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First it was Mary, next Liz, and Rachel followed soon after. Three close college friends, who left the the world of careers and connections to devote their lives to Christ and his Church. That sacrifice is beautiful but also poignant to their friends left behind, to whom understanding often comes gradually, but it is nothing compared to the mingled joy and anguish of the father watching his daughter become a religious sister. And for Robert Miola, writing in the most recent issue of First Things , it was not one daughter, but two.

It started back in May 2001, at a graduation party in my daughter’s tiny New York apartment, just off Broadway, five flights up. Christine has won prizes in classics and Italian, a set of other honors, and she has no use for any of them. She has dropped two decades of aspiration and academic achievement, two decades of building a self in society, two decades of dreams about the future, without so much as a whistle.

. . . I keep reminding myself of Thomas Aquinas’ dictum: The end of all learning is love of God. “She is just skipping the middle steps,” I tell myself and others again and again. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?

But I am disappointed, too. She won’t be going through the long-anticipated rituals of academic accreditation, and I won’t be offering all the cheers, consolations, and advice I have stored up. And I am worried. Is this a free choice or an unhealthy compulsion, born of some deep-seated neurosis or fear or wound? Will she be safe and healthy and happy? Can we see her, and how often, and on whose say-so? She will never have a husband. She will never have children. What about all that nurturing love and motherly good sense she showed her brother Dan and younger sisters, Rachel and Rosie, babysitting, helping her parents, organizing chores, providing entertainment? And, of course, she will always be a beggar, despite her talents and the tens of thousands of dollars spent in tuition. (The IRS and the alumni surveys have yet to provide a category marked “No income now or ever.”)

Baffling—unreal—to the IRS and alumni board, and often infinitely more so to the ones who love most. But, as this father comes to realize, the radiance and joy of his missionary daughters, their love and peace, lies at the heart of reality. To read Miola’s full essay, log on or subscribe today.

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