A Question for Formators

Yesterday an interesting question arose (one among many) concerning use of the internet by those in monastic/religious/priestly formation. Our own policy here at Hendred is clear. Essentially, during the novitiate access to the internet will be restricted. Emails to family and friends (within reason), Skype calls to parents, occasional use for study purposes, yes. Facebook, Twitter, surfing YouTube? No. There is so much that needs to be done during the novitiate if we are to understand and co-operate with the graces being offered us to grow in prayer that there really isn’t time for anything more. We need to focus, even become ‘bored’ with God if the novitiate is to do its work — at least, that’s our view and our policy for now.

Other Benedictines present at the Symposium here at Schuyler spoke of a much more liberal use of the internet allowed to those in formation, including active use of Facebook. The question raised was ‘how much does this usage lead to real engagement with others?’ To an observer it looked as though there was an over-concentration on uploading and commenting on photos. Is this good or bad? Well, I have already said that at Henred we’d be rather sceptical, but ultimately it is a case of ‘by their fruits shall ye know them’. God has a habit of making saints by some unlikely means.

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8 thoughts on “A Question for Formators”

  1. In my day the nearest we novices came to any outside influences was an occasional glimpse of the front page of the Times on its way to the Abbot’s parlour. Then I discovered why some juniors were so keen to do their stint in the Porter’s lodge of an afternoon – copies of The Spectator no less!

    Part of any difficulty is that – with few exceptions such as your good selves – the current generation of seniors hasn’t a clue what is out there on the internet, what good it can do but also how easy it is to succomb to all and any temptations there: from wasting endless hours on Facebook to hard core porn at two clicks of a button.

    They also don’t understand the mindset and the habits of an average 23 year old coming for formation, who has probably had ten years or more spending as much time in virtual space as in any other reality.

    Letting go of the internet seems an absolutely essential part of formation, as significant and necessary as any other discipline a house and community must seek to mould their novices into accepting and becoming a part of.

  2. As a still active Anglican who has limited knowledge of life in a religious community, it has always seemed to me that those considering a vocation to the religious life need to give time and thoughtful reflection to what such a life entails. The Gospels contain many instances where our Lord sets out the principles of self denial and self discipline for those seeking to follow him. For me, such would be sufficient to recognise that use of the internet could so easily become a destructive diversion from the focus of seeking the Lord, and following him.

  3. I use it in order to see what is going on in the Church and to see who/what to pray for, particularly in the ‘blogsphere’. I also access alot of study material that I do not currently have access to such as some of the writings of the Early Church Fathers or the Summa Theologica for example. I would feel that my right arm had been cut off, if all access was denied.
    Whilst I would agree that it is right and proper that some degree of restriction is essential given the ease with which one can ‘surf” and potentially ‘waste’ hours doing so, however I would venture part of formation surely is to develop the inner sense (and indeed self dicipline) of what is monastic [behaviour] and what is not. I think Basil Hume alluded to this idea somewhere in his book ‘Searching for God’ (havent got it to hand so cannot check the exact reference). One has to be serious about *directing ones inner compass always towards God as well as being directed/being under obedience…but you have to accept that you, personally, (if you are doing this *) are responsible for obeying in either circumstance.
    What do you think Digitalnun?
    maryclare 🙂

  4. i spend my day at work using Twitter and social media. Part of the job. It’s OK. Pays the bills.
    But would much rather have more time allowing God to fill my mind with magical thoughts, feelings, insights, and so on.
    No comparison.

  5. Must say I do go on the internet to de-stress/relax after work, however am increasingly convicted that I waste time on it.
    Things such as FB can be a blessing when they connect you with distant family/friends, but there is really no substitute for real life relationships. There is always the propensity to be ‘fake’ and to say things for effect …

    Sometimes a religious blog or similar can be instrumental in directing me to God, and this is a great blessing, but I know I need to get off the net if I really mean business in my developing relationship with Him!

  6. Thank you very much for your thoughtful reflections and comments. In case it’s not entirely clear, I was talking about restricting internet access for those in the first stages of monastic formation, i.e. postulancy and the novitiate.

    I quite take your point, MaryClare, but I believe that there is so much to learn during the novitiate that it is better to wait until the juniorate before allowing a more exapansive use. When I became a novice, for example, not only was access to radio, TV and newspapers unavailable but I, who had reading tickets for some of the greatest libraries in Europe, wasn’t even allowed into the monastery library but had to ask for books which the Novice Mistress would then decide whether I might read or not! It was tough and might seem silly to an outsider, but it made me knuckle down to scripture and prayer — which was the whole point.

    One small idea I would throw into the mix is that I don’t think we should categorise online engagements as somehow less ‘real’ than those which take place offline. They may be easier to manipulate in some ways, but they are still real, just as a ‘pen friend correspondence’ (remember them, anyone) is real.

  7. …we had similar constraints, and nothing silly about it. At the time it seemed almost an outrage, but that was a part of the challenge to let go of past ways and accept the discipline of community. I was lucky with my Novice Master who rarely landed me with books to which I would always be a stranger. He knew my spirit, what I could and what I couldn’t take. When it came to my pre-novitiate retreat – more or less a week of house arrest – he handed me a great pile for the duration, and tucked away in the middle of Abbot Marmion this and St. Ambrose that was a copy of ‘Wind in the Willows’. Bless him and his sacred memory.

  8. During the first year after a dear friend entered a Benedictine community in the United States all correspondence and casual contact with those outside the community was restricted. Although very involved with the monastery and more than once coming in contact with this friend even when social occasions allowed we went our seperate ways. Her focus of engagement of any type for that year was with the community and I did not begrudge her or the community that time. The internet is just another example of multiple ways of engagement. I believe that it is best restricted during early formation for it’s temptation is great in it’s ease of access to unlimited “forbidden” diversions whether personal or informational in nature.

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