COUNSELS CONCERNING A RELIGIOUS VOCATION
VI. DISPOSITIONS REQUIRED FOR ENTERING RELIGION
He who is called by God to a Religious Institute in which regular observance reigns should understand that the end of every such Institute is that its members walk in the footsteps and imitate as exactly as possible the example of the most holy life of Jesus Christ — a life entirely detached and mortified, full of sufferings and humiliations. I have said an Institute in which regular observance reigns, for it would be better, perhaps, to remain in the world than to enter a Religious Institute that is relaxed.* He, then, who resolves to enter such a Religious Institute must, at the same time, resolve to enter in order to suffer and deny himself in everything, as Jesus Christ has Himself declared to those who wish to follow Him perfectly: If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He must be firm in his resolution to suffer, and to suffer much, so that afterwards he may not give way to temptations, when, having entered Religion, he feels pressed down under the hardships and privations of the poor and mortified life which is led in Religion.
*”Si Institutum relaxatum est, melius erit alicui, ordinarie loquendo, quod in saeculo remaneat.” (Homo Apost.: Tract. Ult. 39).
There are many who, on entering a fervent Community, do not take the proper means of finding peace therein, and of becoming Saints, because they only place before their eyes the advantages of Community life, such as the solitude, the quiet, the freedom from the troubles caused by relatives, from strife and other disagreeable matters, and from the cares consequent on being obliged to think of one’s lodging, food, and clothing.
There is no doubt that a Religious is, indeed, much indebted to his Institute, which delivers him from so many troubles, and thus procures for him so great a facility to serve God perfectly in peace, continually furnishing him with so many means for the welfare of his soul, with the good example of his companions, and good advice from his Superiors, who are watchful for his benefit, and with so many exercises conducive to eternal salvation. All this is true; but in order not to be deprived of so blessed a lot, he must resolve to embrace all the sufferings he may, on the other hand, meet with in Religion; for if he does not embrace these with love, he will never obtain that full peace which God gives to those who overcome themselves: To him that overcomes I will give the hidden manna (Apoc. ii. 17). For the peace which God gives His faithful servants to taste is hidden; nor is it known to men of the world, who, seeing their mortified life, far from envying, pity them and call them the unhappy ones of this earth! But “they see the Cross, the unction they do not see,” says St. Bernard. They see their mortification, but they do not see the contentment which God gives them to enjoy.
It is true that in the spiritual life one has to suffer, but, as St. Teresa says, when one resolves to suffer the pain ceases. Nay, the pains themselves turn into joy. “My daughter,” so the Lord said one day to St. Bridget, “the treasure-house of My graces seems to be surrounded with thorns; but for him who overcomes the first prickles, all is changed into sweetness.” And then those delights which God gives to His beloved souls in their prayers, in their Communions, in their solitude; those lights, those holy ardours and that intimate union with God, that quiet of conscience, that blessed hope of eternal life — ah, who can understand them, if he does not experience them? “One drop of the consolations of God,” says St. Teresa, “is worth more than all the consolations and the delights of the world.” Our most gracious God knows well how, even in this valley of tears, to give him who suffers something for His sake, a foretaste of the glory of the Blessed; for in this is truly verified that which David says: Thou who feignest labour in commandment (Ps. xciii. 20). In the spiritual life, God, when announcing pains, tediousness, death, seems to feign labour, but, in fact, there is no labour; for the spiritual life brings to them who entirely give themselves to God that peace which, St. Paul says, surpasseth all understanding (Phil. iv. 7). It surpasses all the pleasures of the world and of worldlings. Hence we see a Religious more content in a poor cell than all the monarchs in their royal palaces. O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet (Ps. xxxiii. 9). He who has not made the trial cannot understand it.
On the other hand, he who does not resolve to suffer and to overcome himself in what is distasteful, must be persuaded that he will never enjoy this true peace, though he should have already entered Religion. To him that overcomes, I will give the hidden manna (Apoc. ii. 17). It is then necessary that he who wishes to be admitted into an Institute of observance should enter with a mind determined to overcome himself in everything, by expelling from his heart every inclination and desire that is not from God, or for God. Hence he must detach himself from all things, and especially from the following: Comforts, Parents, Self-esteem, and Self-will.