VOCATION TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
PICTURE to yourself the home of Martha and Mary. Mary is sitting alone, in prayerful meditation. She is sorrow-stricken in heart at the loss of her brother Lazarus. Death gives a new aspect to all our surroundings. Somehow the world does not look as it did before. A change has taken place which affects our whole nature. Lazarus, her invalid brother, had been to her so constant a care. She had watched over his every want, and marked with painful tenderness the progress of his disease. She did not expect he would go quite so soon. But he is gone. There is his empty chair in which he sat. Here is the couch on which his emaciated body reposed. There she ministered to him day and night, and by his side prayed. It was a holy home, sanctified by a prolonged illness. The beauty of Lazarus' character had especially endeared him to Christ. Jesus had been their guest. He had made Himself as one of the household. He had been their friend and companion. He loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. His words had brought a new life and light into their souls. Their affections and their talk centred about Him. How they treasured up every word He had uttered, and every act they had heard of Him. The death of her brother filled Mary with a great heart-ache. Though looked forward to, it came at last, as it often does, as a shock. Murmurs and complaints to God there are none. Yet the tears must flow, and no tears can stop the heartache. Conflicting thoughts sweep through her troubled mind. Need it have happened? Could not he have been restored? Might not their dear Master have given Him, as to others, health? How her soul in its distress turned to Him. How she wished she could see Him. How she wished He might come. As it was that in the fourth watch of the night to the wearied Apostles toiling and rowing, so in her need Christ came to her. In her loneliness and anguish the message came, "Arise!" "The Master has come." He has heard of her grief. He comes, her dearest Lord and Friend, as knowing fully her distress and sorrow laden heart. And what a satisfying and consolatory thought. "He calleth for thee." Love understands love. Love interprets words of affection. Love gives to them a deeper meaning than they seemingly bear. "He calls for thee." He wants her. He had a personal word to say to her. He had a special comfort to bring her. She was dear to Him--all the dearer in her trouble. And it was no ordinary message as under ordinary circumstances He might have sent. She understood its deeper meaning, and she rose up quickly and went to Him.
The Call to Religion is a personal Call. Our Lord selected and called His Disciples one by one. He did not make a general call for co-workers and ask for volunteers. He makes the selection. "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." St. John the Baptist pointed out Christ to the future Apostles as the Lamb of God. But our Lord called them into Discipleship and afterwards into the Apostolate one by one. We read that He prayed before He made the choice. Their call was a manifestation of the Father's Will, and came with power. At His simple words, "Follow Me," they left their publican's table, or their father's net--their old work and occupations. They did not stop, as men are inclined to do, to balance duty with duty. They did not stop to reason out the problem who should carry on the work they left. God does not call idlers to His Service when He calls to work. He will provide for the work from which He calls us. We are not to make ourselves Providences to Almighty God, but trusting Him, simply to obey His call.
The Call is His Act. There is a difference between acting under a sense of duty to an abstract law, and in the consciousness of a personal vocation. In the case of duty, we recognize law, but in vocation the Voice of God.
It is like this:--A master going away leaves certain duties to be performed, but leaves their fulfillment to one's own choice. It is different when He gives to individuals a personal command, who act under the sense of personal oversight.
The Call, as personal, comes out of a real choice in God's Mind. How, we ask, can there be desire in the All-satisfying One? But we know there must be, for His speech declares His Mind. He chooses. No other being than the one He calls can satisfy the Divine Purpose.
The Call comes forth from the Well-Head of God's Nature and the Eternity of His Counsels. It comes and sinks down into our little hearts as the expression of His Personal Love and can find no home elsewhere. As an act of individual Love it demands an individual response. An absent master does not care who does the work provided it is done. But if a parent calls a child to some service, he cannot say to another, "You go," but, "I must go," We cannot decline a call because we think ourselves not capable, or unworthy. He calls us, always unworthy, that we may be monumental miracles of His grace. He calls us, not because we are capable, often just the contrary, but in order to show forth His power in us. He calls us, not to accomplish something for His sake, but primarily, and often, for our own sake. He requires our own personal attention, not to do some work by us, but to do a work in us. What He calls us to is not merely service, but into a special union with Himself. Now the Personality of the call is revealed in proportion as we draw near Him. We cannot stand still, or as it were in one place, and hear God's Voice. We are called into God, and so it is not enough to hear the Voice, but we must be drawn into it. Just as by necessity of love a mother is drawn from whatever she is doing by the cry of her child in danger.
We can, however, have no knowledge of God's , Voice by mental speculation, but only by doing His Will. The soul that loves God, like Mary, knows the message that comes from Him.
Consider the individuality of the Call. God speaks to the soul as He did to Samuel. The voice on coming fills it with its own power. It makes a response, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth." Each soul is however different, and receives impressions in its own way. How different is the meaning of the same word spoken to different persons! Our own character gives to the word its own signification. Our own power of perception and receptivity give it value and power. What it means to us is more than we can explain to another. The Call of God rings in the heart with the vibration of Heaven. The Word speaks, and the soul is touched with the power of God. It evokes into spiritual activity all our faculties.
It calls us to a fellowship with God. It calls to a special companionship. No other can fulfill it. Christ has spoken to me, and never can unsay what He has said. The soul has become identified with His utterance. The Call is a death-shock. By it we die to the World. It is a Life-touch. By it we become quickened with the Life of God. It is a call to be a fellow-worker in fellowship with Him. We rejoice in the individuality of this Loving Call. He has spoken to me. God did not cause His Love to pour over the world as a flood of grace so that at last the waters flowed up to me. The Call singled me out. Wast thou unworthy? Truly the soul may so declare. But the fact that Jesus loved me fits me for His Service. Thou needest nothing but to abide in that Love. One by one we are taken up into that Love individually. It does not call us into the porch of a temple, but into the very Temple itself.
The Call is to Jesus. The Personal Voice is none other than that of the Word made Flesh. He calls us, not merely to follow Him, or to be united to His work, but united in a special degree to His own dear self. He calls us that He may be the entire satisfaction of the soul. He satisfies us by filling the intellect with His own wisdom and the affections with His own Love. He calls us in the truth of our manhood, and so extends a real sympathy. He knows all our sorrows, weaknesses and temptations. He suffered that He might help, by sympathy and grace. He has not passed from the remembrance of what He has suffered, for He is ever pleading His sufferings before the Father. His Passion, as He presents it, is the continual story of His sympathy towards us. Man indeed, passing from sorrow to triumph, forgets the sorrow, but Jesus keeps the sorrow fresh in His Heart. Called to Jesus, we are called, not into a mere resting place, but into the energy of Jesus. We cannot rest in Him unless His life is operating in us. Our whole life, like His, must be moved by the principle of Divine Love. We are to become published utterances of God. We are to be Missionary Epistles of Him. We cannot keep Jesus as an acquired treasure. Our Mission is to declare the Gospel of the Love of God, and to set it forth by speech, action and life.
Again: our Vocation or calling is in the power of the Holy Ghost, and that power is the power of Divine Love. The spirit of Love comes to fill us with an abiding energy of self-surrender. It teaches us not merely to cast away the things of earth, but to cast ourselves into the infinite welcome of the Will of God. It is a power manifested in weakness and difficulties. We must not be disheartened by the miseries of our earthly nature. We cannot pass in a little time from the life of earth to the life of God. The power of the Holy Ghost works gently, coming down like rain into the fleece of wool. We must not say our miseries hinder our triumph.
We must feel our misery in order to triumph. A great general is not one who is never defeated, but one who knows how to turn defeat into victory. We must thus learn how impossible it is to triumph by ourselves. But let the victory come through the gift and love of God. If we were not left at times to feel the vacillations of our own will, we should lay too much stress on it, and not come to know the victory by Christ's merits and of faith.
God's voice is revealed in us as our wills and affections correspond and are identified with the Divine Energy.
Our vocation is not to be regarded as an independent personal gift. The gifts to each soul are for the well-being of the whole Body of Christ.
Whatever we acquire in the City of God becomes necessarily effective. In the Heavenly City all are bound together by participating in one life.
The Voice of God speaking in the depths of our soul is the formation of the Religious Life.
It is supernatural in its origin and its development. The Voice is ever calling us on. The routine of our life may be just the same, as travellers crossing the ocean see the same circle of water day after day, yet it is not the same, for they are moving onward.
The Call is continuous and abiding. The life must be self-unfolding, the Life of God unfolding itself more and more within our souls. Never forgetting what it has called us to--living in watchfulness of its power, we have come to hear the Voice of God speaking in our souls.
Our call to obedience becomes intensified when we think of our relation to others. We do not know what souls may be saved by our observance of the call or what souls lost by its neglect. Our own soul may be at stake and our own end missed by our neglect. It is a deep truth that souls may be saved and yet miss the reward or end they might have attained.
There is safety in the Religious Life. It is under Divine protection. Christ Who calls, pledges Himself to our support. Obedience to Vocation is the way of safety. When our Lord calls us He pledges Himself to our support. It is like a marriage union between the soul and Himself. He knows what we are, our disposition, our character, our strength and weakness, but He takes us just as we are. He knows the restoring and re-creating power of His grace. He sees how He can re-create us in Himself. The soul need not consider its own defects or weaknesses, but should make a triumphant act of faith in His grace. He promises never to leave us, and that nothing shall pluck us out of His Hand. In every time of trial and temptation, He will be our succour and support. He will ever encourage us by His Presence and His renewed gifts of Grace. If we stumble, He will lift us up. If we fall, we shall not fall away. His All-sufficient merit will plead for us. His Holy Spirit will abundantly be given us. He will come to dwell within us, the Invincible Defence against all our enemies. He will give us a happy death and assurance of future felicity. Vocation is a heavenly lighted, spirit-guarded way through earth up to the Throne of God.
Have I prized and cherished my Vocation as I ought? Could a princess ever forget she was of the blood royal? Have I tried to live in obedience to its developing demands? Have I recognized that it is a progressive call, ever calling me to a closer walk with God? Have I lived in its power and thought of its eternal significance? Have I wept because it has been neglected or ignored by my human frailty? Has the Voice been an inspiring and uplifting one in my soul? Have I listened to it as the Voice of Jesus, calling me with a personal Love, ever forgiving, supporting, etc. How shall I not hereafter, with generous love, cherish and respond to it? How does He speak to me, saying with words indeed of commendation, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee," etc. (Revelation II. 4, 5.)
O Lord, Whose mercies are ever new, Who hast called me, renew in me the power of that call. Fill me with fresh desires, with the courage of endurance, with devotion to Thy counsels, with love of union to Thy life, emptying me of myself, and filling me with Thyself. May I become a true and faithful Religious, obedient to my Rule and seeking perfection.
COLLOQUY: ACTS OF LOVE
Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? Lo, here am I, send me. My life and all I have and am I give to Thee. My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed. My Jesus, Lord and Master, Light and Life of my soul. Jesus, blessed Redeemer, my Good Shepherd and dearest Spouse. I love Thee, I adore Thee. Give me of Thy Divine Love that with Thy Love I may love Thee as Thou shouldst be loved.
Words of Jesus: Fear not, my daughter, thou art mine, and I am thine. I will protect thee. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the floods, they shall not overflow thee. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of Life. (Prayer in P. B. Sixth Sunday after Trinity.)