Hand to the Plow

The religious sister’s separation from family and friends means that … in order to “put one’s hand to the plow” (Lk 9:59-60) one may not look back … in order to attend to the “one thing necessary.”

One of the distinctive marks of the consecrated religious life, both in its apostolic and contemplative forms, is separation from the world.  The Code of Canon Law states that “the witness of religious to Christ and the Church implies distancing from the world.” 1 The signs of this separation from the world include the observance of enclosure, 2 the wearing of the religious habit 3 and the use of title, “sister.”  The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience separate the consecrated religious sister from what the world seeks: the possession of goods and the conveniences of life, the good of marriage and family, and the good of ordering one’s own life.  The consecrated religious detaches herself from these goods, in order to belong entirely to Christ, her Spouse. 4

The religious vocation is an eschatological one; it is ordered to eternity.  The consecrated religious is not of this world, even as Christ was not of this world. 5 In order to live for eternity, she must be detached from the things of the present and passing world.  In order give all her love to her Spouse she cannot see, she needs to be detached from the world she can see. 6

Our contemporary society presents a challenge to the living of being separated from the world, because there are so many ways in which the world is able to enter, even into the enclosure, by means of modern communication technology.  In this article, I would like to examine, first, the importance and meaning of separation from the world, especially as it pertains to the separation from family and friends.  I will then examine the challenge posed to living separation from the world by some modern means of communication. 7

Called From the World
Before examining the separation to which the consecrated religious is called, it may be helpful to clarify man’s natural position in the world.  Created in the image and likeness of God, man is endowed with freedom, and is entrusted with the goods of this world.  He has a right to enjoy the goods of the earth, 8  to acquire property, to obtain work and housing; 9 he has a right to act in freedom, to choose his own profession and state of life 10 and to establish a family. 11

In the natural order, our affection, our concern, our generosity all go first to the family.  We are born and raised in the family, and, in a healthy situation, the strong bonds one has with parents and siblings endure a lifetime.  Our family is given to us in God’s providence; it is the natural place in which we are called to give ourselves, in love, for one another. 12 Long-time friends can become like family members to us, and, although there is always a special bond with blood relatives, the same applies, to a certain degree, to friends.

The good of family life may be given up only for a higher good.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that “families’ ties are important but not absolute,” 13  and that God can call a son or daughter to follow him more closely, requiring him or her to leave behind family. When Our Lord calls someone to follow him in the consecrated religious life, he calls her from the bonds of the natural family, in order to assume a place more directly in the supernatural order of the Mystical Body of Christ.  She is called to become a sister, not in the natural sense, but in a supernatural sense, as one who is bound as though by ties of blood to all of God’s sons and daughters.  In order to be bound so closely to all God’s children, she must necessarily detach from her family and friends.  Jesus tells the rich young man who asks him what he still lacks: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 14  Jesus does not call all to such a closer following.  The man who was possessed by devils, once cured, “begged him that he might be with him.  But he refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.'” 15

In order to respond to the call to belong wholly to Jesus, the one called must give up everything else.  The rich young man is told to sell all he has and give to the poor.  In response to St. Peter’s exclamation that, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you,” Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” 16 The call, once issued, is demanding, as we read in the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” 17 In order to respond to the call, one must give up earthly goods by selling all, give up his rightful self-determination by following Jesus, and give up the security and comfort of family and friends.

Why does Jesus require all of those whom he calls to follow him in the consecrated religious life?  He demands all, so that our hearts may wholly empty and free to be filled with his love.  In writing to a young Carmelite nun, Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B., explains to her why she must be free from every attachment to creatures: “Jesus wants to reign in your heart without rival or competitor.  He wants to give himself without reserve and, for that, he exacts unconditional surrender before the rights of his infinite love, his divine beauty.” 18 In another place, Blessed Columba Marmion issues the following reminder: “Never forget this extremely important truth: as long as we experience the need of a creature, and are attached to it, we cannot say that we seek God solely, and God will not give himself entirely to us.  If it is our will that our search be sincere, —sì revera quaerit, —if we want to find God fully, we must detach ourselves from all that is not God, and that would shackle in us the operation of his grace.” 19 In order to follow him, the divine lamb, wherever he goes, 20 the one called must have a free heart.  Even the things to which one would have a natural right—attachment to family, one’s own property, making one’s own decisions—must be left behind, in order to follow him without reservation.  Our Lord makes no compromises in this calling to a closer following.  When the rich young man finds it difficult to sell all, Our Lord does not change his demand.  So radical is the freedom of heart required for the one calling to a closer following, that he may not even stop to bury his father, to say goodbye to family—things about which he would have a right to be concerned. 21

The detachment from our natural affection for family and friends purifies our hearts and our love.  Given our fallen nature, even our love for family and friends is often mixed with our desire for comfort, for security, for feeling loved.  Being detached, the religious is able to see more clearly the needs of all men, and to take them to her heart.  She attains a better perspective when her heart is free.  One can compare the experience to the taking of a photograph.  When attached to family or friends, one’s heart is focused on a small aspect of the picture of the world.  Once detached from them, the religious sister is able to “step back” so to speak, and to view the world from a wider angle, which allows her, also, to see her own family and friends from a new perspective.  The Constitutions of the Poor Clare Colettines explain that, “only that purer love which results from detachment from all earthly things is powerful enough to be concerned for the destiny of the whole world.” 22 The practice of enclosure is an expression of separation from the world and “the separation brought about by enclosure places us at a suitable distance to enable us to view in proper perspective and duly appreciate this world to which we belong.” 23

Practice of Separation from Family and Friends
What does separation from family and friends mean in practice?  The separation, first of all, is a physical one, in the sense that one physically leaves family and friends in order to follow Jesus.  It is natural to leave the parental home upon reaching adulthood, and even lay persons are sometimes required to be physically separated from both family and friends, for whatever reason.  Physical separation, therefore, even the radical physical separation of cloistered religious, is not the distinctive mark of the separation of religious, even though such parting is an essential aspect of the separation of religious.

Unlike those in the world who are separated physically from family and friends, the consecrated religious so binds herself that she is no longer free to be in contact with them whenever she pleases, either in person, or by means of other forms of communication.  In the past, when travel was more difficult and communication between distant places very limited, it was not uncommon for persons to be separated for life from family and friends.  The religious, however, chooses such limited contact in order to free her heart wholly for her Spouse, and therein lies the difference (and also the challenge, especially for loved ones who do not understand a divine vocation).

More than physical separation, the religious sister’s separation from family and friends means that she is no longer part of the everyday life and the everyday concerns of family and friends.  In order to “put one’s hand to the plow” 24 one may not look back and be concerned about burying one’s father, one may not be involved in the everyday joys, sorrow and decisions of the family, in order to attend to the “one thing necessary.” 25 Parents and friends of religious know from experience very well what the separation entails.  It is from the daily life of family and friends that the religious is separated. Not only is she removed from their daily life, but family and friends are also removed from the consecrated religious’ daily life.

The separation from daily concerns does not mean that the religious has lost interest in her family or friends.  The love for family and friends is expressed, now, no longer by involvement in daily affairs, but by concern for their spiritual good, by praying for them and by entrusting them to the One to whom she has given her life. She loves her family now in the love for her Spouse.  Blessed Columba Marmion explains to a nun:

We may never share our love for God with any other creature; his command is formal: “Thou, shalt love the Lord God with thy whole heart.” But in the same way as we love God, we may love others, because he loves them, and because he desires that we should love them, and in the order and degree in which he wills that we should love them. 26

Attached only to Jesus, the religious learns to love her family in Him, purified of the imperfections which often mark our love for family and friends.  To a young man discerning his vocation, Blessed Columba Marmion writes, “Keep all your heart for Jesus Christ.  If you have the courage to content yourself with His love, He will give you later on the grace of loving without attaching yourself to creatures.” 27

The love for our family and friends, in Him, remains warm and affectionate.  Just as Jesus loved with His will and also with all His affections, so religious sisters are called to have a deep affection for their family and friends.  In His perfect humanity, as Blessed Columba Marmion explains, Jesus “loved His Mother as a child should love, not only with His head, but with His heart.  He kissed her and was fondled by her and liked it.” 28 The key is to love with detachment, as Blessed Columba Marmion masterfully explains: “[A]sk Jesus to give you the gift of loving with detachment, that is, so that no human affection should be necessary.  ‘One thing is necessary.’  Use affections as you do other creatures.  You will not rest in creatures, if you desire to use them according to God’s will.” 29

In detaching oneself from family and friends, we receive already the hundredfold promised by Our Lord, because we learn to be united with them more truly and more deeply than when our hearts were attached to them. 30 Blessed Columba Marmion writes to a religious:

The more closely we are united with Jesus, the closer the bonds of holy love embrace and envelop us.  It is in Jesus and in Him alone that you will find those who are so dear to you in truth.  He is Truth, and the more closely we abide in Him the truer is our union with those we love.  If we only find them in ourselves, in our poor human hearts, in our feelings and remembrances, our union if fruitless for them—for us, it only makes the void deeper and more hopeless.  But when we unite ourselves to them in Jesus, our union is a joy for them, and peace for us. 31

The divine call to “leave all” is a grace and a gift, but it does come at a price: the price of leaving what is dearest to us, namely, our family.  “Ordinarily on entering religion,” remarks Blessed Columba, “the greatest pain is the pain we cause others.” 32 It is of capital importance to realize that the leaving behind of family and friends is not a one-time act, but that it is to extend a lifetime—the detachment must be constant.  How easy it is to begin to take back, little by little, what we have once given, so that Jesus would need to reprimand us: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 33

Faith assures us that he who called us to the consecrated religious life, and who requires us to leave father and mother, brother and sister, will provide for our loved ones more than we could ever have done in the world, if we but keep our eyes on him.  As Blessed Columba counseled a young lady with a vocation to the consecrated religious life: “Courage!  Jesus is calling you to be his spouse.  Hold on to that.  Believe me, you will do as much good (and a thousand times more) to your family in giving yourself to God than in remaining in the world.  For God is the source of all true good, and he knows how to do himself all that he would have done through you.  Arm yourself then with thoughts of faith.” 34

Faith is needed, not only when first embracing the vocation, but throughout life, especially when one is faced by special challenges such as loneliness or distress, or illness or death in the family.  The religious sister must remain unmoved in faith, trusting that her Spouse will provide all for her loved ones, and that it is not his will that she be part of their daily life or that she return to the natural human ties of her family.  One cannot live in the spirit of faith without the practice of custody of the heart and of asceticism, since our fallen human nature always pulls us downwards towards the natural.

In order to sustain the separation which helps the religious to live more fully on the supernatural level, she chooses to bind her wayward will and heart to certain regulations, as set forth by her particular institute.  Typically, these regulations include some determinations of how often, and in what way, the religious will have contact with her family and friends outside the convent.  The regulations of an institute of contemplative life will differ from those of an institute of apostolic life, as their separation from the world is more absolute.  The regulations also vary from institute to institute, of course, but it almost always includes some determinations about when a sister may visit family, and how often she may be in contact with them, be it by letter or by telephone or by some other means.

Modern Means of Communication
Until recent decades, the regulations regarding contact with family and friends were relatively simple to arrange.  There were certain days allowed for visits home or for family and friends to visit.  There was a rule about when one could receive or make a telephone call and about how often one could send a letter.  But then there appeared the new forms of communication, including cellular telephones, Skype, e-mail, and social networking websites.  In what follows, I will focus especially on two forms of modern communication: the cellular telephone and e-mail.  The modern means of communication can be used for noble ends, but they also present a number of challenges and dangers even to good human living, and, a forteriori, to the consecrated religious sister.

I would like to mention briefly the use of social communication websites, such as Facebook, and the use of the internet, in general.  Many good books and articles have already been written about the dangers of Facebook, not for consecrated religious specifically, but in general, and so I only mention here that Facebook, and other social networking services, pose distinct challenges. 35

The internet is a useful tool for doing research, and also for finding information, or reading or viewing the news.  Even informational websites, such as those which provide the news, often include links to other articles and web pages.  On websites containing the news, links to other articles often appear as soon as one has selected a given article to read or video to view.  Although some articles contain important news, there seem to be many articles which are rather frivolous or are mere gossip.  The appearing of new articles and new options happens often on the internet, so that one finds oneself going from one article or video to the next one.  Those who create the websites know man’s tendency to idle curiosity, and play into this tendency.  It is so easy, too, to lose one’s focus while using the internet.  One can begin by looking up one thing, one sees a link to something else, follows it, and then on easily loses focus and often the sense of time.  The use of internet is a challenge: strong discipline and the practice of the virtues, especially the virtues of fortitude and of prudence, are needed to use it in a way that it remains a good and does not become a danger to the consecrated religious life.  One of the challenges of the new means of communication is that the discipline required of sisters must be a self-discipline, because many of the modern means of communication are not mediated by superiors, but are accessed from a computer.  It is ever more important, then, that religious sisters be formed in the practice of all the virtues which are needed to support the total gift of self to the Divine Spouse.

The needs of the apostolic religious often practically force her to carry a cellular telephone.  Having a private telephone number can be a temptation for both the religious and her family and friends.  No one, after all, need know if she is making or receiving private telephone calls.  Unlike land-lines, where often the superior mediates telephone calls, one can call the religious sister directly on her cell phone.  Instead of calling, one could even just send a text message.  One typically carries the cell phone on one’s person all the time, also in the enclosure, at prayer, during common exercises.  How easily, then, the regular convent life can be interrupted and enclosure violated by telephone calls of whatever kind.  As Sister Marysia Weber, R.S.M., mentioned in the program, “The New Media and Religious Life: How an Awareness of the Benefits and Risks of Electronic Media Assists and Hinders the Consecrated Religious in Communicating the Love of Jesus Christ,” Skype makes possible “virtual” visits with family and friends.

Just as with the cell phone, most religious with an apostolic work are required to use e-mail.  In a certain respect, e-mail is much like writing a letter.  In effect, one writes a letter and, instead bringing it to the mailbox, one presses a button and it is sent.  The letter then arrives within minutes.  The difference between regular letters and e-mail lies precisely in the speed.  With regular mail, one must wait: wait for the letter to arrive and then await a response.  With regular mail, at its quickest, one would have to wait a day for arrival and a day for the response.  Text messages are similar to e-mail with respect to speed, but have the added feature of being necessarily brief, leading users to resort often to abbreviations and to omitting the usual formalities used in letter writing.

In our spiritual life, very few things are instant; it is rather an organic growth, which takes time.  The religious sister, and every Christian, must learn to wait, to wait on the Lord.  Every religious sister must be a contemplative.  The practically instant communication of e-mail does not assist the religious to attain or maintain a contemplative spirit.  The speed of the communication lures us into writing quickly, with abbreviations, and to writing without first thinking.  We do not stop to collect our thoughts, to consider whether it is good or necessary to write, but we jot down our thoughts and, “click,” we send it off, awaiting a response.  E-mail can be quite harmful, therefore, to the contemplative life, to say nothing of the damage it does to the intellectual life in general, in tempting us to write before we think, and of writing using poor grammar and excessively informal language, as has become common especially in text messages.

Given the speed with which e-mails are sent and received, there is a strong lure to write often, much more often than one would write a letter.  In a letter, one usually writes a longer message to the recipient, for otherwise it would not be worth the trouble of preparing and sending the letter and paying for the postage.  With e-mail, however, one can easily send just a line or two, knowing that one can write more at a later time.  In that way, e-mail communication can become almost like a conversation, with one line or so being exchanged between persons.  How easy it is, with e-mail or text messages, to become, once more, part of the everyday life of our family and friends!  Since e-mails can arrive at any time, there is a strong temptation to want to go to the computer frequently in order to see whether any e-mails have arrived.  In the end, it is very easy to spend much more time on personal correspondence than one used to spend when writing regular letters.  The pertinent question then becomes which time is being used for this correspondence: work time, prayer time, spiritual reading time?

According to long-standing custom, many religious refrained from reading and sending mail, and also from visits with family and friends, during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent.  The practice is most helpful, and it would be a great loss if it were to fall into neglect under the pressure of modern communication technology.  The emphasis on separation from family and friends during these penitential seasons, expressed by renunciation of all but spiritual contact with them, helps the religious to focus more exclusively on the mystery of the liturgical season.  The practice provides, moreover, a most natural occasion for the religious sister to return to her first love, to renew her appreciation of the detachment from family and friends which belongs intimately to her vocation, and also to convert, once more, should she have begun to re-attach herself to her family.  The sacrifice of renouncing contact with family and friends has the added advantage of being a penance which poses no danger to one’s physical health, and to allow one to exercise the virtues of patience and of fortitude.  Although the monastic custom can be retained even with the use of modern means of communication, the modern means make it much more difficult to keep the custom.  If a religious has one e-mail account for both apostolic and personal use, as is often the case, then it requires much self-discipline to refrain from reading and responding to personal e-mails during the penitential seasons.

Using e-mail communication, one can escape the here-and-now, which is precisely where the Christian, and a forteriori the religious, is called to live, is called to find Christ.  Usually, an individual religious will find herself in a local community of sisters whom she did not select.  It can happen that, on the natural level, sisters in a local community do not have a natural affinity for one another, and do not understand one another well.  That reality belongs to religious life and it can be an aid to draw us closer to our Divine Spouse.  Occasions of a lack of understanding or compassion can be the source of important graces which permit us to draw near to our Lord, to suffer and to become thus more like unto him.  But e-mail or a cell phones offer another possibility.  The sister can be in contact with her family, or with her religious sisters who are her friends, to whom she feels close.  In fact, she could be in contact with them on a daily basis, and, in that way, almost form a “virtual community.”  She can use e-mail to “speak” with those sisters who are of similar mind.  Doing so, the “virtual community” can become quite real and important.  It is our natural inclination to turn to another human person when we are in sorrow or in joy, when we wish to complain or when we are hurt.  When our co-sisters are not “kindred spirits,” we can learn to go first to our Lord.  But when e-mail or a telephone is readily available, will we still go to our Lord?  Will we instead send an email or text message?

The above considerations about the essential separation from the world of consecrated religious, on the one hand, and the pull exerted by the world through modern means of communication, on the other hand, brought to my mind the image of St. Clare clinging to the altar when her family tried to remove her by “physical force, crafty counsels and flattering promises” 36 from the convent.  On Palm Sunday of 1212, St. Clare abandoned her family home in order to consecrate herself to Christ, following St. Francis.  Her family, upon discovering what she had done, set out to “rescue” her forcibly from the convent.  When they attempted to do so, she “laid hold of the altar-cloths and bared her tonsured head, declaring that under no circumstances would she be separated from the service of Christ.” 37

St. Clare’s younger sister, St. Agnes, faced a similar response from her family when she followed her sister to the cloister.  In her case, “twelve men, infuriated with rage, descended upon the place” 38  when they discovered that St. Agnes had joined her sister.  The men, knowing from experience how determined were their kinswomen in following the call to the cloister, were even more determined to bring St. Agnes back home.  They “attempted to drag her away by the hair, while the others pressed forward and lifted her up in their arms.” 39 St. Agnes implored her sister’s help.  St. Clare prayed, and St. Agnes’ body became heavy as lead, such that the twelve men could not carry her.  As the defeated men turned to head home, St. Agnes arose, and gave herself forever to her Divine Spouse.

The image of St. Agnes being pulled by family members is a vivid image of what consecrated religious experience nowadays, as well.  It is often precisely well-meaning family and friends who would pull us away from the total gift of self to Christ.  In response to her family’s attempts, St. Clare bared her tonsured head—the sign of her separation from the world.  Her tonsured head made it clear that she could not return to the world, that her decision was irrevocable.  In her day, for a woman to have a tonsured head was disgraceful, as her hair was a woman’s glory.  St. Agnes, realizing that she was powerless to resist the twelve men who wanted to carry her off, called to her saintly sister for assistance, whose prayers obtained a miracle.  Both saints were fully convinced of their divine vocations, and literally clung to it with all their might, strengthened by prayer.  Had St. Clare and St. Agnes yielded to the demands of their family, returning home, we would most likely not know their names today.  The two sisters became saints by clinging to Our Lord’s will for them as contemplative religious.  For consecrated religious today, the road to sanctity is the same.

  1. Can. 607, §3.
  2. Cf. can. 667.
  3. Cf. can. 669, §1,2.
  4. Although the article speaks of consecrated religious women and not of consecrated religious men, all that follows applies also to consecrated religious men.
  5. Cf. Jn 17:14.  All Scriptural references are taken from the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition.
  6. Cf. 1 Cor 7:32-33: “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife.”
  7. The modern means of communication also pose challenges to other aspects of the consecrated religious life, for example, to obedience (because most modern means of communication, in contrast to the older ones, are not mediated by a superior), to poverty (not so much material poverty, but certainly poverty of time), to chastity (through the viewing—even if unintended—of immoral images or sounds through the internet, for example).  For an excellent examination of the benefits and risks of the electronic media for consecrated religious, which also mentions the effect on separation from the world and enclosure, see the presentations given by Sister Marysia Weber, R.S.M., D.O., and Sister Mary Prudence Allen, R.S.M., Ph.D., in 2010, “The New Media and Religious Life: How an Awareness of the Benefits and Risks of Electronic Media Assists and Hinders the Consecrated Religious in Communicating the Love of Jesus Christ,” available through Sacred Heart of Jesus Retreat House (Alhambra, CA).
  8. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), no. 360 (Hereafter: CCC).
  9. Cf. CCC, nos. 2211, 2401, 2403, 2406, 2452.
  10. Cf. CCC, no. 2230.
  11. Cf. CCC, nos. 1908, 2211.
  12. Cf. CCC, nos. 2204-2208.
  13. Cf., CCC, no. 2232.
  14. Mt 19:21.  Cf. Mk 10:17-31; Lk 18:18-30.
  15. Mk. 5:18-19.
  16. Mk 10:29.
  17. Lk 9:57-62.  Cf. Cf. Mt 10:34-39: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Lk 14:26: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Cf. Mk 10:17-22.
  18. Letter of November 1906, in Blessed Columba Marmion, Union with God: Letters of Spiritual Direction by Blessed Columba Marmion, trans. Mother Mary St. Thomas (Bethseda: Zaccheus Press, 2006), p. 65.
  19. Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B., Christ the Ideal of the Monk: Spiritual Conferences on the Monastic and Religious Life (Ridgefield, CT: Roger A. McCAffrey Publishing, 1926), p. 9.
  20. Cf. Rev 14:4.
  21. Cf. Mt 8:21; Lk 9:59.
  22. Constitutions, article 45, 1,2, in Walls Around the World: The Liberating Gift of Enclosure (Roswell, New Mexico: Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1987), p. 21.
  23. Constitutions, article 45, 3 in ibid., p. 23.
  24. Cf. Lk 9:59-60.
  25. Cf. Lk 10:42.
  26. Letter of November 19, 1903, in Union with God, p.123.
  27. Letter of January 7, 1910, in Union with God, p.161.
  28. Letter of December 4, 1919, in Union with God, p. 124.
  29. Ibid., p. 125.
  30. Cf. Mk 10:29.
  31. Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B., The English Letters of Abbot Marmion: 1858-1923 (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1962), Letter to an English Superioress of 7 September {1909}, p. 150.  Cf. also Letter to an English Superioress of 26 May 1908, p. 143: “It is by successive detachments that He ends by becoming our All; and at times this separation from all human solace is almost like death.  I have gone through it; and know that poor human weakness could not bear it, were it to last.  But little by little God becomes our All; and in Him we find again what we seem to have lost.”
  32. Ibid., Letter to a Young Girl of 10 February 1914, p. 169.  Not only does the separation cause pain to others, but also to the one entering religion.  In fact, Blessed Columba Marmion elsewhere notes that the one entering religion Our Lord wishes for us to feel this pain.  Cf. ibid., Letter to a Young Girl of 7 July 1920, p. 185: “He does not expect you to be a spectre or a ghost, no, He wants you to be a thorough woman wanting love & giving it; & when you leave those you love, He wants you to feel it deeply.”
  33. Rev. 2:4.
  34. Letter of September 2, 1894, in Union with God, p. 163.
  35. See, for example, James P. Steyer, Talking Back to Facebook (New York: Scribner, 2012), and Steve Baarendse, “About Face: Why I’m Not on Facebook: An Open Letter to Christian College Students,” Touchstone Magazine (May/June 2012), 25: 3: pp. 44-50.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid., p. 36.
  38. Ibid., 37.
Sr. M. Regina van den Berg, FSGM About Sr. M. Regina van den Berg, FSGM

Sister M. Regina van den Berg is a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Martyr of St. George, living presently in Rome, Italy. She made her perpetual profession of vows in the year 2000, and in the same year obtained her PhD in philosophy from The Catholic University of America. Since that time, she has served in various apostolates of her community. She presently serves as a secretary.


  1. Avatar Rosemary says:

    Dear Sr. M Regina,
    I have needed to hear what your article “Hand to the Plow” has explained ever since my daughter entered religious life 7 years ago. How can this be explained more commonly and clearly to families? I have follow-up questions for you. Is there some way to ask them–daring the use of email-social communication??? But then I am not your family!
    Thank you.

    • Fr. Meconi Fr. Meconi says:

      Sr. Regina would like to contact you re your comment here. Could you please email me your contact info? Blessings,
      Fr. Meconi

  2. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    The emphasis on separation leaves me to wonder about the final judgment all face. “When I was hungry you gave me to eat.” Total separation would seem to make it hard to meet the criteria all will be judged by in the end. We know Jesus especially in the poor.

    The negative emphasis on social media and the limited definition of its uses reflects the way all new inventions are treated in traditional communities. The written word disturbed the way of telling stories and the horseless carriage destroyed the nature of community. These are probably the objections of our ancestors.

    What social media and the internet provide are opportunities for more mature spiritual life. One who internalizes the meaning of “come follow Me” is able to make decisions when and when not to be in contact with family, to write an email, or to skype a friend. Let us rejoice in all the great possibilities that are made possible through inventions. Rejoicing does not mean to avoid critical reflection on the deeper ways the diverse world views we are exposed to change our world in positive and negative ways.


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