When first beginning to discern religious life in my junior year at the University of Florida, one of the things that made it very hard to even accept the fact that I needed to discern this vocation, was the thought that it would mean leaving my friends and family behind.
The Lord had given me my family, and constantly reminded me to care for them, and to be present to them. My friends were also a gift from the Lord, despite their having very different world views compared to mine. It had been clear to me all of my life that I was meant to be with them, to show them the love that God gives. I took very seriously the idea that as a Catholic, my way of acting, my choices, and my behavior should reflect the love and mercy that Christ poured out on the Cross. When the thought of religious life entered my mind though, I feared that it was an option that would make my parents lose their daughter, and my friends lose the only face they had to put to Catholicism (outside of the image which the media tried to feed them). With time, as I began to make Catholic friends, I soon began to see them also as people I would lose. This time it seeming like a greater loss for me than for them.
I began to see parting with those I loved as being the necessary sacrifice that the Lord asks of anyone He calls.The desire to be with Him was too strong, and too urgent to ignore, and I had to have faith that He would provide for them, and me, the graces necessary to part from each other. Little by little, my family began to support me in my discernment through insisting that I make whatever sacrifices the Lord asked, that nothing else mattered. This was a motivating push which gave me the courage to go to the gospel, and recall all those passages where Jesus says, “Come follow me,” and the listener drops everything and just goes (Mark 1:16-20) and then of the rich man who is told to give away all his possessions (Mark 10: 17-22). All these became readings to remind me that it is a radical trust, that I did not understand, but that I had to respond with in order to become who He meant me to be.
By the time I entered, ten months ago, I had heard plenty of times, and had the intellectual understanding of the fact that in entering religious life I was not abandoning my family or my friends, but rather I would love them in a new way. What this would look like I did not know, but I trusted that God would make it so. In His Divine Providence, He has heard the cries of His lowly servant, and answered with gentle and unfailing love. I have not felt the pain of separation from friends or family, from this I have been saved, not because I do not love them, or because I love them more from a distance, but because I never left them and they never left me.
In the gift of the Eucharist it is revealed to me that I am united to all those in my life, as He is in me and I am in Him, and all of creation has been claimed by His love, whether or not they acknowledge it. Even in my dreams this is made evident, as I would find myself waking up often having dreamt with particular friends or family members, dreams in which I would sit and simply talk with them to see how they were doing and offer my prayers, and sometimes receive particular prayer requests from them. This often meant waking up feeling as though I had not slept at all, but rather had just been back in Gainesville, or in Tampa, or in Puerto Rico. I call these my mini home visits, but really they are beautiful opportunities, through which the Lord shows me that I have not left anyone behind, for in having Him I have everyone, even those who do not know Him.
This is the love that God gives and offers His children, a love that in Him brings us to be joined with all those we have known. It allows me to love more, and to love in a new way, yes, but not because of distance, but because of an indescribable closeness. The closer we are to God the closer we invariably are to everyone else. The more time I spend gazing at my Beloved, and letting Him gaze at me, the clearer it becomes that I have given Him everyone, and He has not taken them away, but instead has given them back to me a hundredfold.