Anticipation is growing, day by day for the celebration of the Tet Holiday. The Lunar New Year is a combination of Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and Super Bowl Sunday on steroids! The three-day celebration actually melds into about a three-week celebration of Family, Good Health, and Prosperity. This year is the “Year of the Dog” and images of pooches are beginning to show up all over the city.
I had occasion to attend the first of many celebrations with the ten Aspirants who are all hoping to be future Franciscans or diocesan priests. They live in a house which is actually owned by the family of one of the Friars and they attend school at one of the DaLat universities. These young men range in age from 19 to 24 and they maintain a daily religious prayer schedule as well as a mutual housekeeping regimen. The home is spotless! What is so inspiring is that they do not have an adult live-in supervisor. The difference between this house and a typical fraternity house, in the USA, is like night and day. The young men invited their proud parents to the feast and one could easily see the pride in the faces of their parents. The menu was multi faceted with delicacies such as Duck Soup Hot Pot with Noodles, Veal with Ginger, and Pork with Broccoli. Everything was prepared at table side and complimented with plenty of homemade “liquid refreshment” that tasted like a mild brandy. Needless to say, we were all sufficiently sated.
The beginning of the week included a reverent outdoor service for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. Candles were blessed and prayers were recited as we processed solemnly into the chapel. There was a real sense of the Holy as we prayed and sang. The liturgy is a very important part of the novitiate life. How privileged I am to be a part of it. I have just about met with all twenty-two of the novices for their first English class. They are so enthusiastic. It is an absolute delight to teach them because they are very eager to learn. They do have difficulties with pronunciation, especially with “B” and “P” words but it’s OK. They really make a valiant effort and I can’t help but say, “very good” when they repeat the word or sentence for me. I’m only here for three months and I don’t expect to perform miracles with them. I do hope, however, that they will retain some of what we are practicing.
Part of my session with them includes conversation about their home and families. Most of the students come from simple farming or fishing families and we have two novices who are from one of the 54 ethnic tribes of Vietnam — The Bana Tribe. The Friars have been very successful in attracting young men from the tribes because they are the ones who minister to these neglected people. I hope to share more about them in a future letter as I will be visiting some of the villages with our Provincial when he comes for a visit next week. Pictures at 11!
I am adjusting to the novitiate schedule without too much difficulty. The 4:30 A.M. rising is not too hard on my body because I make sure to be in bed by 9:00 P.M. Morning meditation begins at 5:00 A.M. and we celebrate the Eucharist and Morning Prayer at 5:30 A.M. Breakfast is at 6:30 A.M. and the novices are off and running by 7:30 A.M. for their daily work periods. Watching them do their daily chores is more enjoyable than watching a football game on television. They move so quickly and eloquently. Every motion seems to have a purpose and there is certainly no lolly-gagging. Mid Day Prayer is at 11:10 A.M. and lunch is served at 11:30 A.M., followed by a short nap time and the Office of Readings at 1:30 P.M. The novices have class in the afternoon from 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. and then they enjoy one hour of recreation. From 5:30 to 6:00 they have Meditation and at 6:00 we have Evening Prayer followed by the Evening Meal. Night Prayer is at 8:30 and Brother is sawing logs by 9:00 P.M. My classes are at 12:20, 2:00, and 4:00 P.M. They also manage to sneak in Eucharistic Adoration, Rosary, and Choir Practice throughout the days.
Living with these highly motivated young men is spiritually uplifting. It’s like basking in the warm rays of the sun. You don’t want it to end. The Order in Vietnam is in good hands.
Peace and All Good!