THE ASCENDED LORD
PLACE yourself on Mount Olivet. Our Lord fulfills here the Prophecy, "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" Gradually our Lord ascends from earth. The Apostles kneel in adoration. Christ stretches forth His hand in blessing. A cloud, it may be of Angels, hides Him from their sight. He ascends passing through the nine orders of Angels. His Blessed Body shines with a Heavenly glory. He has put on glorious apparel, and girded Himself with strength. The days of His humiliation are over. With a glory surpassing that of Mt. Tabor, St. John beholds Him. The Angels welcome His return with songs of triumph. "Lift up your heads ye everlasting doors that the King of Glory may come in." Let us, in union with Him, fall down in spirit and cry, "Holy Holy, Holy, Honour and glory and power and might be unto thee for ever and ever."
By His ascension Christ did not go away to some distant star. Such an action could not be called rightly an ascension. He did not go from one locality in this material universe to another. Emancipated from the conditions of time and space, He ascended into power, into a new union with God. He is at the right hand of power.
He has taken our nature upon Him to wear it to all Eternity. It is in union with this human nature that we receive the gifts of our new birth, and the sustaining life of his Blessed Body and Blood. Out from His Humanity a virtuous strength flows which has come to us. Through union with Him we find acceptance, and through union with His merits we meet our reward. He wears our nature eternally, that through union with it we may behold the Beatific Vision. The union of His human nature with His Divine Nature is the basis of this further gift to us. It is through a continued union thus with His glorified Humanity that we obtain that vision which, whilst still endowed with free will, we are kept from exercising to our harm.
Christ has gone to prepare a place for us. Consider the beauty of this present world, how it manifests not only the wisdom but the beauty of the Divine Being. But what shall be the beauty and the glory of that world which Christ prepares for those who are His Saints? They have on earth loved and served, laboured and suffered for Him. Now the conflict and the trouble is over. Now the great love enfolds them in itself. Now God opens the hidden treasures of His goodness and beauty to them. The heart cannot conceive the things God has prepared for those that love Him.
Again: Our Lord as our Great High Priest stands there pleading the merits of His Passion on our behalf. He hears the cry of all His people, the prayer of the smallest child and of the oldest follower, of those in sickness and in health, of those afflicted or rejoicing, of those struggling with temptation or walking in peace, of those enduring as wayfarers, or drawing nigh their end in death, of poor sinners asking for help and mercy, and of saints in increasing grace. Every prayer is heard and every prayer is answered. He takes our human prayers, with all their imperfections, and as we pray His will should be done, He forms them anew. He presses home. Upholding His pierced Hand, He claims their answer. He thus makes good His promise, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you."
Again: The Saints follow our Lord as the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. Heaven is no idle place. The great design of God in Christ is thus to unfold itself. We know not what it is, but we have to take part in it. What we know is, all will be harmonious. Holiness will reign in all its members. Charity will abide and bind them in an indissoluble union. The Holy Spirit will fill and glorify them. They will work without suffering weariness. They will be freed from all temptation, delivered from all pain and sorrow.
OUR Lord calling the disciples. A call. "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you."
1st Point. A personal call. Vocation is the voice of God; the choice of God. The call is from a Divine Person.
2d Point. The individual call. A call to you: The Word speaks; the Voice rings.
A "dead shock" by which we die to the world. A live shock, by which we live to God.
3d Point. The individual love. The Master calls by name; not for work, or because we are worthy; but that He may do a work in us, and to reveal Himself to us.
4th Point. The security of knowing God. The voice of God in us is God Himself, and as we obey Him, we know Him.
FIRST INSTRUCTION.--THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
It is an extension of the Baptismal vows. Vows are recognized by the Church, by Ecumenical Councils.
The Religious Life is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the three vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, and it is specially dedicated to God's service. Such a dedication to God we may see in the scriptures, and in Christ's life and teaching. See the counsels of perfection. There are commands and common precepts, and such are obligatory upon all Christians; but there are counsels whereby we may the more speedily and effectually reach perfection--"If thou wilt be perfect" (St. Matt. xix. 21) "sell that thou hast, and give to the poor"--give up everything thou hast, and be poor for Christ's sake (Poverty)--"And come"--give up thereby all earthly ties and be alone (Chastity) for Him. "And follow Me"--this embraces the three vows in itself, and especially signifies Obedience.
Christ, as the Representative Man, is a model and pattern for all men to follow. Religious as well as secular persons find their model in Him, His life and teaching.
Poverty. See Christ in His life and at His home. The foster-Son of a carpenter is a model for all poor and working persons. Then, when He started out upon His ministry, He went further and becomes the model of a Religious. His poverty is then voluntary. He leaves His home entirely, making no provision for His future support, just putting Himself under God's protection.
Chastity. Christ's purity of life and teaching is for all people to follow. As a Religious, see Him conquering His affections when He gives up his Mother at the marriage feast at Cana of Galilee (St. John ii. 4). In thus addressing her, He shows her that henceforth she is as a stranger to Him: "Woman," or, as we should now interpret it, "Lady." She, too, shows how she has learned detachment in her reply (verse 5). And again He says that those who do His Father's Will, shall be as His brother and sister and mother. Then in temptation see Him conquer,
Lust of the eye,
Lust of the flesh,
Pride of life.
Obedience. His life is a lesson to all in this respect. As a child, obedient to His Mother; obedient to the Church, keeping the feasts; obedient to the Law; obedient to the state, paying taxes, etc.; and when saying "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," acknowledging that he had claims which it was right to consider. As a Religious, note His perfect obedience to His Superior, the Holy Spirit, dwelling within Him; obeying in thought, word and deed; and having for His Rule, the Old Testament, with its prophecies, types, etc., of the Messiah. Therein He found written just what He was to do, marked out for Him by God. This explains His oft-repeated, "that the scriptures may be fulfilled." Consider Him as a Master of Novices, training His own Novices, the Apostles, in the Religious Life. They were called apart from the other disciples.
Poverty. He taught them this, and they gave up everything to follow Him; poverty of spirit also (St. Mark ii. 23; St. John vi. 5-13).
Chastity. In their lives: they left all to follow Him. It involved detachment as regards place, people and work.
Obedience. When He sends them out on their mission, notice how He gives them directions even in little details, even as to what they should say and do; and in many cases how He tried them, telling them to do strange and apparently impossible things; and telling them, too, to be "as a little child," a child being especially one who is under authority.
All done for Him, in Him, and by Him.
Triconomy of man's nature: Body, Soul and Spirit.
Three roots of evil within: i. Lust of the flesh, 2. Lust of the eye, 3. Pride of life.
1. Luxury, Gluttony, Sloth.
2. Covetousness, Envy.
3. Non-humility, Anger.
Three evil forces without: World, Flesh, Devil.
Three opposing good influences: Christ, Heaven, Holy Spirit.
Two ways: Easy, Christ. Hard, Self-culture.
Three Christian remedies: Humility, Poverty of spirit, Purity of heart.
THE THREE COUNSELS
I. Why these three Counsels? Our nature consists of body, soul and spirit. The difference between soul and spirit: The soul is connected with animal life. The spirit faculties are cognizant of God;--worship. Conscience is a spiritual sense, a knowledge of right and wrong. In each, body, soul and spirit, is a root of sin, from the Fall, not utterly depraved, but injured, called the three wounds of man's nature: body, sensuality; soul, covetousness; spirit, pride. The three classes of sin are the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
Covetousness. The eye is the window of the soul; it sees through the eye, and desires what it sees. Its sin is to desire inordinately.
Pride. Man was made for God. There is an intuition of God in all men, so in all nations. All have the custom of burying their dead, or otherwise caring for them. This shows faith in a future life. Pride rebels against God:--independence. So from those three wounds all sin comes. The seven capital sins are resolved into three.
The three counsels are remedies for them: for sensuality, chastity; for covetousness, poverty; for pride, obedience.
In this world are three good forces: the Kingdom of Heaven; our Blessed Lord, the second Adam; the Holy Ghost.
Opposed to them are three evil forces: the world, the flesh and the devil, attacking the different parts of our nature: soul, body and spirit.
So, faithfully carrying out the three Counsels is the quickest way of obtaining perfection.
2. And they are not given only as maxims, but as an estate. We are called into an estate, and it is a calling.
St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians (I. Cor. vii) speaks of "married" and "virgin." The Greek word means a condition, each an equally fixed estate (I. Cor. vii. 32-34).
Marriage is indissoluble. Virginity is equally so. The virgin is a perpetuation of His life, partaking of His own unchangeableness.
It depends upon His calling. Like marriage, a condition depending upon another person; in the religious life, depending upon our Lord. It is not a promise, nor a resolution.
A vow is applicable to a covenant. The Religious Life is a covenant between our Lord and the soul, each bound to the other.
3. How do we enter this estate, or covenant?
By some determinate act--vows. The act must be determined by which we enter. It has differed at different times, as forms of marriage may differ. The early form was by taking the veil.
Our right to do so, to take vows. The authority of Scripture (Job xxii. 27; Ps. xxii. 25; Numb. xxx. 2): The vow of the Nazarite, Numb, vi; the Recha-bites, Jer. xxxv; the vow of Jacob, Gen. xxviii. 20; an individual vow, Lev. xxvii; the commutation of vows, Numb, xxx; a perpetual vow--Hannah and Samuel, Jepthah--Judges xi, 30, 31; St. Paul in Acts, xviii. 18.
It is believed that the Blessed Virgin had made a vow of perpetual virginity, in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Her reply to the angel was not from want of faith, but stating what she believed was a real difficulty.
In the New Testament, the estate is recognized, by St. Paul called widows (I. Tim. v. 9).
St. Ignatius, "Salute the virgins who are called widows."
The duties of widows and deaconesses: St. Paul (I. Tim. v. 8, 10). Age, sixty, means those who received the Church alms.
Virgins. The four daughters of Philip (Acts xxi. 9). The estate is established by God and regulated by the Church. We cannot leave it without sin. In this estate, all is given up for God. He is their portion.
4. (a) It is an estate in which all actions have a double value, and sin is double.
In all acts done in obedience to Rule, we merit not only the act itself, but obedience besides. Many things in the world are of no value, indifferent; but everything in Religion is of value, because once for all dedicated to Him.
(b) Again, one does so much in a short time. At profession, all your life is given to Him; long or short, that is in His hands, but all is given to Him. Long or short, we have the same reward, for we have done all we can. A Religious is dear to God because she has put it out of her power to take back. Not given day by day, but all possible good that we can do is given once for all. Our will is given.
(c) It is fruitful in merits, like martyrdom. We give all, body, soul and spirit; no martyr gives more. As martyrdom is a second baptism, so profession is called a second baptism.
(d) But it is most glorious because of its special union with our Lord. He allowed on earth certain people to serve Him, so now Religious. The Religious Life is a special espousal, the perfection of the baptismal espousal; and the Religious is especially His own, hereafter to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth."
THIRD INSTRUCTION.--THE CALL
A Religious is one who, in obedience to the Divine call, renounces the world and devotes herself to Jesus Christ, to be especially united to Him; and whom He deigns to receive in the number of His Spouses by the grace of the call He has given her.
A call is personal in that it comes from God Himself, and individual in that it is directly and especially to me; this idea enters the life of all Religious.
How do you know you are called? Interiorly, we have God's manifestation to the soul; and externally the call comes through the voice of authority. Ordinarily, one feels himself inwardly drawn to the life, and to such an one there comes a knowledge of the life as a covenanted estate. We see, then, that knowledge is one element of the divine call. Again, it is not a passing, temporal feeling, but a fixed desire to lead the life, and a desire continually growing stronger.
Externally, one cannot tell until he tries, so he enters a society, and subjects himself to the Rule and customs, etc., and then after the time of probation he is elected; those who know so well what the life is, testify to the Priest that they consider the person fitted for the life, and God, through His Priest, then gives us externally our call.
Vocations. There are some things that show at once that we are not called to lead the Religious Life, for example, duties which make it necessary for one to remain at home; and yet there are limits to those duties: one need not feel that he must stay at home because he happens to be useful or agreeable there. Ordinarily, if one might leave home to be married, there would be no obstacle that should prevent that person's leading the Religious Life.
Consider, too, that it is a call to two parties: a call to the soul to come, and a call to the parents and friends to give them up, as with Abraham and Isaac. If both respond to the call, both participate in the blessing God gives.
Persons are called as He wills, and when He wills; and, too, He calls whom He wills. A person may be useful and popular in the world, but God has a right to claim the best for Himself. He calls as He pleases in death, and He may likewise call into a state of life. The call may come in different periods of life, but it is when He pleases.
We cannot too deeply cherish this idea of vocation; it grows deeper and sustains one through life. It is a comfort to us, in that we feel that a special work and place are marks of special love.
It is a delight too: every Christian has a place and a mission, but there is a special nearness as Spouses of Christ.
It is a strength, too. A true vocation is a covenanted estate. He is pledged to us, and we to Him. The duties, however, are on our side, and the promises on His, and when God is with us, all is safe. He takes us "for better or for worse." Let us then endeavour faithfully to go on in the line put down, or marked out for us, by God. Carry this esteem of your vocation into even the most minute details of your life, and do not let it be simply a general regard. A Religious Community is not an association of Christian ladies united for work, merely. The world acknowledges the power of associations, but that is a secular view. Our Rule is not for that purpose and is not to be so regarded. All things in it, and in the Religious Life, are to aid one in cultivating personal holiness and interior holiness. That is the aim.
RENUNCIATION. There are three degrees: i. Renunciation of the external world. 2. Renunciation of the world within the Convent. 3. Renunciation of the world within ourselves.
In renouncing the external world, we come apart from it. In Scripture the word world has different meanings; as, the natural world; mankind; or the kingdom created by sin, including all creatures in opposition to God--creatures meaning things material; or thought, in ascetic theology. And this is the world which we renounce, as Religious. All Christians renounce it; but a Religious keeps herself apart from all intercourse with the world that she may the more exclusively devote herself to the service of God. She is apart from the world, her relations and society, and this is the case, whether an Order be enclosed or not. An enclosed Order has the walls around, whereas an open Order builds the walls. Saint Vincent de Paul first introduced this "invasion of the world by convent life"; that is, the Sisters going out in their work, as they do in open Orders. He told his Sisters they must carry their call with them, build a cloister within their own heart.
How then shall we keep apart? Hold no more converse with "externs" than duty and charity require; do not encourage people to visit us for their or our own gratification, merely. Have no special friend or follower outside; we must meet with them to some extent; and then, too, they will write to us. But in talking with them govern words and manner. Do not ask eagerly for the news of the day, about friends, society, etc. In manner do not seek clever wit or smart repartee, but be grave, though not morose or affected, cheerful but not frivolous, always with restraint, thus showing self-control. Neither the loud laughter, etc., nor the manners of a fine lady of society. A something that will show recollectedness of spirit.
Our natural warmth of heart, in manner and speech, is to be toned down. These things are to be observed in our letters also. It is a good plan after an interview to review the conversation and ask oneself, "How did I manage it? Did I give way to a worldly manner and a dissipated spirit?"
Always in conversation, etc., aim at doing some good. Christ's Spouses are His missionaries, too, winning souls for Him. It is no compliment to a Religious to have those who talk with her say, "She is so amusing and interesting, just like other people!" She should not be like other people.
A Religious specially seeks to extend the Kingdom of God in her own heart. Thus she is a missionary within and without; this is the burning desire; her enemies around her are stirred up to greater efforts against her.
How does the world show itself within the Convent? There will be dissipation and disorder, relaxed observance of Rule, private intercourse of several imperfect Religious, thereby strengthening their faults.
When you see one of your Sisters with a worldly spirit, have charity, and say nothing unless it be the duty of your office to speak; then make more vigorous efforts yourself and pray for your Sister.
When Gideon was sent to reform Israel, he first broke the idols in his own home.
How prevent such a spirit? Be careful to avoid all private friendships, or particular ones. We have natural affinities, and then we work more with some, and like them better. We cannot feel toward all alike. Christ did not with the Apostles and Saints. The difference between a right and wrong feeling is, that a wrong feeling is based upon natural sympathies, etc., wholly, and a right feeling is not; for a Religious loves Christ and others for His sake. In seeking to gain others' affection we are taking that which is God's; that is, we are guilty of theft. Christ must be our first and only love.
What are the evil consequences of such a spirit? Charity is wounded, our own soul is injured, and it gives rise, too, to cliques and party-spirit.
Great desire of increasing in numbers, for this world's support, ambition for places--all this is wrong. Be servants one of another, Christ is our centre and Founder; Christ draws us all. In order to renounce the world, we must make the Sacred Heart of our dear Lord our cell, and go into It and live there, in, and for, and through, and with Him.
Renunciation of the interior world, that is, within ourselves. This is painful; and, indeed, perfection in this, here, is, we may say, impossible. Self-renunciation is a life work. " I will renounce myself, for I am absorbed in His interests and in His love." Our acts and those of Pagans differ as regards their asceticism. Theirs are acts of self-torture to destroy evil; for theirs is one of the Gnostic errors, thinking that any part of our nature could be evil in itself, and their motive is mere selfishness, and there is no love or grace in it, for it is not done in and for Christ. We make our sacrifices from our love for our Lord, and in the power of His Love.
In our self-renunciation we want to root out vice, subdue passions, mortify senses; fix the natural inconstancy and levity of our mind; order and control the affections of the heart; reduce our self-love into servitude.
This we must do by the way of resolution, prayer and meditation. Always remember it.
We shall not become good by many maxims, or by profound meditations; but let us take simple truths and gaze upon them in meditation, until they are fixed in our mind and we know them like one who studies a picture until he knows it so well that a thought will bring it before him. The pilgrim who has renounced herself sees Christ before her, and Him she steadily looks to, although many cruel and fierce enemies may crowd around her.
This will be her remembrance in adversity or prosperity. In meditation consider the smallest sin as some wild beast or serpent, and make an act of fear and hatred accordingly. Exercise the imagination in thus seeing pictures; then say, "I will renounce myself for the love of Christ."
A good Religious determines to fight against all sins in this holy warfare. "I do not know them all, but I will fight against all that I do know, as they are shewn me."
A good Religious avoids falling deliberately into any sin, however trivial it may be. Venial sins are of three kinds: i. Those committed inadvertently; from these no one is free. 2. Those of comparatively small importance. 3. Those committed from want of deliberation, and the matter concerned not being enough to make it a mortal sin.
A soul's ardor may be measured by its attention in putting down all venial sin. In this spiritual conflict we shall meet with two enemies--presumption and discouragement. Of these the latter is the more common. No sober-minded person could be long or easily presumptuous; it comes with a more fallen state. But discouragement is common. We have a high ideal before us; we have resolved to put down all sins; we must ask Christ to make it our passion to subdue venial sins. Perhaps one will find himself falling into these sins; then avoid despair, and remember that grace is slow, and that God is never discouraged with us, so let us not despair of ourselves. If we had all the grace we wanted at once, it would make us proud and the work of grace would be undone. When we fall into some sin we have been striving against, think that God wants us to overcome some other fault before He gives us the grace to conquer the one against which we have been striving.
He wishes things to be in a certain order. We may seem to be falling oftener sometimes, when we are trying; it is the devil making a harder attack, and we may be really growing in grace. The Religious Life really tries us. Many failures, then, need not discourage us. Again, after many long years of trying, perhaps, old habits and faults seem to still cling to us. God leaves them as marks or warnings of Egypt, to make us humble. "He Who is with us is greater than those who are against us."
Another thing we may remember for our encouragement. Our foes are very blind. Satan with his legions seems very powerful; they seem cunning and adroit; they know human nature by long experiences; they seem, too, to be each given to a special evil, as a devil of lying, or of vanity, etc. But one thing they do not understand is grace. They do not realize or believe it, and it baffles them; they do not and cannot know Christ. They blind themselves, too, in their eager and impatient haste to conquer a soul; they "get mad," so to speak, at its resistance, and put temptations before it from which it shrinks in horror, seeing thereby the hid-eousness of sin. They thus overdo the matter and work against themselves. "I will not be discouraged, by God's help." But we may not always be able to control our nature, and when low spirits come, and we are despondent, meet them by acts of faith and trust in Christ, and acts of hope, too.
God will suggest to each one various ways of self-encouragement. Now in this battle there are two friends whom we may have with us, namely, Recollection and Fidelity. Cultivate the art or science of recollection (which, by the way, means keeping God in mind, not self). For this, one may make rules. For example, make the sign of the Cross when first awake in the morning; let your first look be toward Heaven, your first word, of God. Use ejaculatory prayers. One's work will make a difference in one's acts. Try and make an act of oblation of self and the work, before and after each section of it. Make certain ejaculations when you go into certain places, as into Chapel, or Church, or in going to bed, as "I will lay me down in peace," etc. By all this it is not meant that we must think when to think of God, but let the places and the things suggest the thoughts themselves. As when a train before passing a certain place rings a bell in the distance, so these things ring a bell in our memory and attract our thoughts to God;--in teaching, sweeping, cleaning, visiting, talking, hearing a clock strike, taking a letter. In nursing, our care must be of and for God, the invalid reminding us of Him.
Let us practise those outward things which help us in this. Be controlled in manner, not hasty, but deliberate, quiet, calm. Nature is always in a hurry, but grace is slow.
Fidelity is one of our best friends. Trifles are of immense importance. See how careful Christ was in training His disciples: "Go two by two," "take no scrip," "one coat," etc., rules in all the small details. Fidelity strengthens our character and forms habits, and is one element of perfection, which consists in finished work.
Remember that our dear Lord's desire for us, as His special followers', is far, far greater than our own desires can ever be. "O Lord, empty me of myself, and fill me with Thyself."
SIXTH INSTRUCTION.--COMMUNITY SPIRIT, I
Adam and Eve are a type of family life. We enter a Community in which natures and actions are to be trained and developed in the highest way. What family life does, Community life also does. In the family life there are four things: I. The sympathies and affections are educated, brought out by trial, illness, etc. II. Unselfishness is developed. We are not units, but are dependent one upon another. In family life each gives way to the other, when properly trained; as a brother cares for a sister, or as one gives up ties to support a parent, etc. III. Formation of individual character. Each has his own gifts which are brought out in various ways. IV. Ties are formed by having a common centre in parents, in the common room, family struggles, or achievements which make a family one.
Compare with this the Community life. When our Lord calls us, we renounce the world and come into a society in which all these points are developed in a higher degree.
I. In the Community life. Our affections are to be trained; not to be destroyed and we to become statues; that would injure and not develop us. The true love of others is often the test of our love for God: (a) Our affections are rightly directed when all are included. In the family, all are loved. There are no choices in the Community. Our affections are directed to all; all are our Sisters. We may not love all alike, but we shall show no difference. (b) Our affections are trained by being regulated by grace. That is, we look to see Christ in the souls of those around us. We love their souls, not merely by nature but by grace, by which we look through the characters into the souls. Then we love them because Christ loves them. We love them in spite of their faults and defects. God loves them and bears with them, (c) Our affections are trained because our love is controlled in its expressions. Every Religious puts a certain control upon the expressions of her love, does not act upon impulse, does not use those very strong terms which are used in the world, and are so often insincere. A Religious is sincere, (d) The affections are trained and intensified by a loving trust, and finding support in one another. Great sufferings endured one with another, most closely unite souls--as in battles, shipwrecks, etc.
II. Unselfishness is developed in Community life by a constant putting self aside, a constant giving up one's own will. A person in the world has his own rules for prayer and fasting, etc.; but when he comes into a Community he must put self aside, and throw himself into the rules of the Community.
A Religious Community is a whole, just as a family is. A family is a natural creation, and a Community is a creation of grace. We are not to live separate lives; but a Community, inspired by a common spirit, presents a new thing, as it were, to God. We create something which would not otherwise exist, and it is to be eternal as are all things formed by grace, which last forever.
As we work together here, and present our work to God here, so hereafter this Community spirit is a beautiful gift to present to God. We are not only to be loyal to our society, but to create something to present to God for His Glory.
III. So character is developed in Community life more largely than in family life, because it is larger, with different temperaments, nationalities, etc. Also because in family life there is flattery. Children look up to their parents, as they should, but their estimate is apt to be excessive. There is also an unconscious flattery; faults are not spoken of because it may make trouble; but in the Community we are removed from this flattery. Here our faults are pointed out for our dear Lord's sake, that we may overcome them. No spirit of criticism or pride should be shown in pointing out a fault, but only love.
A Community life brings out our own faults as nothing else does. It is sure to try the soul of every one who comes into it; we grow good by having trials. The old idea of a monk was, that he had gone out to make war with himself, not, as the world says, to get out of temptation. It brings out faults which we never knew when in the world. A Community life strengthens us by throwing us among higher natures, among those who have been longer in the Religious Life.
IV. The ties made in the Community Life are made for Eternity; they are to last forever. It has its struggles too, as the family life has.
Each Religious Community has its special spirit. Ours should be our special union to our Lord, as our dedication is to His Name.
SEVENTH INSTRUCTION.--COMMUNITY SPIRIT, II
Community spirit is a special work of grace. We grow in personal sanctification as we grow together, as a Community for work, etc. This is a difficult thing, and does not come by chance, or as a matter of course; each one must create his part. Labour and pray for a Community spirit. It is the love of God that makes us one. We are emptied of ourselves and united to each other. His Light shows through us.
I. What hinders growth of Community spirit?
What hinders interiorly? i. Striving to be first. Seeking to be popular. Ambition for special place or wprk, etc. The true spirit is, I will do whatever God gives me to do. The value of our work is in its motive. In some Communities it is the rule to change cells once every year, perhaps on Christmas. One may not care especially about the Office one has to fill, but desires a special place in the heart of the Superior, or some influence, or one is particular about one's rights. Do not use the Community for one's self only, even for spiritual advancement, thus revolving around self, as one's own centre.
2. A critical spirit. This often comes with increasing holiness. "Judge not," we find at the end of Christ's sermon instead of at the beginning. Independence of thought is sometimes covered up under zeal for God and the Community. Trust God first; the Community is His work, not man's, and our Lord is our Master, so do not mind mistakes. God will correct them. He often turns His servant's failures to His Glory. He leaves trials, etc., that He may conquer them, and shew the strength of His grace thereby, through prayer, charity, etc.
3. Special friendships. Do not have one particular friend. Have no private talks. We cannot make a society by rules, we must have an interior spirit, too. "Let your complaints be made known unto God." If we accept, or long for, human sympathy, we lose our Lord's.
4. Natural antipathies. We cannot like all alike. We must guard against a natural spirit of antipathy, and not let it increase. Nature in such things is not a safe guardian.
To help you in this: (a) Watch over your speech.
(b) Do not indulge deliberately in ugly thoughts.
(c) Do not allow yourself to rejoice, if you suddenly hear something to the disadvantage of one whom you do not love. At such a time "catch yourself," and make an act of humility, etc. Do not feel troubled when you notice faults. Make acts of reparation; it is something more to conquer for God's Glory. (<T) Govern yourself exteriorly, and do not do anything to show your antipathy, (e) If working with such a person, accept her as a companion in Jesus Christ; thus doing shall ye grow in grace.
Exteriorly? i. Speaking of other's failings. When doing work after others, do not remark their failures. Do not insinuate anything against them, or repeat anything to their disadvantage. People with fun and humour, when they see little weaknesses or peculiarities, naturally are inclined to speak of them. Do not. A witty person has opportunities of humiliation in controlling the temptation to say "good things."
2. In talking with each other we want to avoid warm discussions upon any subjects--politics, theology, rules, spiritual questions, or spiritual life. Be detached from your own opinions; hold them in humility and modesty. In discussions, there is human nature, and grace is lost. Where there is a difference of opinion, do not argue for the sake of triumphing, nor even talk warmly. If you see an argument coming, adroitly change the subject and thus exercise your mother wit.
3. Want of courtesy in any way in little acts. It is not uncommon in family life.
Conquer those faults first which interfere with your neighbour, but do not have the "varnish of civilized heathen," only. We see in our Sisters Christ's Brides, and we reverence Him in them. In royal scenes, all respect is shown those on the throne. Here we have for our companions those who are called to be about the Throne of God.
II. What helps growth of Community spirit?
1. Love of God is the basis of it all. It unites us to Him, and thus to each other.
2. Positive acts of courtesy, and sincerity in expressions: My sister, our dear Mother, etc.
3. Cheerfulness. Make the best of things as they are. Be interested in others' work. Ask about it, and pray for it.
4. Well kept recreation. Take it together. Learn spiritual silence even in freedom of speech. Go in with God, keep with Him, and come out with Him.
5. Personal prayers for others. Ours is a relation of grace. Our Community is a creation of grace.
EIGHTH INSTRUCTION.--THE MOTIVE
A Religious is one who has left the world, and entered a Community, to devote herself to Jesus Christ. Her motive should be to be loved by Jesus, and to acquire virtues that are pleasing to Him, that she may make herself agreeable to Him. It has been said by some, that in entering a Community, we seek God's glory; others say, our own happiness. But surely, God's glory is so bound up with our happiness that we cannot seek one without obtaining the other. We are called to be united to our Lord in a special way. We are bound to aspire after perfection. Some think perfection is impossible, but all things are possible with God. Our will must be united to that of our Lord. There are some temptations we must guard against, such as when one thinks one could do better in serving God in some other work, than that which one is now doing; or, if one could have more time for prayers, etc. Our Lord combined the two lives, active and contemplative, not one alone but the two combined.
Some are tempted to a false humility--"others may aspire to that, but it is above me." It is mistaken pride that makes us hold back from gaining perfection. The Religious must say, I am called to perfection in obedience to my Rule.
We are not to use a Community as a way to be good, but as it is marked out for us in our Rule. The relaxed drag behind, are careless about first thoughts, do not practise recollection, etc. The careful one makes frequent acts of ejaculatory prayer, comes back quickly after a fall, etc.
A diligent Religious seeks to keep her Rule faithfully. She is faithful in little things, not drawn aside by little excuses, not easily dispensing herself. She also keeps it piously, with the spirit of devotion. We may sometimes have a feeling of dryness, and we do not like to pray. But there is no sin in that; it may be God would strengthen our faith. As there is a purpose in the dry season of the earth, so it is in the dryness of our soul. Coldness is a different thing and may be put aside by a word with our Blessed Lord.
We must make a sincere resolution to profit by our prayers. We are not simply to say our Offices, but to go out with increased recollection, and to act upon them.
We are to guard against particular practices in our prayers. We may consider them of too much value. We may say, " I am going to say the Gradual Psalms so often," or a Litany, and we are put out if we have to give it up.
We must be careful not to undertake too many vocal prayers. If we are asked to pray for some one, we may say yes, but we must not bind ourselves to any particular time, we must not promise more than we can perform.
We must not undertake anything of importance without the advice of our Director. We must not undertake anything that would make us singular. Our Lord draws very near to the tree that is covered with leaves, and looks under the leaves to see if there be any fruit.
Tonight we will consider how a Religious devotes herself to her Lord, by her Rule. Our Rule separates us from the variable action of our own will. It is a means of union with God, it is a means of transforming character, it is to change our aim. It enables us to seek perfection in a regular way, and by regular means.
In the world our tastes keep changing, but a Rule helps to develop and strengthen our characters, so there is enforced an unbroken continuity of sanctified effort after perfection. We are separated from the world to be bound to God. It is a source of spiritual power. It may not be according to our tastes, indeed it may be repugnant to us, but if it be accepted by our will, it binds us closer to God.
What does "Religious" mean? Re-ligo--bound anew; so we are bound anew; more firmly bound to God by our Rule.
There is a special moral value in a life under Rule. We must strive to realize its importance, and when others fail in keeping it, it is no excuse for us. One who does not keep it is culpable, for she drags down others. One must shut one's eyes to others. One must say, I am not to be judged by them; but I must keep my Rule.
One or two temptations about keeping our Rule. One is: not to keep it, because it does not oblige us to, under sin. It is not a common temptation, but it is often mentioned in books. St. Francis de Sales says, "Indifference to Rule will lead to contempt of Rule, which is sin."
Contempt of Rule includes a deliberate will--not only disobeying, but wishing to do so; as, for instance, if a Religious eats fruit or anything out of hours, to gratify her taste, she yields to gluttony; but if she eats because she chooses to, she shews contempt of her Rule. A Religious shews contempt, if haughty when corrected; if she contends when told of the Rule; if she tries to draw others after her; if she ridicules the Rule; perseveres in spite of corrections.
Everything in the Rule is of value, nothing is trifling; speaking in the corridors, going to one another's cell, etc., are less important matters than others, less essential, but all have a moral value. Besides the Rule, every good Religious House has certain pious usages which have grown up with the House; everything cannot be put on paper. Such things are to be observed as well as the more formal statements of the Rule.
There is also strength which comes from the thought that we are not keeping the Rule alone, others are keeping it as we are, so it becomes a bond between us and unites us. We may have few tastes in common, but our common Rule binds us closer to each other; in union with our dear Lord we are bound to God, and live a common life, and lose ourselves in the personality of the Community.
A Christian saying "Our Father," says it in union with all Christendom. A Sister saying her Offices, says them for others as well as for herself. What we do, is for others as well as for ourselves. It enables us to meet the world by the spirit which is formed in us. All Religious are called to perfection, but each Society in a special way: some by prayer, some by obedience, some by recollection.
We trust our Founder and our trainers, and know that our Rule will bring forth in us the special perfection sought in our own Community. As the flowers in a garden are different, each one having its own fragrance, so are different Religious Orders.
We must consider Who it is watches over us in our Rule. God is watching over us in our Religious Life.
Our Blessed Lord Himself lived under a Rule. His Life was moulded by a Rule written and given to Him by the Holy Ghost. What were the Holy Scriptures to Him? No one understood them as He did. They tokj Him just what to do, and He followed all out obediently. He knew their mystical meaning. The Psalter was His Office book. He threw His Mind into the Mind of Holy Scripture. I must keep the Rule--"that the Scripture may be fulfilled." On the Cross He said part of the 226. Psalm.
Think how our Lord is watching over us, as to how we keep our Rule.
A Christmas thought: "The Babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger."
Let us work it out in a Meditation.
Even in His Birth was He bound, and in His Life did He keep His Rule.
TENTH INSTRUCTION.--A Vow
A Religious makes her offering of herself to her Lord, by way of a vow.
Let us consider a vow in itself and its moral value.
A vow is a solemn promise which we make to God in some holy action, in which we intend to serve Him better than we could in any other way. It is a promise, not a resolution; it is solemn, and must be entered into with forethought, not rashly, or it would not be binding. It must be made with prayer, so as to be made with Divine Grace. It is not to be made experimentally; as one might say, "I want to live more strictly, I will try taking a vow." It is a promise made to God Almighty; it is not like a resolution, as "I.will do so and so for myself," or as an intemperate person may make a resolution to give up drink.
A resolution is not necessarily made to God.
A vow must be of some good or holy action, or it would not be to God. Sometimes vows are not binding, because the matter concerned is wrong. It must not be of a mere indifferent matter, for we could not make that an offering to God; it must be the better of two ways, and more pleasing to God. It is a compact with God.
Whatever we give to God, He will give us something more in return. This is the law of natural and spiritual life, the law of exchange. In the natural life, the sea gives to the clouds and the clouds to the earth, etc. So in the spiritual world God does not make us, as a man makes a machine and stands apart from it. He is united to what He makes. "In Him we live, and move and have our being." The Angels are constantly receiving from God and giving back to Him, and growing stronger in the receiving and giving.
A vow is the recognition of the compact between us and God. "No man has given up houses and lands," etc. It is more blessed to give than to receive. So God gives the best, an hundred fold. A vow is taken for the purpose of pleasing God. We might take a vow for the obtaining a definite blessing, as Jacob did, who said, "If God will bless me I will give Him a tenth." But this is not the highest kind. It is, as it were, making our own bargain with God; it is not a bad vow, but a Religious vow is of a higher kind. We take it for the purpose of pleasing God, leaving it to Him to give back what He will; but we do make our vow to this special end, that we may have the love of God. We give ourselves in perfect confidence to Him, we trust ourselves to Him. If we give up all, we receive All. We give the all of earth, for the All of Heaven.
God enriches the soul with His own Wisdom: "In the love of God, we are to love God," says St. Augustine. He gathers us into His Divine Life, we grow more and more into it, and we can never come to the end of His gifts. The vow lifts the soul into a new life, and the brightness of it so out-shadows the other, that to us it looks, as it is, in shadow and darkness.
We make our vow to, and in union with, Jesus Christ, our Spouse and our Life. As His life was an entire holocaust to the Father, so we are offered up in union with Him, in union with the sacrificial life of our dear Lord.
There are some objections made to a vow. One is, why cannot you do the same thing without a vow? There is more merit in a vow, as it is made in obedience. He who gives the fruit of a tree year by year, gives a good gift; but when he gives up the tree itself, and the right to the fruit, he gives up more.
Another objection. Is it not more noble to give yourself day by day to God? Does not the vow become formal? The same argument applies to all vows, a priest's vows, the marriage vows.
We should lose strength if we did not take a vow, for it is a means of grace to us. Of course there is danger, but there is danger in everything. Indeed, the vow is the glory of the Religious state. The Religious has given herself and her all to God. We should renew our vows with increased fervour and devotion to our Lord.
ELEVENTH INSTRUCTION.--THE VOW OF POVERTY
Our life is dedicated in three ways: Poverty, Chastity, Obedience.
Poverty. By it we renounce the right of possessing anything of our own. The motive must be love of our Blessed Lord. We do not practise poverty in the spirit of an ascetic who wishes to see how much he can endure, like the Stoics. We do not follow our Lord simply because He suffered and we love to suffer with Him. It was once asked of St. Francis de Sales, "Why does he love poverty so?" "It must be because he so loves our Blessed Lord."
As with those we love we would rather be with them and suffer, than be separated from them. Love leads us to seek to share our Lord's suffering in His poverty, and we are thus united more fully to Him. Looking at the philosophy of it, if I may say so, the Church always differs from the world. The Religious Life presents this life of poverty to us as an aim, but the world cannot understand it. The world seeks money, strives to gain possessions; but we seek to be rid of all things, to possess nothing. By the Vow of Poverty we renounce the possessions that belong to the artificial state of society, which exists since the Fall. In Eden there were no particular possessions. This desire of fraternity and community is seen in the heart of man; see some of the sects in the world; but such things cannot be carried out in the world socially, but hereafter it will be in Heaven; in God, we shall all have all things.
The Vow of Poverty then takes us out of the artificial system of the world, into the supernatural dependence of a life of faith. It is a life of blessedness because the life of dependence on God is developed, Who will provide for His own.
Poverty is commended by our Blessed Lord. St. Peter says, "Have we not left all," etc. It has been commended with the emphasis of a present reward. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." The other Beatitudes seem to have a future reward. Poverty is the very foundation of sanctity; it has been called "the Spouse of Christ." It is a present possession; if we are poor in spirit, we possess the Kingdom of Heaven now. That is, we enter into the realization of Him and His glory, more and more. By it we know now more fully the treasures of Heaven; as it frees us from the distractions of earthly things we put aside all care and anxiety, and rest more upon Him, leaving Him to provide and do with us as He will. The soul gives itself up to God in the consciousness of its own nothingness, yet it is given as an offering to God, and thus it enters more and more into God.
By Baptism we are all admitted into the Kingdom of God, and are His children; but Poverty takes us on, and shews us more and more of His love.
Again, we look at Poverty as manifested by our Blessed Lord Himself, and thereby sanctified and elevated into a condition of moral supremacy over earthly things, and made a power because He Himself used it and adopted it. Many had been living in poverty before our Lord came, but it was a state of death rather than of life; but since He has used it, it is the state in which one can most live to God, for we are then more like Him, and to be like Him must be a source of blessing to every heart that loves. As we come nearer and nearer to Him, we have more of His spirit. We are many times mistaken in our view of poverty. We think we may bear it, or endure it in order to be brought into union with Him; but it is more than that, it is a spiritual power; it was in His life, and will be in ours.
It has been asked, "What could not Christ have done, if He had had great possessions?" But wealth would never have been the power in Christ's life that His poverty was, and is. He might have relieved distress, but He would have left humanity just where it was. It was a power to attract men to Himself, a power of sympathy, a power because done in obedience, and was blessed by God. He was stripped of everything in His poverty; poor in His birth, His home, His clothes, in His death, and yet what a blessing to all. He was entirely dependent on God. By union with Him we gain His own benediction, and His wealth is ours. Our hearts are regulated by the impulses of His heart. The Spouse of Christ enters into that Heart, empties herself into it, that she may be rilled with His power.
Poverty must be treated of in two ways, as exterior, and as internal. It must be internal first of all. Always work from the inner life outward.
Internal poverty lies in three things:
Ist. The mortification of desire for possession.
2d. The detachment of the heart.
3d. The love of poverty as a means of union.
External poverty must be according to our Rule, and the spirit of our Institute. There are various degrees of external poverty.
1. Receive nothing without the knowledge of the Superior.
2. Keep nothing contrary to her intention.
3. Dispose of nothing without permission.
4. Avoid incurring needless expenses; avoid superfluities for one's self.
5. Be content with what is provided.
6. Bear with meekness the privations attached to our estate. As Religious we embrace poverty, but we should think nothing of what we have done; it is but little at the most. Think of the wretchedness about us, and see how little we know of it personally. But we do embrace a voluntary life of poverty for His sake. We must be careful to avoid pride, for our offering is very small, but very dear to Him, if done for love of Him. He does not look at what we do, but the motive with which we doit.
12TH INSTRUCTION. --THE DIFFERENT DEGREES OF POVERTY
There are different degrees of Religious Poverty. We may look at, and consider, the different degrees, even if we are not called to carry them all out, as some of the Saints have done. Our poverty is according to our Rule, and the spirit of our Society.
1st. Not having anything of our own. We own nothing. Books, clothing, and indeed everything, given up, and we receive what is necessary from our Superiors. Do not use the word my. Scratch it from your vocabularies; all things belong to the Community.
2d. Do not set the affections on anything. Voluntary poverty is not to show itself in the original choice only, but also in the continued action of the will not to let our affections be settled on any one thing. Look at all things as confided to us, and check all desires, mortifying them.
3d. We are not to desire anything for our Society; it has been the cause of decay in Religious Houses; "Transplanted worldliness," as Fr. Benson calls it. This is a more subtle temptation. We think, "how much good we might do if only we had this and that, etc." Keep such desires in check, and use what God gives us. As in grace, we have it given to us as we need it. It is a part of our poverty, to be willing to work with fewer conveniences than we like.
4th. Be content willingly to forego all superfluities. It stimulates us when we think how many men in the world around us not only give up luxuries but suffer privations for years, that they may at last accumulate wealth, gain a position, earthly distinction. Do not fill our Houses with ornaments, or adorn our cells; have only a Crucifix, and some picture. Do not make our cells look like a drawing room. The Blessed Virgin must have had great taste, and yet but little opportunity of gratifying it; and the lack of harmony in His surroundings must have been a constant means of wounding our Lord, with His perfect organization.
It is not well to have the House gloomy. In the halls and Chapel have devotional pictures. Let the House be bright and cheerful, especially for those who go out to scenes of suffering and death. A contemplative Order does not require ornament; a commanding view is sufficient. Each Institution must be legislated for, by itself.
5th. We are not to be eager about necessaries. In the Religious Life we have to endure a certain amount of hardness and sometimes have to be without what seem to be necessaries, yet we are not to grumble, but offer the deprivation to God. Have no rule which will affect health injuriously; yet when by God's Will there comes a severe strain, then for His sake bear it joyfully. If one needs anything, one is bound to make it known; but if it is not to be had, then do without it for His sake, and willingly.
The Saints rejoiced to bear sufferings, and to do without necessaries for His sake, and learned to praise Him all the more for it. We, by circumstances, are hemmed in; by our life of civilization, etc. It would keep us from doing as they did; yet as we rise from the material let us strive to gain the spiritual power growing out of a life of sacrifice. The sick, too, may learn to rejoice in the loss of necessary things. When the body is weak, be glad to endure in Christ's strength. Sickness is apt to wear away the fervour and strictness of the Religious Life, but our spiritual strength must not give out with our physical strength; indeed, we then have opportunities for greater struggles with ourselves. We are not then "laid by"; our work then is as real and true a work as that of the healthy and strong, if only done in Him.
We stand on the brink of the supernatural and fear to take the leap; but if we will only plunge bravely in, we shall find that it sustains and encourages us, with Christ's own Power. Then, too, we wish to get this power before we let the world go, but we cannot hold on to both. Give up the world unconditionally and unhesitatingly, and then shall we know the grace of a life of true and voluntary poverty undertaken for Christ's sake.
13TH INSTRUCTION.--SPIRITUAL SIDE OF POVERTY
Besides the loss of external things, we must have the internal spirit of poverty. We are called to be poor like our Lord, out of a spirit of love. Enter into His own joy in the little things of poverty, and learn to find sweetness in it. "I will have nothing He did not have." If I am really to be poor, interiorly, I must be like the poor--be despised.
I. It brings the loss of honour. We must lose that which we would otherwise gain, even in doing good works. We might do them for God and take praise for it. When praise comes we are not to hold it for our own, but let it pass back, through us, to Him. When we have done anything well and are praised for it, look quickly to Him, to see His approval, His smile. "We thank Thee, dear Lord, and do everything in Thy Name and for Thee." It would be a dreadful thing to get our reward here. We must see if we are looking for praise, expecting it, and are sad and depressed if we do not have it. "I am not going to take earthly reward." The soul is to find her joy in the love of her Lord.
II. A poor man gets no honour; he is very apt to be looked down upon. Poverty is looked down upon, and the Religious Life will bring upon us a certain amount of contempt. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, Church people and even pious people, will look down upon us. That is part of what we have to bear. "The good and the good fight harder together than the good and the evil." They will look down upon the life and despise it. Our Blessed Lord was despised because He was the son of a carpenter. His companions were poor fishermen. He was despised for His want of position.
So the world calls us enthusiastic, foolish, etc.
The Church may look down upon the Religious Life; it is part of our vow of Poverty, it is like our dear Lord; so instead of being annoyed and vexed, we may learn at last to find some comfort in it, because it unites us to Him.
There have been times when poverty was not despised, but was rather much praised. That would be no true poverty which was embraced to gain the world's praise, like giving up our property as an act of philanthropy.
III. It will bring upon us a certain amount of contempt for our dear Lord's sake. A poor man is often unable to defend himself as a rich man can. Wealth can furnish many advocates. The rich man has all the resources skilful advocacy can bring. And so in the Religious Life, we cannot defend ourselves. We must be poor in that spirit, in a certain way. We cannot defend ourselves when we are attacked. When we suffer, when our good name is taken from us, etc., how much better to bear it in silence in union with our Blessed Lord. If we had a love of humiliations, we should rejoice when we are slighted or spoken against. We must not defend ourselves, but find a joy in resting in the Bosom of God. It would do no good to retire from the world, unless we retire into the Heart of God, the Being of God.
IV. The poor man is very soon forgotten. In poverty we are soon put aside and forgotten. In our Community, as individuals, we become unknown. In great buildings the workmen are unknown, so we must be unknown in building up our Community. We must act in simple, hidden ways, unknown to men, known to God. We are introduced into a holy condition where we are hidden in our Community. We must look to be often set aside, we only help to carry on a work. Nothing is more beautiful than to see one who has been in high position, perhaps Superior, take a low one; we must consider what is best for the interests of the Community, what is God's Will, and give it up with joy.
V. Riches give men certain advantages in spiritual things; minor ones, to be sure. The rich man can live where he chooses, put his house near the Church where he wishes to worship; or live at a distance and have a carriage to convey him to the Church. He can build a Church, have a Church in his own house, etc.
But a poor man must live where he can get work; it may be in a place where there is no Church. He is deprived of many spiritual privileges. So will this apply to Religious. You may be nursing, teaching, far away, where you cannot have the daily services, but it is a part of our poverty.
Our Lord was driven out of the Holy Land into Egypt. The Holy Family learned detachment in Egypt but they had Jesus with them, and so may we have Him in our heart. We do not come to the Religious Life to have more religious privileges, but to be united to our Blessed Lord; united to Him in a special way, and by special means; every trial will be a means of uniting us to our Lord, our Spouse; He felt trials, so do we.
We by our poverty also cannot have such services or Churches as rich men have; all services in our sanctuaries must be offerings to our Blessed Lord. Our poverty must be real, we must seek to grow in the interior spirit of poverty, in union with our Lord. A poor man must work for his master, as his master wishes, so we must work for our Master, our Spouse. Always work for His interests, and for what is best for the Community.
There are two ways in which we must specially seek to grow.
1. To grow in intense devotion to our Lord. Let it be a personal union with a personal Lord. Be gathered into His own life, growing day by day by interior acts, offering little things to Him; putting down phases of feeling. Every pain, every interruption, every sacrifice, is only a way of uniting us more and more to Him.
2. Community Spirit. Cast out everything opposed to it; esteem others better than ourselves; be of one heart and one mind; the work will take care of itself.
14TH INSTRUCTION.--CHASTITY I
Let us consider some of its excellencies. By poverty we give up external things, and also internal things. It has been said, that by Chastity we give up our own bodies, our own wills; by Poverty, we acknowledge our nothingness, but that is not all.
By chastity we cleave to God. By poverty, too, we cleave to God, by a common sympathy. Poverty unites us to our Lord by --
1. A community of want.
2. Detachment from creatures.
3. Sympathy, from common destitution. Chastity unites us to our dear Lord by the oneness of our entire oblation of being, along with His own, to the glory of God and to Himself as God, and the Spouse of our soul. It is not a mere state of negation, or apathy, or want, but a cleavage of the soul to Him in His own act of consecration. In poverty we share with Him, in His sympathy, a common suffering, trying together, bearing together: "Ye are they who have been with Me in My sufferings, etc." Chastity takes us into union with our Lord's own soul. We are conscious of a thrilling joy at being possessed by Him, and we willingly offer up our souls a complete holocaust, in the joy of being united to Him. This virtue was unrecognized till the coming of our blessed Lord. The Jew and the heathen knew not of it. It has been said that the heart could not be entirely given to God, without bringing God down. The Blessed Virgin was the first to know she had given her life, in a vow, to God; she realized the meaning of the prophecy in Isaiah, as her answer to the Angel shows, and God accepted her love, and to her He came. Since then He has ever been the object of intense love, and drawn man, in his defilement, into the glory of the life of God. Let us consider some of the particular excellencies of Chastity.
1. It prepares the soul to receive many virtues; it tends to make the soul fruitful in grace. When the soul is undisturbed by the emotions of mere nature, it is taken into the contemplation of God and becomes conformed to His Will. Chastity is the mother of many excellencies.
2. It keeps out many sins, even as in poverty; if one thing is driven out, many evils are driven out with it. The eye of the conscience is more and more illuminated and the whole moral being is strengthened.
3. Chastity is attended by many virtues. She is a queen with many maids of honour in her train. Many virtues must be habitually exercised to attain her. She remains no indolent inmate, but is preserved by much activity. She maintains and defends her home by constant warfare. She is the strength of the weak, and of those who have overcome many temptations. She brings with her, humility, meekness, watchfulness, prayer and bodily mortification; these are her handmaidens. The soul cannot open to her, and not give a home to all her retinue; it is so excellent.
4. It brings into the soul manifold gifts from our Blessed Lord. He hearkens to the soul offering to Him the virtue He loves, and to such the mysteries of God are revealed. He would have us be His, and His only; He hears our cries. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." God watches over such as the apple of His Eye, on them He delights to pour out His graces. The soul is to be His in the embrace of life hereafter, and He loves to expend His grace in the purification and adornment of His Bride; as Esther was prepared before entering the King's Court. All things are placed at her disposal; she parts with all, that she may have all; she wants no earthly gift, that so she may have Him Who is her soul's Treasure. He adorns the soul He loves with the graces and merits which He won. It is an honourable stimulus in earthly life to give of one's triumph to those loved best. How much greater, then, His love, the true Knight, the Prince, the King of Kings. He wrestled here with the powers of darkness, and stormed the gates of heaven for love of us, to bestow His graces upon us.
5. Chastity raises the soul to Him to whom it is espoused. Blessed is the soul that is given up to the contemplation of Jesus, the love of Jesus, and nothing else. He is not espoused for His gifts, or His wealth, but for Himself, with no mercenary motive; not even because we desire our own salvation, merely; but being already saved or redeemed, we catch sight of the beauty of the Divine Life, that shines out in the glorified humanity of our Lord. His life shines through humanity, and in humanity He acts out His divine life. In humanity we see the wisdom, love, beauty, etc., of God not as substances or material things, but as actions. And the soul sees this beauty as it gazes on its Lord, and she cannot gaze on it without catching something of His likeness.
5. Chastity fills the soul with delight. The soul learns to deal with manifold temptations, by virtue of this vow, and to rest through them all in the power of Jesus. Every vow involves us in warfare. When we come to carry it out, we see how great, how many things are involved. It is to purify our hearts of earthly motives and tendencies. We come to mortify our affections, and it does involve many trials, but He is with us.
"So they two went on together, So they two won many a field; If He for us, who against us? If He succour, who can yield? "
The soul rests in the power of her Lord, and herein is her delight. She lives not by her own struggles, her past attainments, but knows underlying is the power of her dear Lord. He puts hand to hand, heart to heart, will to will. The soul is trained little by little, as she feels her own weakness, her own insufficiency. Under His moulding hand, the soul is made anew, and every manifestation of His Power, in conquering temptation or otherwise, gives her delight. She says, "It is my Lord." "My Beloved is mine, and I am His." He is pledged to me by the verity of His own Life within me. "My Beloved is mine," and the soul desires nothing more. In my littleness and weakness, I am His.
I5TH INSTRUCTION.--CHASTITY II
What the vow of chastity involves. It binds the soul to her Lord in a special way; she becomes Christ's bride; she finds her duties typified for her in those of a wife towards her husband.
I. It involves dedication of our being and faculties to Him, body and soul. There are different degrees of this virtue. It is given to different Orders to illustrate each a special virtue, and it is thus also given to different individuals; each soul is taught of God. This dedication of ourselves, both body and soul, leads us to think that this vow compels us to give our mental powers, as well as physical and moral, to our Blessed Lord. If we strive to cultivate intellect, or any power or gift, place it under this head; we must not be only trying to improve ourselves as people in the world, but as a part of our dedication to Him. If a woman is raised from a common position in life by marriage, she at once seeks to fit herself to fill the higher one. This is what we are doing when we cultivate any gift, etc. Do everything to fit ourselves more and more to be His brides; see that everything is brought into subjection to this Rule of Life, to be conformed to Him and His purposes. This requires discipline; then mortification and discipline will come under this head, and are, we see, connected with this vow. A Religious takes especial care of her body as well as her soul; is very particular about everything relating in any way to "Modestia"; guardianship of the senses; the eyes, for instance, not gazing everywhere; subjecting this sense, and all others.
Controlled in gait and postures, never lounging; never using violent demonstrations or exclamations; no loud talking or laughing. To do this involves a struggle. This special purity, and "angelic purity," are far different. Angels are differently constituted. Our natures are composite; we glorify God by subduing the material within us to the spiritual. This the Angels cannot do, for they have no material in their natures.
Our offering is the result of a struggle and final victory; it has a special victory of its own. The Angels give of their given gift. Consider the glory of chastity in the other world. All our faculties will there be spiritualized and find their delight in spiritual objects. By this struggle and by our poverty, by the triumph wrought out in us by our Blessed Lord, we are prepared to delight in the revelation that is to come. The minutia of discipline in the Religious Life is not merely to keep back evil tendencies, but that the faculties may expand to everlasting beauty, and the fuller reception of the joys of our Lord.
2. We must give up our affections to our Lord Jesus. Learn to rest on Christ in entire love; give up the whole soul and not divide it between Him and the world, just as a wife must centre her affections undividedly on her husband, so that the love of those nearest and dearest is as nothing, compared with His love. So the soul strives after a purified heart and detachment from all creatures and earthly love, and trains her affections to Him.
Detachment. Be watchful not to grow in liking any particular person. Always cultivate a certain reserve about familiarities in expressions, closeness of intimacies, etc., all over-anxious remembrances of persons, gifts and tokens, etc. When once separated, be not over-anxious for meeting again; no jealousies in the heart. Give this love to our Lord, by converse with Him, by constant listening to His inspirations, seeking to enter into His own life, thus reposing on His Heart like St. John on Christ's Bosom. Not simply as one weary and wanting rest, but as listening to the beating of that Sacred Heart which is beating for us; every throb for us, every utterance one of love. The soul is thus intent upon the stirrings of that Divine Life which He is giving to her, and this not only when we come to His feet as sinners. When we listen to this inmost stirring, the soul develops in this union of affection; not only believes He is Divine, taking it in intellectually, but studies Him so closely, lovingly, and reverently, that we see the Divine life shining out in His actions. As a part of our faith we know He is God, and recognize it in His miracles, etc., but let us strive to study Him so closely that we may see it in His most ordinary actions, etc. In the least expression we must see shining forth the Life of God. See the inner meaning of all His life and know His motives, and study His life that we may fully appreciate it. Place the ear of the soul right close to His dear Heart, and listen to the stirrings within, and thus train our affections to Him. He says, "The Son doeth nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do." Let us, then, do only that which we see our Lord do.
3. Our life must be fruitful by reason of our espousals. The power of Christ upon the soul devoted to Him, gives it a supernatural fruitfulness. Fruit is the result of our union and gives us a power for action far beyond our own nature. Our union is from love, suffering, and contemplation. "We will share all the worse of earth, for all the better of heaven," as His spouse. It is only by this union that we do become fruitful. When our own nature mingles in our work we spoil it; our own quicksilver ruins the gold of His Life in us.
Purity, to see God. See Him, to do His work. Seeing His works, see Him. In the power that gives, bring fruit for Him; do nothing in our own natural power, but everything in and by His power. Be diligent in our work to work for love of Christ, and let His love work in us. In order that He may do His work in us, we must live tranquilly, resting in His love alone. Strive to live tranquilly in Hun. Nature is quick, restless, impulsive, and given to her own desires. Grace is slow and tranquil, and in this way does He bring forth His works in us. When we are full of energy, etc., in our own power, it drowns His Grace and it cannot work.
Gain tranquillity by two things. Externally: by going slowly and quietly. Spiritually: "cast your care upon Him."
Anxieties and troubles come. What shall we do with them? Not only ask Him to help us bear them, but try to bear them along with Him for love of Him. So shall we grow in the knowledge and love of Him. Be simply passive in this union, and do not ruin the work by our own misguided zeal.
16TH INSTRUCTION.-- CHASTITY III
We have considered Chastity in itself, and its special excellencies. Under the light of what it pledges us to, it is threefold: i. Entire dedication of our bodies. 2. Union of our Soul with that of our Lord. 3. Fruitfulness.
Tonight we will consider the means of training this love within ourselves, our affections, our thoughts, our time.
The training of our affections toward our Blessed Lord. How shall we who are specially dedicated to Him grow in the love we seek?
1. Consideration of the Person who loves us. Bring it before us very, very frequently. Use personal pronouns; our own dear Lord as the Master and Spouse of the soul. He loves me. His love is special, not general; it was based upon a predestinated purpose; there is some particular niche He would have us fill; it is a particular love, not extending to thy gifts, but thee.
2. Who is it He loves? Never let it pass away from us that we are sinners; have often done as He would not wish us to do. Our spiritual life must be grounded upon great humility. Keep in mind our own special failings, not simply our sinfulness. He has taken us for better and for worse. Make acts of gratitude and penitence, and thus will come the truer love. The soul has been raised from a low estate to One she loves.
3. How long he Has loved me! Any Christian may say, He has loved me from all eternity: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." But a Religious may take it to herself, may think of her years in the Religious Life, and see how long He has loved her, and how constantly, in spite of her failures.
4. To what extent he has loved me! How He has lavished upon us the creative powers of His own Divine Mind as a man. Died for me as a Christian. As a Religious He has called me and sought me out, united me'to His own work; not like a mere child, but has taken me into Himself, into His own trials, temptations, and to a certain extent His Passion.
5. Characteristics of His love. It has been marked all through with unselfishness, patience, tenderness.
6. For what does He love me? I can bring Him nothing, cannot serve Him as Angels do, am not necessary to Him in any way. In meditation, let the thought come often before you, of your own Lord's patience. Put Him before you in the special attitude of one betrothed, and you will see His Life shining out in your soul. If we bring our heart in meditation close to our Blessed Lord, it will burn with the love of His Heart, personal union and affection growing deeper and deeper. That will bring us into effective love.
But we must also grow in effective love. But that will not come by meditation, but by action. Love is an active quality and must express itself in deed. Not that we merely imitate Him, but surrender ourselves to Him, that He may be reproduced in us; we yield ourselves to Hun, and are taken into His own hidden life, His public life, His suffering and glorified life. He gathers a soul into His own life, that she may share it with Him. This is the way in which He deals with the Church as a whole, and with Religious. This is the secret of Church History.
Not only in a great and general way, but in a particular way He gathers souls into Himself. The action of His entire oblation should extend itself through us that thus we may be extensions of His life, and that it may 6o out to others. When we labour, teach, minister to the sick and the poor, He does it through us. He is thus reproducing His own life in us, and gathering us into His own Heart, and thus teaching us the motives of His inner life, and the struggles of His Soul; how He was sustained by the action of the Spirit. Your labours were His, your suffering His; your temptation and poverty were His; a perfect understanding and sympathy. This union of soul is to be eternal. You must know your Lord, your Master, your Husband. Mark the difference between souls who merely imitate Him, and yourselves, who are gathered into His very Life. He does it by His own Holy Spirit; not as if when you were doing certain things, as working, nursing, teaching, you thought of Him, but He gives you the same Spirit that was in His Soul, as He lay in His Mother's arms; when He looked with sorrow, or love. We do not know Him by thinking about Him, but by the Spirit, we know His interior life. We know Him and become more like Him. This is effective love.
There is a degree of love called passive lova, which means suffering love. Our affections want to be trained to make us like Him, He being the mould of our life, into which we are poured and remoulded; but they want to unite us in a more mystical sense, and that is by suffering passive love, the love that is only satisfied by suffering. Suffering is the highest expression of love. To share anything with another is love, but to suffer for another is higher and greater. " Greater love hatkl:no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." After He had exhausted all His acts of kindness, love, etc., He died on the Cross for love. He could only express His love by pain, which is more eloquent than words. Pain is the most intense expression of love. As we look at the Cross we see the utterance of Divine Love. His Heart must break, for His intense love for us. You catch sight of His love for you, and you long to return that love. The soul must learn a language like His own, therefore it must suffer. The Bride would be like her Spouse. Love for love. Life for Life. You bear a trouble for Him, but not in the way of a hardship, or a trial, with mere resignation; that is a blessed act, but to cooperate with Divine grace, is more blessed still; to bear it because it is His will; to seek thus an opportunity to express our love; so thus to learn His own language as the little child looks up into its mother's face, and tries to understand her words, though it does not fully know their meaning, tries to lisp back an answer. Thus we learn how to suffer, and how to love, and to find sweetness and joy therein. Within our Religious House there are many trials; it would be unreal without them; they are only opportunities by which we may learn to grow into His Life; we are to expect many in the Religious Life, they are what make it so blessed. We are called to be united to our Lord through special trial, and not merely through the Sacraments. He puts His own chalice to our lips, and gives of it to all His loved ones.
We love to suffer for Jesus' sake in little things, internal or external. We must use all worries, all interruptions, all difficulties, misunderstandings, anything that pierces the heart, as something to offer up to our Lord; it is a blessed work. There have been those who must suffer, and have said, "I must suffer or I die!" We may be called to suffer physical, mental, or moral trials. He leads us on as we are able to bear; we are trying humbly to put before us the idea of the life, and how all suffering may be turned to good account. This love is the energetic principle within us. If we love Him, it will go out through us to others. We do not know how to love, till we love Jesus, till we love all in Him; and it outshines mere natural affection, it will overpower all dislikes, and unite us to one another, as it is the cementing power to our Spouse.
17TH INSTRUCTION.--THE VOW OF OBEDIENCE
We might well hail this vow as the greatest of them all. Poverty is the surrender of all our wealth and outward possessions. Chastity is the surrender of our bodies and all our affections. Obedience, is the dedication of our entire will to God. It is indeed the essence of the Religious Life. In some Orders they take but one vow, and that is obedience for it includes all. There are those in the world who are living in a state of poverty, and in that respect may far exceed us; others, too, in a state of chastity; but obedience is the special glory of the Religious Life. The world has its own hard slavery, but the Religious Life rejoices in its entire surrender. By it every act is capable of being raised to its highest perfection. By it, Simon the obedient, the hasty, became Simon the rock. It becomes the discipline of our life.
I. It is needful. As a discipline of the will, as a remedy against pride. Pride shows itself in two ways:
1. In the mind: by thinking too much of ourselves.
2. In the will: by asserting ourselves. Man seeks to be independent in himself, and independent of the will of God. St. Anselm says, "Man is the source of all evil; God, of all good." This obedience comes in to discipline our proud, self-asserting wills, and is not only necessary to us as Christians, but most especially as Religious. We come specially to this life to do battle within ourselves for our dear Lord's sake. We do not come to be free from temptations but to struggle with them, and by conquering in the struggle, to become holier. As Religious, then, our great and special danger is, disobedience. Cassian says, "The devil seeks to overthrow youth by intemperance, the world, by honours, but Religious, by disobedience."
As Religious we need obedience as a remedy against a strong will; it cannot be too strongly put before us. St. Francis de Sales in founding his Order of the Visitation, specially dwelt on obedience. It is necessary, then, from our nature, our calling, and also from the spirit of the age in which we live. Now there is so much independence and self-assertion everywhere; let us seek to set forth more especially the virtue of obedience. Men say in their heart, "I will have my way," and it generally ends in the devil having his way in them. When one gives up his will to God, it is God victorious in Him.
St. Augustine says, "To obey is to reign." Other Religious Houses may surpass us in austerity, in poverty, etc., but let us rise up to obedience and exemplify it in its highest sense. So much for the necessity of it. Let us make it our greatest glory.
II. It is the strength of moral character. By it the soul is taken out of its own vacillation, and taken into the Divine power out of its own weakness. By it the smallest acts become virtues; the greatest, without it, are worthless. "Obedience is better than sacrifice." One who is living as a hermit may not be obedient, because he is living out his own way. A man may practice austerities through self-will or practice devotions through self-will; it is a test of devotion, if one is willing to give them up. One may be kind and thoughtful in doing things for others, but thinks it hard if she does not receive thanks. Do all in a spirit of obedience.
Our growth in spiritual things depends upon our obedience to a law. Law has a seat in the bosom of God; "it is the harmony of all creation." (Hooker.) The foundation of a child's life is, " Honour thy father and thy mother." If we do not fast in obedience, it does us no good. St. Bridget says, "If you give up anything in your rule because you are ill, you gain a twofold blessing."
You give up your will to keep your Rule, and you give it up again in not keeping it, in obedience. We are taken out of the changeableness of natural life, to the unchangeableness of the supernatural life.
III. It is the perfection of the Community. It is that which binds us together, as it binds families it binds us to our Community. By it the talents are bound together. All have different talents. We are like an army going forth to battle. We must work together, to gain joint action and win the battle. Our gifts are brought together to be brought into action, and support one another. In the army, they employ physical force; but we, intellectual and physical too. Perfection is a gift of the Holy Ghost. The army is banded together by force and moved by the will of the General; but there is no gift of God. A family acts together, but it is from nature. Union gives strength. One who was not a Christian once said, "If ten men were bound together for one object, they could move the world."
We, as Religious, are not brought together from natural affection and ties, but in obedience to the call of God. The power that enables us to stay among many so different in gifts, disposition and age, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The world does not understand it, not knowing the power of the Holy Spirit, which flows down and binds us together; it is a spirit of love. We do not obey as a mechanic who is summoned by a bell; or as a soldier who hears an order; or from interest in one another; but the Holy Ghost speaks, and where He is, is love, and this makes our obedience to shine with a special beauty. We cannot give up our will easily, except through love; love makes it easy. The will is the hardest thing to give up. Where you see obedience carried out, there is the Holy Ghost; it is the strength of the Community and its perfection. Strength gives it power to do its work, but the Holy Spirit is to shine through all, to give it a special beauty and grace.
There are different degrees of obedience. They are threefold.
i. Doing the thing commanded by the Rule, or the voice of the Superior. If I fail in that, I am breaking my vow. St. Bernard says, "It is a great sacrilege to resume power over one's will, which has once been given up to God." One help in obeying Rule is to remember, when one gets into a difficulty in obedience, what St. Bernard said. "Bernard, why did you come here? You came to give up your will to God, to be united to God."
2. Submission of the will. Obey without questioning, without complaining, not trying to get things altered to your way, not using policy, etc. Act up to the spirit as well as the letter.
3. Submission of our judgment, and bringing it into harmony with those set over us.
Make a distinction between things that are important, and those that are not. The Creed, our rule of faith, is important, but most other things are unimportant. Through the Rule and the will of the Superior, we want to look up and see the will of our dear Lord. The work we do is secondary. "This is His Will, that I am to do this." We are to be united to Him in special ways, and by special acts.
18TH INSTRUCTION.--OBJECT OF THE VOWS
It is self-abnegation. The Son of God emptied Himself and took upon Him our nature, that it might be perfected in Him. We must empty ourselves of ourselves, of our sins, our motives, our earthly thoughts, which come between us and God.
The vow of poverty empties us of this world's wealth and power. We are not to seek or rely on them; we trust in God; the ravens will come and feed us; we are not to seek wealth in any way, even in little things. When we rely on the world's power, we begin to fail; we shall learn to feel joy at having nothing when we are filled with the power of God.
The vow of Chastity empties us of earthly affections. The Religious Life is the school of our affections. No work, no school, no place must claim us; we are not to be held by anything about us; we are to be in the world, but not of it; not to rest in any human affection, or seek it in return, but be emptied of ourselves that we may be filled with the joy of God; Jesus our only love.
By the vow of obedience we are emptied of this world's judgment; we renounce our own judgment, our own ways of thinking and doing. We give up our will to the Superiors God has given us, looking through them to see the Will of God, thus becoming conformed to the Mind of God.
The three vows empty us of ourselves, and we become nothing. The object of the Religious Life is self-abnegation. A temptation may come to us and we may say of it, "Is not our spiritual life a very nothing?" That is what we want--to be nothing in our own sight, nothing in the sight of the world, or of others. One in a lowly condition, thinking nothing of himself, was raised to be the King of Israel. Put down all self-esteem, self-satisfaction, self-assertion. "Wherever you find self, leave self." "You cannot brush away self-consciousness, any more than you can brush away a fog, but do not think about yourself, leave self." Would that we could! Abandon self and hold self down to its own nothingness. I am nothing. Think of those who have gone before.
To leave all, are the words of Holy Scripture. Knowing our own nothingness in abandoning self-seeking in our lives, we rest more directly on our Blessed Lord Who is in us, trust more to Him, grow in the interior life to which we are called in Religion. Some means by which we may see our own nothingness. It is to be made a subject of Meditation. We are formed out of nothing; God alone has substantial life. He alone is self-existent. By our regeneration we are made one substance with our Incarnate Lord, but nothing is ours, all is His. All we have, we receive from Him (all that is our own is our sin). My life is His, I am nothing. We can hold nothing, for nothing is ours. The heart cannot be satisfied with anything that is created, but it craves something substantial. Our spiritual life is not ours, it is a gift, we cannot claim it. We have sinned so much against grace we only remain in the Kingdom on sufferance. We live day by day because He allows it. As we grow into the light and life of God, we see our own nothingness. Our friends judge us partially, by affection and interest. We must not trust their judgment, or abide in it; it will soon fade away. The world's judgment is based upon superficialities; it is worth nothing, for it is not based on truth. "The fashion of this world passeth away." Again, that only which is wrought in the soul by the grace of God endures; earthly things pass away. Contrast thyself with those who have gone before; think of the blessed Saints, how they have served our Lord in obedience, the height of sanctity to which they have attained; they followed Him even unto death. Again, compare thyself with what God would have thee to be.
He has His own ideal for me. Let me ask myself how have I carried on His work? How used His grace? In a way pleasing to Him? What is done to please Him lasts on forever. What am I, what have I? I find myself nothing at any judgment seat. He is the true substance, I am nothing.
For union with Christ, there must be first the emptying ourselves of ourselves; then, we must look into ourselves, and bring our vows to bear on our life, and grow in self-abnegation. Sometimes it is easy but not always. Give ourselves to God and let Him work through us. Consider our own nothingness; as we go in the spiritual life we shall feel it.
Empty ourselves of ourselves and be filled with God. Religious are called by the three vows to be emptied of themselves, to be filled with the spiritual life, the life of God. There are many ways in which we may seek to grow in the spiritual life, but this is the essence of it; be emptied of ourselves to let Christ come into us; go right to the centre, do not go round and round. Take the best and surest method of becoming what we are called to become; do not try superficial remedies in saying Offices, frequent communions, etc., but go right into self and put the knife to the heart. Religious are called to carry on ttte work of God in their own soul, and in no half-hearted way. The three vows help us to abase ourselves, to put the old Adam to death. In heaven it will be His Life shining out through us; there will be no envyings, no jealousies, we shall be glad and delighted to see anyone do His work. The works of nature please us, for they are His. All things will be ours. Now put down self-will, self-love, thwart self in every way; if the heart aches, let it; we must learn to suffer till we have put self to death; we know the end will be blessed. Do not be discouraged at a worry or trouble, struggle against it, and all forms of self, and be filled with God. He calls us to be His Spouses, to fill our soul with His own Life. His Life is to be really and truly our mould, as the flowers grow out of the stalk; not merely our imitating Him, but His living through us. To rule us--rule in our mind by the Holy Spirit; control our hopes, our fears, our joy.
As a bird sleeps on the ocean and rises and falls with the motion of the waves, so the heart should rest on God, and rise and fall with the impulses of the Divine Life.
INSTRUCTION.--ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. SILENCE
Our life is so sheltered by Silence. It is a storehouse of religious feelings, a safeguard against many evils, teaching of manifold mysteries. What a wonderful gift the gift of speech is, the difference between men and animals. Animals have highly developed vocal organs, but no speech, like man, who is in the Image of God; they communicate by sound. Speech is a portion of the original outfit. God created all things by the word, and gave man the gift of speech that he might communicate with Him--that is its first and highest use, to utter to Him outwardly the inmost thoughts. Silence is helpful in preserving and directing the right use of speech. As Religious, it enters specially into our life, to preserve the faculties of the use of speech.
There are four kinds of silence, which we may associate with our Blessed Lord. In the Religious Life we seek a special union with our Blessed Lord, and silence is one means of union with Him in His own Life.
I. In His Infancy, a silence of time and place. See the Eternal Word bound in swaddling clothes lying in the manger, or in His Mother's arms carried to Egypt, and into the Temple. Notice the silence of the Eternal Word. Being God, of course He could have spoken, but He was true to the nature He had assumed. He was never to use His Divine Power to carry out His work. He was true to humanity. It was one of His temptations. He lived true to humanity, and fought out its battles, true to its conditions, by the Spirit given Him. His Infancy was a time for absolute silence. He could not speak, for he would have broken His Rule. Think of His temptation to speak, to overstep the restraint.
The Eternal Word knew the trials and dangers about His parents, Mary and Joseph. Why not speak and tell them of the massacre of the infants; or that the journey into Egypt would soon come to an end--they could bear it better.
But He was true to our nature in His Infancy in every way. Silence of time and place. When our silence hour comes, think that we are shut in with the silence of the Infant Jesus. We may be tempted to break it, through affection or some slight thing. The Eternal Word rested in the Father's will that He should be silent. He trusted God to take care of Mary and Joseph, it was not for Him. It may be necessary sometimes for us to break our silence, but be united to the silence of the Infant Jesus. It is necessary, too, in a Religious House to keep silence upon certain subjects.
II. In His public Life there was a moral silence. There are many things we do not care to talk of. Think of the difference there should be in the conversation of Religious and persons in the world. People in the world are taken up with the many foolish things about them, and those we have left behind. We must always strive to speak with reference to some good end, and show a reserve about worldly affairs; and when dealing with externs, there must be a reserve about the affairs of our House. They are not to be made known to others, there must be a spirit of silence about them. If any sister is too intimate with one out of the house, or constantly writing to her, making a confidante of her and seeking her sympathy, it is not right; we are to keep silence upon those things. We keep silence, of course, from criticisms upon one another. Where the spirit of criticism comes, it does so much harm. We may see other's faults, but pray for them, do not speak of them. "Let your complaints be made known unto God." All matters of Religious controversy are to be avoided; they are not becoming in Religious, or priests. Do not speak of religion argumentatively; in theology, avoid a controversial spirit, do not let it become contention. As Sisters, we have to speak to others. If we could conform our speech to His restraint, then we should unite ourselves to the power of His speech. Not many words, but a few spoken went home to the heart's life.
We are called to save souls. If, when teaching children and caring for the sick, we speak in His Name, we shall speak in His power.
III. In His Passion, heroic silence. Before the High Priest--before Pilate--His absolute silence before Herod. Think of His silence under accusation. Is it right for me to keep silence when falsely accused? If only oneself is concerned it may be; if the Church or others are implicated it may be right to speak. Think of His silence under personal contumely--when they put the bandage over His eyes, taunt Him, push Him about the room, spit in His face.
When we feel some little act done against us, some neglect or interference, we are all on fire. He felt His indignities. The feeling is not wrong. We could not be human, and in God's Image, and not feel. Indignation is justice making itself manifest. But, Oh, His wonderful self-control! He kept silence under reproofs, accusations, and also in the pain at the pillar. "As a lamb before his shearers is dumb, even so He opened not His mouth." How can we unite ourselves with Him in this heroic silence? When we are found fault with, think of His heroic silence in His Passion. He is silent, but His Heart waketh; silent towards man, but not towards God. Try in any pain or suffering to speak to God interiorly, not only saying nought, but saying, "I offer this to Thee, I bear this for Thee; I unite this to Thine own actions; gather me into Thyself."
IV. Mystical silence. Silence of our Lord as it is seen when His Body is lying in the Tomb. When the heart is busy within itself, it is not to shut ourselves in in self-gloom, but that we may commune with God; that is its end; the Body in the Tomb is the type. The tomb is a place of brightness and glorious light, a chamber filled with sweet perfumes where Angels dwell; this silence is within the soul. We should strive to hush questionings, complainings, doubtings, that go on in oneself. "Why talk of oneself? find a better companion!" Often the soul goes on upon its own troubles and gets cast down. How our spiritual life is wasted in thinking and talking of our wrongs, grievances, unforgivenesses, etc.
We are then unconsciously playing into the evil one's hands, and get more and more into a wrong state before God. We cannot always control our thoughts, or help thoughts coming into our' mind; we cannot get rid of them by saying, Go. But we are thinking of what the life may become in its perfection; what we reach forward to attain, by God's grace. We may grow in mystical silence if we stop worrying about self. "Forget those things which are behind." When disagreeable thoughts come, say, "I have turned into a very disagreeable lane; I will go where the birds and flowers are." When despondent, think of God's many mercies; make a Te Deum of His goodness. It gives a vigour and brightness of mind and soul to make use of such practices.
The silence of the life entombed is full of brightness, life, and peace; the mind is open to our Blessed Lord. If we were to sit still at His Feet and do nothing, a virtue would go out from Him. We should know interiorly that if we wait, He will speak to our soul. In trial he gives that supernatural calmness. But the soul learns to be silent that it may catch the meaning of His inspirations, read His teachings, His utterances within. Our Lord gives us His Spirit, and the soul learns to be more trained by the least movement of the Holy Spirit, to grow more recollected.
The eagerness of nature drowns grace. Save any one utterance God gives us; treasure any little gift, it is the way to get more. The one crumb from His table will satisfy our thousand wants.
20TH INSTRUCTION.--SOME TEMPTATIONS AND SINS WHICH ARE INCIDENT TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
There are certain faults which belong to certain classes--to lawyers, merchants, etc. So in the Religious Life, in the way both of excess and defect. Aristotle brought out the idea that virtue was in the middle, between two extremes.
In distinction from people in the world, we are living under a Rule. Two faults may show themselves: i. Contempt of Rule. 2. Scrupulosity.
1. A sister may neglect it; she does not study it, she errs in the way she regards it, does not look at it as God's voice to her, as regulating her work, etc., does not let herself be moulded by it. Some come into the Religious Life with ideas of their own as to the spiritual life, taking what part they like and leaving what they do not like, not taking it all lovingly as God's Voice to them.
2. One may become very scrupulous as to the application of it; may dwell very much on little things, to the exclusion of greater ones.
As regards our bodies and souls: (a) The body. As to one's health; imprudence on the one side, imagined weakness on the other; concealed illness. Some like to think themselves ill, seek dispensations, home comforts, etc. We are out on a campaign and must put up with great inconveniences. Concealing illness, going on and seeing how much one can do without giving up is wrong. One is bound to care for one's health; illness brings great care and trouble upon the Community. (It is very different when one may go out nursing, and take a fever.) We are to consider others in taking care of ourselves; it is better to tell the Superior when we are ill. Again: faults of manner. Secularity of manner, on the one hand, and religious affectation on the other.
We are not to try to be secular with seculars, in order to win them. It is a mistake to put on a manner which has ceased to be natural to you, or a tone of voice, or matter of conversation. Fault has been found with Religious Houses, where Religious have mixed with the world, and caught its manner. Avoid the world's ways, by quietness, and thought of our Lord's Presence. Religious affectation gives people in the world the impression that you consider yourself better than they are.
Religious are called to perfection, and the vows are means to that end. God calls people in the world to serve Him in one way, and Religious in another. If we were always living in God's presence, there would be a quiet, recollected manner about us; but avoid excess.
(6) The soul. Ambition to excel, or falling into routine. We come to the Religious Life to please our Blessed Lord. Any earthly ambition comes from pride, when we want to excel others in our spiritual advance. As it shows itself in the world, so it may come into Religious Houses. It may show itself by desiring to be looked up to.
Dropping into routine, is one of the worst things that can come into a Religious House. If we fall into dull routine how are we to rouse ourselves, if we get up, say Office, do our work, in a mechanical way? The sense of the supernatural fades away; we go on from past momentum, but get into a paralyzed condition, from which it is most difficult to rouse ourselves. St. Bernard says, "it is a most difficult thing to convert a Priest or a Religious." Again: other faults. Restlessness, which leads on to secularity (restlessness of disposition) on one side, on the other, languor.
Some are naturally wanting in steadfastness; take things up and lay them down; have strong impulses, but are not fixed in purpose. This shows itself by their wanting to change their work, go from house to house. They do not go on quietly in their prayers, but want to change them. They are apt to go outside for comfort and sympathy and make friends with the world.
Languor is to give up and do nothing. Languor is not dryness, or being desolate; it is a spiritual fatigue; a desire to give up, but it does not give up; a feeling of disappointment with oneself, that advance has been so little. The danger is, giving up effort. How to deal with it? Sometimes a sharp mortification is the best thing after all. Again: Littleness of purpose; or, Over-estimation of our powers. It was said of one, that he would not do for the Religious Life, for he had not soil enough of character for anything to grow. There must be a certain amount of greatness of character to make a good Religious. The world says, "How narrow Religious are," but it is a mistake; they must have greatness of soul. We must be united to our dear Lord, and believe that He can do anything. If our heart and will are only purified, He can do what He wills in us; His word will not return to Him void.
Those who over-estimate themselves, show it by criticizing the society, its Rules, its way of doing things; they think they could fill an office so much better than another, etc.; they have no self-distrust. Again: We come into a Society. There may be a want of devotion to it; or, we may be humanly proud of it. There is a true love of our society because we believe it to be of God, a thing of Christ's forming; but we are humanly proud of it, when we speak boastingly of it, of what it has done. The danger is, we might rest in it, and not in our Lord. Also a danger that we might speak against other societies.
Desire of popularity is a very great snare. On the other hand, to say "I do not care for anyone; I go on my way, they may go on theirs"--being regardless of others--is wrong.
Again: Disquietude on account of others' faults, or neglect of their spiritual welfare. Seek to spread charity; pray for one another. Gain for one is gain for another; one cannot grow, without its being a gain to all. It must inspire us to grow in love of our Lord.
Again: Our dealing with those without, i. We may desire favour of the great. We want to get on, and seek people of wealth, because they hold position and influence. A spirit of "transplanted worldliness " comes in. 2. The opposite fault would be rudeness, want of courtesy, gentleness, because they do not understand us, do not address us properly, etc.
Again: Faults within ourselves and towards those over us.
1. Obstinacy of opinion.
2. Not stating our opinion when asked.
These are all extremes. "Virtue lies in the middle way; who can hit it between these two!" It wants Christian common sense as made plain to us by our Blessed Lord. We shall learn only by many failures. Lean to the side which is fullest of devotion to our Blessed Lord; lean to that which leads to mortification and self-discipline; it is better to have excess in devotion, rather than be too light or careless; our Lord will cure those defects.
St. Peter fell after boasting He would not deny our Lord, but was restored upon his repentance. When St. James and St. John wanted to share our Lord's sufferings, He said, "Art thou able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of," etc. They say unto Him, "we are able." We are called into a supernatural life; let us cast ourselves on our Blessed Lord, and He will help us.
SPIRITUAL CONDITIONS FOUND IN THE RELIGIOUS STATE
In untechnical language, we may say there are two spiritual conditions which are found in the Religious State: I. The tired feeling. II. The feeling of rest.
i. Of course all Christians have, more or less, feelings of disappointment, or fatigue, wearied with the constant battle against sin, etc., but a Religious has that, and also has to struggle against the very monotony of her life. This tired spirit! The fact that our life has so little change in it, does produce weariness; the soul is quite aware of it, going through the same thing over and over again.
Another cause. It comes sometimes because we have so much to do with sacred things. We have so much more opportunity than others for prayer, Communions, etc., that we become so familiar with them that there comes a feeling of fatigue in respect to them. Sometimes prayer seems a great burden; the recitation of our Office is very tiresome.
With this tired feeling comes sometimes also a growing irritability. In the world people become irritable; but with us it comes from friction growing out of being together; from our desire of perfection; the tight tension we draw makes us irritable if we give way to faults.
It also shows itself in low spirits. These show themselves in various ways; sometimes from physical causes; sometimes because we are impatient at a reproof; or, we find we have been failing more than usual, we have set ourselves to grow in a certain virtue, and find how far we are from it. It may take the form of murmuring against God, and finding fault if we are not professed; we may be tempted to give up our vocation; or, if professed, to settle down into a life of routine, to give up striving after perfection.
These are phases of what may come to one in the spiritual life. One great remedy against it, always, is fidelity in little things. Rouse ourselves afresh day by day by some ejaculation, some fresh act, out of our own heart toward God.
Again: as to prayer: we may have got into slovenly habits, may expect too much of God; are not careful in our preparation before, and thankgivings after, our Communions; do not have a horror against venial sins. Against irritability, take refuge in silence; be very careful as to what we say in physical low spirits, make acts of thanksgiving to God, do not go and tell some one; make acts of submission to the Will of God, and let oneself alone; we are not to get our comfort from man, but from God. He knows what we may have to meet. He is very gentle and very patient. It is a hard battle He has called us to; our whole life is a mass of failures, and does cause fatigue. But, "never be discouraged with yourselves, for God is not discouraged with you." We may get into that feeling of fatigue after very great efforts of grace, that our Lord may shew us how little depends upon ourselves. A feeling of weakness, or darkness, comes over the soul. He wants to shew us He is to do all the work; it is one means of God's emptying a soul of itself; when the soul surrenders itself to God, He can do a work in it.
2. The other side, of rest.
The feeling of the soul knowing it is resting on the merits of Christ, in His love. Abandoning self, and embracing the merits of Christ, it learns to rest in Him; with Him nothing is impossible. My will is to labour, His, to give the increase. Rest on the power of Christ in temptation, let Him do His work within us. Something holds us back, either getting rid of the world, or, if rid of that, getting rid of self, of relying on self, of resting on self, instead of relying on our Lord and His Love. When assaulted by spiritual temptations, etc., think, "He loves me." Let His Love come into the soul, rest on His merits and His love. The soul becomes less disturbed by things around. Detachment leads the soul to rest in Him. If we are detached from creatures, we must be attached to God, willing to work anywhere, with anyone. As we grow in detachment, we are being united to our Blessed Lord's Will and learning to rest in Him, putting away all but His Will, and rising up into union with it. Things are easier when we are working inside, not outside, our Blessed Lord; when we make His Heart our home, our cell; when we look out from it, as through a lattice, onto the world around. Our motive is so much stronger. If we want to forgive anyone, we say, "I will forgive for Thy dear sake." When we have something hard to bear, we think, "He has some purpose in giving me this to bear." Seek His interests, what will be pleasing to Him, and all envy will be gone; if we seek to please Him, we enter into His joy. "What pleases Him, pleases me." Work inside, rather than out; it is so much easier in all troubles, in the Church, anywhere; be content that He should carry on His work in any way. When God gives the soul something, some comfort, some new light, gives peace to the soul which extends even to the body, and you feel interior consolation, though you may not be able to describe the feeling, it strengthens the whole interior being. You are glad because He is what He is. Beauty, Wisdom, Love itself; you rejoice because He gives it; you work from the inside. Practise acts of thankfulness for health, food, etc., because He gives them; pray that nothing outside of Him may be pleasant to us, that all that is irksome may be pleasant if done for Him. So if there is an interior motive, and union with Him, there is also rest and peace.