome, time consuming or even awkward at first. That’s fine. Long term, I think we will be grateful for living more connected, truly and personally connected with the real people we have in front of us every day.
These interpersonal connections will naturally evangelize others since caring for others will reveal God’s love to them.
You never know when the smallest of gestures will deeply touch others. For me, it was a chocolate bar and glass of milk.
Fr. John Bullock, LC