COUNSELS CONCERNING A RELIGIOUS VOCATION
II. THE CALL OF GOD MUST BE OBEYED, AND OBEYED WITHOUT DELAY.
Whenever, therefore, God calls us to a more perfect state, he who does not wish to expose his eternal salvation to great risk must then obey, and obey promptly. Otherwise he will hear from Jesus Christ the reproach of that young man who, when invited to follow Him, said: I will follow thee, Lord, but let me first take my leave of them that are at my house (Luke ix. 61). Upon which, Jesus told him he was not fit for Paradise: No man putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God (Ib. 62). The lights which God gives are transient, not permanent gifts. Hence St. Thomas Aquinas says that the call of God to a more perfect state must be obeyed as quickly as possible — quanto citius. He proposes in his Summa the question whether it would be praiseworthy to enter Religion without having asked the counsel of many and without long deliberation. He answers in the affirmative, saying that counsel and deliberation are necessary in doubtful matters, but not in this, which is certainly good, because Jesus Christ has counselled it in the Gospel, and the Religious State embraces most of the Counsels of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful thing! When there is question of entering Religion to lead a more perfect life, and one more free from the dangers of the world, men of the world will say that it is necessary to deliberate a long time before putting such a resolution into execution, in order to ascertain whether the Vocation comes from God or from the devil! But they do not talk thus when it is a question of accepting a place in the Magistracy, or a Bishopric, and so on, where there are so many dangers of losing one’s soul. Then these men of the world do not say that many proofs are required that it is a true call from God.
But the Saints do not speak thus. St. Thomas says that even should a Vocation to Religion come from the devil, we should follow it as a good counsel, though coming from an enemy. St. John Chrysostom, as quoted by the same St. Thomas, says that God, when He gives such Vocations, wills that we should not delay, even for a moment, to follow them. Christ requires from us such an obedience that we should not delay an instant. And why this? Because, as God is much pleased to see a soul prompt in obeying Him, He opens His hand and fills that soul with His blessings. On the contrary, He is displeased with tardiness in obeying Him; He shuts His hand and withdraws His lights. Hence, the soul will follow its Vocation with difficulty, and will easily abandon it. Therefore, St. John Chrysostom says that when the devil cannot bring one to give up his resolution of consecrating himself to God, he at least seeks to make him defer the execution of it, and esteems it a great gain if he can obtain the delay of one day, or even of an hour. And why? Because a day later, or even an hour later, other occasions presenting themselves, it will be less difficult for him to obtain still greater delay, until he who has been called, finding himself more feeble and less assisted by grace, gives way altogether and loses his Vocation. Therefore, St. Jerome gives to those who are called to quit the world this advice: “Make haste, I beseech you, and cut rather than untie the cable by which your barque is bound fast to the land.” The Saint wished to say that as a man who should find himself in a boat on the point of sinking would seek to cut the rope rather than to untie it, so he who finds himself in the midst of the world ought to seek to get out of it as quickly as possible, in order to free himself from the danger which is so great in the world, of losing his soul.
Let us also hear what St. Francis de Sales writes, concerning Religious Vocation. It will confirm what has already been said, and what will be said hereafter: “To have a sign of a true Vocation, it is not necessary that our constancy be sensible, it suffices if it be in the superior part of our soul. And therefore we must not judge that a Vocation is not true if, before it is actually followed, a person no longer feels those sensible movements which he felt in the beginning, and even should he feel a repugnance and coldness, which sometimes makes him waver, and it appears to him that all is lost. It is enough that the will remains constant in not abandoning the divine call, and that there remains some affection for this call. To know whether God wills one to become a Religious, one ought not to expect that God Himself should speak or send an Angel from Heaven to signify His will. And as little necessary is it that ten or twelve Doctors should examine whether the Vocation is to be followed or not. But it is necessary to correspond with the first movement of the inspiration, and to cultivate it, and then not to grow weary if disgust or coldness should follow; for, in acting thus, God will not fail to make all succeed to His glory.
Nor ought we to care much from what quarter the first movement comes. The Lord uses many means to call His servants. Sometimes He makes use of a sermon, at other times of the reading of good books. Some, as St. Anthony and St. Francis, have been called by hearing the words of the Gospel; others by means of afflictions and troubles that came upon them in the world, and which suggested to them the motive for leaving it. These persons, although they come to God only because they are disgusted with the world or have lost its favour, nevertheless, because they give themselves to Him with their whole will, become sometimes greater Saints than those who entered Religion with a more apparent Vocation. Father Platus relates that a nobleman, riding one day on a fine horse, and striving to make a great display in order to please some ladies whom he saw, was thrown from the horse into the mire from which he rose besmeared and covered with mud. He was so full of confusion at this accident that at the same moment he resolved to become a Religious, saying: “Treacherous world, thou hast mocked me, but I will mock thee. Thou hast played me a game, I will play thee another; for I will have no more peace with thee, and from this hour I resolve to forsake thee and to become a friar.” And, in fact, he became a Religious and lived a holy life in Religion.