COUNSELS CONCERNING A RELIGIOUS VOCATION
IX. DETACHMENT (continued).
IV. From Self-Will.
He who enters Religion must absolutely give up his own will, and consecrate it without reserve to holy obedience. This condition is the most necessary of all. Of what use is it to leave comforts and relations and honours, and then bring into Religion one’s own will? Renouncement of self consists especially in this: in dying spiritually and in giving one’s self entirely to Jesus Christ.
The gift of the heart — that is, of the will — is what pleases Him most, and what He seeks from His sons and daughters in Religion. All our mortifications, all our meditations and prayers, and all other sacrifices, will be of little avail if there be not an entire detachment from and renouncement of self-will.
It is, then, evident that in this is the greatest merit before God. It is the only sure way of pleasing God in all things, because then each one can say what Jesus our Saviour said: I do always the things that please Him (Jo. viii. 29). He who in Religion lives without any will of his own may say and hope that in all he does, he pleases God; whether he studies or prays, or hears confessions; whether he goes to the refectory or to recreation, or to rest; for in Religion there is scarcely a step made, or a breath drawn, but in obedience to the Rule, or to Superiors.
The world does not understand, and even certain pious persons have little idea of, the great value of Community life under obedience. It is true that outside of Religious Communities there are found many persons who do much, and, may be, more than those who live under obedience — they preach, do penance, pray and fast, but in all this they follow more or less their own will. God grant that at the Day of Judgment they may not have to lament as those mentioned in Scripture: Why have we fasted and Thou hast not regarded, have we humbled our souls and Thou hast not taken notice? Behold, in the day of your fast, your own will is found (Is. lviii. 3). On which passage St. Bernard remarks: “Self-will is a great evil, for through it that which is good in itself may be for you no good at all.” This is to be understood when in all our exercises we seek not God, but ourselves. On the contrary, he who acts by obedience is sure that in all he does he pleases God. The Venerable Mother Mary of Jesus said that she valued exceedingly her Religious Vocation, principally for two reasons: the first was that in the monastery she enjoyed always the presence and company of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and the other, that there she belonged entirely to God, sacrificing her own will to Him by obedience.
It is related by Father Rodriguez that after the death of Dositheus, the disciple of St. Dorotheus, the Lord revealed that during the five years he had lived under obedience, though by reason of his infirmities he could not practise the austerities of the other monks, yet he had merited by virtue of obedience the reward of St. Paul the Hermit and of St. Anthony the Abbot.
He, then, who wishes to enter Religion, must resolve to renounce altogether his own will, and to will only what holy obedience wills. God preserve a Religious from ever letting escape from his lips the words “I will” or “I will not.” But in all things, even when asked by Superiors what he desires, he should only answer: “I will that which holy obedience wills of me.” And, provided there is no evident sin, he ought in every command imposed on him to obey blindly and without examination, because the duty of examining and deciding belongs not to him, but to his Superiors. Otherwise, even if in obeying, he does not submit his own judgment to that of the Superior, his obedience will be imperfect. St. Ignatius Loyola used to say that in matters of obedience prudence is not required in subjects, but in Superiors; and if prudence enters at all into obedience it is to obey without prudence. St. Bernard says: “Perfect obedience is indiscreet.” And in another place: “For a prudent novice to remain in a Congregation is an impossible thing”; and he gives the reason, saying: “To judge belongs to the Superior, and to obey to the subject.”
But to make progress in this virtue of obedience, on which all depends, he must always be ready to do all that for which he feels the greatest repugnance, and to be prepared to bear it peacefully when he sees that all he seeks or desires is refused him. It will happen that when he wishes for solitude, to apply himself to prayer or study, he will be the most employed in external labours. For though it is true that in Religion one leads as much as possible a solitary life when at home, and that for this end there are many hours of silence — the Retreat each year of ten days, in perfect silence, and of one day each month, besides the fifteen days before the receiving of the habit, and one of fifteen before the Profession, when the Vows are made — nevertheless, if it be an Institute of priests called to work and to be employed for the salvation of souls, the subject, if he is continually employed in this by obedience, ought to be content with the prayers and exercises of the community; he must be prepared sometimes to go even without these when obedience will have it so, without either excusing himself or being disquieted, being well persuaded of that of which St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was so confident when she said that “all the things which are done through obedience are so many prayers.”