THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
Apostles asked, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Our Lord put a little child before them, and said, "Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." It was a startling announcement.. It was in severe contradiction to their previous ideas. It betokened an absolute change of character. It implied the giving up of all they counted intellectually great, humanly powerful, legally just. They were to become self-annihilated, to be deposed from the preeminence of independent manhood, to return in spirit to the weakness and dependence of childhood.
Our Lord had previously answered a similar question when a young man had asked him, "What shall I do to inherit Eternal Life?" Jesus said unto him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow Me." Christ here gave the counsels of perfection. He bade the young man sell all he had and follow Him in His life of hardness and poverty. When the disciples questioned Him about marriage, He replied, "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given." "There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." He here announced a state of celibate life which voluntarily was to be entered into. It was another counsel of perfection when the Apostles asked Him who should be greatest, and He summed up all the counsels by the model of childlike innocence, when passion has not yet asserted itself. It is pure in body and innocent in soul. Moreover, it is under authority. It cannot do as it chooses. It is under rule: it must be submissive. It exemplifies the third counsel, that of obedience. Thus as we know, by these counsels, our Lord established the Religious estate. It has been exemplified by many noble orders these twenty centuries within the Church. It has filled it with its heroes and saints. Place before you the picture of the many thousands and thousands of Religious who through these ages have glorified Christ by their lives and deaths. They look down upon you from their thrones rejoicing in the knowledge of the extension of the life they lived through grace, throughout the Catholic world, and especially in its revival in the Anglican Communion. God grant their prayers may help us, their example fortify us, their virtues be extended in us. We are engaged in a great, perhaps the final, battle with the world and sin. The Religious are the elected Body Guard of Christ. It is glorious to think we are united with the victorious ones departed! "Sit anima cum sanctis!" With them in their dedicated lives of labour and prayer; with them, God grant, in their triumphant rest and glory.
O Blessed Lord, Who in Thy great Love, didst give to us Counsels of Perfection whereby we may be drawn into a closer embrace in Thy Love, grant to us Whom Thou hast called, a greater knowledge and desire of this life, that we may, by Thy Holy Spirit, be transformed in character, and fitted to be Thy Brides. AMEN.
Veni Creator THE MEDITATION
God made us. Consequently we belong to Him. He could not have acted without design. He made us for an end. That end was a special union with Himself. Our true life lies in our seeking this end, and in the use of the means needed for its accomplishment.
Christ has redeemed us. He has bought us. We are sheep, branded with the sign of the Cross, as the mark of His ownership. He calls us to His Service. The Service to which He calls you is the Religious Life.
He instituted this Life. He did so by giving the three Counsels of Perfection: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. They are called Counsels of Perfection, not because we are made perfect by adopting them, but because, by using them, they lead us to perfection. The reason why the Master selected them is apparent from the consideration of man's nature. Man is a triple unit, as St. Paul tells us, consisting of body, soul, and spirit. The three portions of his being were intended to work in harmonious subjection to one another. The body was to be ruled over by the understanding and will of the soul. The soul, with its reasoning power, memory, imagination, and will, was to be controlled or governed by its higher spiritual nature. By his spiritual nature man has knowledge of right and wrong, he worships and knows God. As the body was to be subordinate to the soul, so the soul, with its reason, was to be subordinate to the spirit. The reasoning faculty being given to man, not that he should thereby discover religious truth, but that he should better understand that which is revealed to him through the Spirit.
Now in man's present condition, there is a tendency in each portion of his being to rebel. The body wishes its own gratifications; the soul to believe as it pleases, and have all it wants: it is covetous. The spiritual nature in its self-assertion and pride wishes to be independent of God. There are thus three roots of sins in our nature, called in Scripture the lust of the flesh, the lust or covetousness of the eye, and the pride, or independence, of life. Our Lord in the Counsels gave three specific remedies for these tendencies to sins: Chastity--or controlled desire, as sin is unregulated desire,--as the remedy for the flesh; poverty, as the remedy for a grasping covetousness; and Obedience, based on humility, as the cure for independence and pride. These Counsels, while in a degree applicable to all Christians, are especially cherished by the Religious. Christ took upon Himself a voluntary poverty. He might have come in kingly state. He might have been surrounded by all that wealth can give. He might therefore have acted the part of a great philanthropist. But had he relieved the poverty of every poor man in Palestine, He would as little have benefited their souls as a farmer would who, instead of covering his soil with a fertilizer, should spread over it an inch of gold-dust.
Our Lord was poor throughout His whole hidden life, depending for His sustenance upon the money gained in the uncertain trade of a small village. Abandoning His home, He went forth, and had not an habitation. He said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head."
As the second Adam He identified Himself as cast out of Paradise, and was with the wild beasts and tempted in the Wilderness. We find Him not only suffering from hunger there, but during His public ministry, He was dependent upon friends for daily food. He remained in the cold, all night in prayer. While mingling with men, He was the greatest of ascetics. So emaciated was He in body that, on the Cross, they stood amazed and jeered at Him. He exemplified chastity in its highest mode of expression. He abandoned His dear Mother on going forth to His Mission. It was a great strain upon His natural affections. His soul was absolutely pure in its intention. He had but one desire--to glorify God by His Sacrifice and to save mankind. As He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished."
His obedience was something wonderful. He did not come, like an ordinary reformer, planning out His own work, or the means by which it was to be accomplished. God's Will was revealed to Him in the sacrifice of the Law, and in the teaching of the Prophets. He was to be the Lamb of God, the Sin Victim. From the very beginning as a child in Joseph's shop, He had the wood of the Cross before Him. All through His earthly life, He was controlled by the Spirit, "As I hear, I speak, I do always the things that please Thee." As a child, He was obedient to His earthly parents; throughout life, to the Law, to the special revelation of God concerning Himself. Up to the last moment, when He said "It is finished," He was obedient to the Will of God. His rule was, "Not my Will but Thine be done." Thus He exemplified in His life the three counsels which He gave us.
In His life He trained the Apostles. He took them along with Him in His life of hardness. They were tough, robust men, accustomed to the dangers of the sea. But He schooled them in a harder life. At times, like Him, they had no place to sleep, no bed but the earth, no pillow but the rough stone. They were at times so hungry that they ate the raw corn which they plucked going through the fields.
We read of their need along with the almost famishing multitude where He multiplied the loaves. He exposed them to unwonted perils on the lake, where they cried out for fear. He sent them out on a trial journey and gave them particular rules, like a Master of Novices. He regulated their whole conduct, bearing, teaching, order of life. They were to go two by two. They were to take no scrip. They were to observe a rule of silence. They were to salute no man by the way. On entering a house, they were to salute it. They were to trust Divine Providence for shelter. They were to eat such things as were set before them. They were not to go from house to house. They were to minister to the sick. Their preaching was to be limited to Israel and the announcement of the coming Kingdom. He thus tried them by a special three months Mission. They were trained in absolute dependence upon Him. They were trained in obedience to commands for which no reason was given. They were to go to a certain place where they would find an ass tied, and they were to take him, saying only, "The Master hath need of Him." They were to enter Jerusalem, and find a man bearing a pitcher of water, and to whatsoever house he entered they were to say, "Where is the guestchamber that the Master may keep the Passover?"
Christ took them through the Tragedy of the Crucifixion, and recovering them at His Resurrection, bade them go to Galilee, where He promised to meet them. They had left all, as they had said. They had left their father at His command, their business and money table, their old teacher St. John the Baptist, their nets and fishing. They were trained by His personal teaching, and ofttimes by severe rebukes, and at last were conquered men. All they had and all they hoped to be were given up to Him. The discipline they underwent, and finally the gift of the Spirit changed their characters. They were all natural men, but supernaturalized. They became Religious.
In this life, He trained the Apostles. The Church has ever preserved and developed this life. It became adapted to the needs of the various ages. In its early stage, it took the form of the hermit life. Men fled from the World into the Thebian Desert. As our Lord had gone into the Wilderness, they felt called upon to do likewise. It was there our Lord had wrestled with Satan, and it was in the desert that the hermit wrestled with the spiritual adversary. It was not to avoid temptation, but to do battle for the Church's sake against the great adversary. There they lived and prayed, and became trained by prayer in spiritual wisdom.
Their teachings have come down to us as the ripened wisdom of the great Contemplatives.
Under the guidance of God's Providence, we find next that the Monastic form of the Religious Life arose. Devout men were gathered together to live in communities. We know how St. Benedict ruled over his Community at Monte Casino, where still his order has its Mother House and home. There the Monks cultivated the fields, laboured in poverty, said the Divine Office, lived lives of prayer. The monastic stage spread throughout the Church. The monasteries became the seed-plots of civilization. When the barbarians had swept over Europe, the monasteries became lighthouses of civilized Christianity.
Again, when calamities had arisen within the Church, when worldliness and incipient infidelity arose, and it seemed as if Christ were sleeping in the ship, the Religious Life came to its rescue. Then it was St. Dominic founded his mission order of Friars, and Francis of Assisi aroused the Church by preaching evangelical poverty. The Religious Life thus moved out of its enclosed monastic state and became a missionary organization. The Friars in their early zeal preached the Gospel of Christ and won multitudes to the Faith.
But lastly there came the great outbreak which is popularly known as the Reformation. It had its good and moral side, but in its Lutheran doctrines of total depravity and justification by Faith only, as consisting of an act of belief and trust, it was heretical. It was met in Europe by the rise of a new form of the Religious Life. These modern orders are known as clerks regular. The new orders took military organizations and were governed by Superiors General. They did not practise poverty to the degree of the old hermits, nor were they enclosed like Monks. Nor were they like the old Friars. They developed the counsel of obedience, and made it the basis of their perfection. They lived in the world, took parishes, and educational institutions. They rolled back in Europe the tide of Protestant negations and misbelief.
The Religious Life developed in the Church in both sexes, women as well as men. We read of consecrated lives of the daughters of Philip, as the Virgins; of the Deaconesses as Assistants to the Apostles, like Phcebe; of St. Paula, and St. Scholas-tica in later times. In the early convent of St. Hilda in Britain, in the Celtic period, and the Nuns under St. Gilbert of Sempringham. There were holy Anchorites, like Juliana of Norwich. And great ladies and princesses gave themselves to the Religious Life. On the Continent there arose great Saints, like St. Theresa, the great teacher of devotion and prayer. St. Catherine of Siena, wonderful in her wisdom and fortitude. The beauty of St. Francis de Sales' life found its reflection in St. Jeanne Chantal. In our own day arose Mother Barat, who founded the order of the Sacred Heart, with its thousands of Sisters; and Mother Julie Billiart, the foundress of the beautiful, educational order of Notre Dame.
Nor without joy may we mention the orders founded in our own Communion--Miss Sellon, foundress of the Community of the Holy Trinity: Mrs. Mon-sell, the wise and loving Mother of the St. John the Baptist Sisters; Miss Byron, the foundress of All Saints' Sisterhood, sanctified by suffering and saintly in her heroic devotion to the life; the greathearted, generous-spirited Mother Alice of East Grinstead; Mother Harriet of St. Mary's; Mother Ruth Margaret of the Holy Nativity, and many others. God has shown His blessing upon the Anglican Church by reviving, in her, Communities of men--the Cowley Fathers, Community of the Resurrection, Benedictines, the Holy Cross Fathers, and some others.
Lacordaire, a great French preacher, said in Notre Dame pulpit, that "this Religious Life is the fairest fruit of the Catholic Church." He implied it could not be established apart from the Church and its Sacraments of grace. Its existence in the Anglican Communion is a great cause of thankfulness to God and a proof of her Catholicity. The Religious Life has two sides to it--devotion to God, and devotion to the well-being of man. Persons do not embrace it in a selfish spirit for their own sanctification only, but in order that they may, by Christian charity, benefit their fellow men. In the latter aspect, it differs from the world's philanthropy, which begins and ends with man. Charity begins with God, and loves man for God's sake. Philanthropy is a social principle, while charity is essentially religious. Scarcely forty years had passed since the Edict of Milan had given freedom to the Church, than the Church began to make provision for man's bodily ailments. Sebaste in Pontus has the honour of furnishing the earliest recorded hospital, which institutions spread rapidly over the face of Christendom. There were boarding houses for travellers, hospitals for the sick, almshouses for the old and poor, orphan asylums, blind asylums and foundling institutions. Every description of suffering had its relief. The Religious Life has ever prescribed the two elements of devotion and charity. While it is sometimes said Christians can do good work outside the Religious Life, yet we know that in the Religious Life, through its organization and training, better work can be done.
HOW VOCATION COMES TO BE KNOWN
The Call of God sometimes comes quite early in Life. God spoke to Samuel and Timothy when they were yet in their childhood. It is not uncommon now to find the early signs of vocation. It comes with a growing spirit of devotion and a greater desire for our Lord's service. The attractive beauty of a life of entire self-consecration dawns upon an awakened sanctity. A spirit of self-dedication in part like that that moved the Blessed Virgin fills the soul with Divine aspirations. The trials through which the Church is passing and her needs give emphasis to the desire. The thought that this life is one in which we can serve God by sacrifice inspires the generous-minded soul. A growing love for Jesus, to be His, and His only, takes the heart captive. At length the inner leading becomes so strong that it must find outward expression. The soul so drawn, properly seeks the advice of some religiously-minded priest. It had better keep its own desire from friends, certainly those who would oppose its choice. Its parents, having no experience of the Religious Life, cannot rightly oppose it. Their authority is a limited one. They cannot forbid anything the Lord ordains in the way of Sacraments or the Religious Life. If persons are of age, they certainly have a right to determine for themselves. The call of God is indeed a double one. It is the call to the child to come, and leave father, mother and all, and it is a call to parents to give up their child. God, to Whom the child really belongs and Who has a right to the child to call it by death to Himself, has also the right to call it to the Religious Life. God cannot do a greater honour to a Christian family than to call one of its members, a man or woman, into Religion. To each, parent and child, He promises a portion and a special reward. To oppose a child's drawing to the Religious Life is to commit a grave sin, which often brings a grave punishment. No home duty which would not keep one from marraige, should keep one from being married in the Religious Life, to the Lord. A soul thus drawn inwardly should as speedily as possible seek to test her vocation.
The inner Voice has its outward authorization in the voice of the Community. After a well-spent Novitiate, God seals to the soul its vocation by a Profession authorized by the Church. Upon it the soul may securely rest as the Calling of her dear Lord. Let us consider the usefulness of the Life, especially in our own age in our Church. There is no greater field of usefulness. Our Church is recovering by God's grace her weakened Catholic heritage. Probably since the days of Pentecost, there has never been such a spiritual movement in the Church. Women devoting themselves to the Religious Life become sources of great spiritual power. Their influence is not confined to the work they do in educational institutions, orphan asylums, and parochial work, but it is powerful through their entire consecration. They preach by their lives more effectively than the most eloquent Divines. They bear witness to the Gospel of Christ, the tran-sitoriness of this life, and the proffered glories of a world to come. They declare more effectively than sermons can do the efficacy of the Sacraments, especially of the Holy Eucharist. They could not be what they are, if the Sacraments did not convey to them the graces of the Church, which she proclaims she possesses. It is to the Religious Life we must look for the deliverance of our Church from sectarian negations and a worldly-spirited Episcopalianism. As holy women rallied round our Blessed Lord and stood at His Cross, so they must do now. It is more to them, and more than they understand, that the future of our Church is given.
It is the call for a special union to our Lord, and work for Him. For women, it is like the call of the Priesthood.
The Religious Life, as it is most like the life of heaven in its obedience, purity and dependence upon God, is the best mode of preparation for it. It is the means advanced by our Lord by which we can attain the highest degree of glory hereafter. God grant its development and increase in our own Communion.
Many years may have passed since I entered into Religion. I was dedicated to seek after perfection. How far yet I am from that relative perfection which is attainable. What has been expected of me by my Community? How do externes regard it? They measure me by a standard above that of ordinary Christians. They look upon me to be recollected in manner, prudent in action, controlled in conversation, avoiding worldliness. They expect me to be ever controlled, without jealousy, envying, criticisms. They look upon me to be a model of holy poverty, obedience, gentleness and love. They cannot imagine me as being guilty of breaches of my Rule. They look upon me when away from my convent as keeping up the Religious spirit and being a model of edification. Is it possible, that instead of improving, I have become lax, sunk down into a commonplace Religious? Have I got into a rut, going on in the way of routine, keeping rule, but without the spirit of devotion? Have I cherished criticisms of Superiors of the Society? Where is my old fervour? Do I need arousing? There is no person so hard to convert as a relaxed Religious. Shall I not, crying for mercy, return unto the Lord?
Thanks and praise be to Thee, O Blessed Lord, for creating this beautiful life, the foretaste of the Heavenly state, the Bridal Union of the Soul with God.
All glory, praise and worship be to Thee, All glorious, Loving and Adorable One, our Saviour, our Lord, and our Blessed Spouse.
Eternal thanks and adoration be to Thee, Who in Thy tenderest Love didst bring me into this Holy Estate. Eternity is too short adequately to thank Thee.
Pardon my short-comings. Forgive my failures. Accept me as I renew my vows and consecration to Thy Service.
The World is shut out, and I am as a garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
Thou hast brought me into Thy Banqueting House. There Thou feedest me with the Bread from Heaven, the Blessed Sacrament of Thy Body and Blood, and Thy Banner over me is Love.
I get me in Religion to the mountain of myrrh, where I make reparation to Thee by Service and penitential Love. There I ascend to the hill of frankincense, ever to abide in Thy worship. Thence I go out to do Missionary Service, calling to the daughters of Jerusalem to find Thee.
Arm me with the holy weapons of Prayer, the Wisdom of Divine Love, and Grace. For our Life is not only a Bridal Union with the King, but a holy warfare on His behalf.