As I mentioned in my post last year, Dominican life is supported by the four pillars of prayer, community, study, and ministry. The novitiate year focuses on the first two pillars—prayer and community—building a solid foundation for the years of study and active ministry ahead. Our common prayer revolves around the chanting of the Liturgy of the Hours and daily Mass together. This schedule of morning prayer and Mass, mid-day prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer provides great opportunities to put the day’s activities on hold, enter into God’s peace and Christ’s presence, and pray together as a community. Along with communal prayer, the novitiate is a time to grow deeper in personal prayer, as well. The experience of daily Mass and frequent Confession has made me fall more deeply in love with these sacraments. I have benefited from increased time in Eucharistic Adoration, and have increased my devotion to the Rosary—a prayer near and dear to the Order of Preachers. All of this has led to a closer relationship with Christ and a general deepening of my faith.
Focus on the common life is one of the things that initially attracted me to the Dominicans. Growing up in a large and close extended family has ingrained in me a need for communal interaction and a sense of familial life. While the family in religious life looks different from the typical family unit, the sentiments are still the same. The seven of us novices, along with our novice master and the seven other Dominicans who live here in Denver (six priests and one cooperator brother) have formed a familial bond. The bond extends to the entire province—to over 170 Friars. The bond even extends further, encompassing the entire Dominican Order, including cloistered nuns, active sisters, and the Dominican Laity as well. I have joined a large and incredible family, and it has been a blessing. Here in Denver, I have learned what it truly means to live in Dominican community. We are here to support one another, to challenge one another, and to love one another. We come together as a community each day to pray, eat, and play. Dinners each night are eaten together, and are a great time of conversation and laughter. Community, of course, goes beyond our formal, planned community time. Living in a community is a full-time experience. The blessings of this communal life also come with challenges. We are all different people with different tastes, temperaments, gifts, and annoyances. Each of us brings a different person to the novitiate. All of us contribute different strengths to the community, and we each challenge the others in different ways. When I was first discerning a call to the Dominicans, a friar told me “If you’ve met one Dominican, you’ve met one Dominican.” This saying has definitely held true this year. Although we are different people, we are constantly striving to be of one heart and one mind seeking God, as our rule instructs us to do. This demands that we solve internal problems in a charitable and effective way. We are not all best friends, but we are all brothers, and must maintain the bond of brotherhood. When he was here visiting, Master of the Order Fr. Bruno Cadoré, O.P. told us, “Never forget that you all have the same best friend.” This simple yet beautiful statement helps put this communal life into perspective. Even if the only thing we share in common is our love of Christ, that alone is enough to bond us.
This year has been full of new experiences and adventures. One big new experience has been, of course, the wearing of a habit. The habit, which has been worn since our founding, is an outward sign which identifies us to the world as Dominican Friars. Wearing the habit calls us to an increased accountability which comes along with being identified with the order. We are seen as friars first, and anything that we say or do—both good and bad—can have an effect on peoples’ view of the Dominicans, which provides great opportunity for witness. Wearing the habit has inward and personal aspects, too. The habit reminds us of the vows which we profess and live. It also reminds us of our brothers and sisters in St. Dominic, and our 800-year history as an order. When I put my habit on, I am putting on the same garment that was worn by incredible men and women—St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Rose of Lima, St. Thomas Aquinas, and my patron Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli to name a few. While wearing the habit is part of being a Dominican Friar, it is not the end-all, be-all of this life. We are Dominicans whether in or out of the habit, always called to live the life we profess to live.
From the moment when I was vested in the habit on the first day of the novitiate, wearing the habit has been a very natural experience for me. Whether in the house, at ministry, or in public places in habit, I, for the most part, have felt comfortable in the thirteenth-century garment of the Dominicans. The few times when I have felt uncomfortable or awkward in habit have come at unexpected times, and the moments of awkwardness generally pass quickly. Doing ministry each week in habit, primarily teaching science and religion at a K-8 school, helped me to more fully understand and appreciate why we wear habits, and also to get used to how others react to people in habits.
A good portion of the novitiate conferences revolved around interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, and psychological analysis tools such as the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram. Looking into myself, who I am, and why I respond the way I do, as well as how groups of people interact has been very fruitful to the common life we live. These tools have been the more tangible aspects of this year’s introspection, which contribute to the deeper, more spiritual discoveries of the introspection. I must know who I am right now in order to become who I am called to be—the fullest version of myself.
One of the highlights of the year was meeting Fr. Bruno Cadoré, O.P., the current master of the order. It is somewhat rare for novices to meet the master of the order, who is stationed in Rome. When Fr. Bruno was here, he met with us novices for most of an afternoon. He asked us two questions: what the order needed to work on in America, and what we would like to see the order and the province to do regarding ministries, missions, and vision. He took notes on what we said and was very engaging in the discussion. Fr. Bruno is an incredibly holy and humble man, and it is clear that he cares for each of his brothers. He is a fitting successor to St. Dominic, as he possesses many of the qualities which we read about St. Dominic possessing. We are blessed to have met him, and when we make profession on August 14, we will personally know the man who we profess obedience to.
Another major highlight of the year was our month-long tour of the province, during which we met many of the friars in the province and visited most of the ministry sites in which our province serves. The tour also included stops at a few Dominican motherhouses of active sisters and convents of cloistered nuns. The trip culminated in Chicago with our provincial assembly—a gathering of most of the friars of the province, during which Br. Paul Byrd, O.P. professed his solemn vows. While I was greatly looking forward to the trip and expecting it to be fun, I did not realize how much of a discernment process the trip would be. Seeing the friars in active ministry was like getting a sneak peek into what life as a Dominican will someday look like—these will be the places I will live and do ministry at. These are the brothers I will someday live with. The discernment continued at the provincial assembly, which felt like a family reunion—these are my brothers—each one different, each one bonded by fraternal charity in St. Dominic. The entire tour was an affirmation that this is where God wants me to be—in the Province of St. Albert the Great of the Order of Preachers.
This novitiate year has been very natural for me. I have felt like I fit in well in the context of this life—as if I were meant to be here. Some of the times which I anticipated would be difficult, especially not being home for the holidays, turned out to not be so bad—just different. That is not to say that this year has been a cake walk and struggle-free. I have had some times of difficulty here as I have faced times of spiritual growth. This environment has been a great one in which to work through these difficult times, though. Any true path in life is going to come with struggle and difficulties. It is what we do in these difficult times that matters.
As this year comes to an end and first profession draws near, I greatly look forward to what lies ahead. On August 14, the seven of us novices will profess the vow of obedience (under which lie the vows of poverty and chastity) for a period of two years. On August 15, we move to St. Louis, joining the other student brothers currently living there. We will begin studies at Aquinas Institute of Theology, where we will eventually complete our studies in philosophy and theology. As I continue this journey, I will seek to remain in the peace of God’s plan—the peace which brought me here, has kept me here, and which continues to guide me. The peace which surpasses all understanding, which tells me this is where God has called me to be.
Br. Samuel Hakeem
CLICK HERE to read Br. Samuel's original posting one year ago.
*Br. Samuel is a cleric brother and will begin studies for ordination in the fall. He and his six classmates are scheduled to profess simple vows on August 14th at St. Dominic's Church, Denver, CO. Please pray for them as they begin their retreat this week.
Hier, j'ai visité l'Oratoire Saint-Joseph et le tombeau de saint André Bessette. L'Oratoire est un beau bâtiment, et il était émouvant de voir le nombre de béquilles laissées par ceux qui ont été guéris. La seule plainte que j'ai eu était que l'endroit était assez bruyant, avec beaucoup de touristes qui n'avait aucun respect pour le lieu comme un sanctuaire.