ENCOURAGEMENT TO NOVICES
V. DOUBTS ABOUT THE VOCATION ITSELF
But I have not yet done. There remains a still more dangerous temptation. Those which I have hitherto described are worldly and carnal, and it is more easy therefore to recognise them as coming from the devil, and overcome them. It is different with temptations which conceal themselves under the appearance of devotion and a greater good; these are more terrible, and more easily mislead.
The first of these temptations, ordinarily, is to throw doubt on the Vocation itself. “Who can say,” the devil suggests, “whether yours is a true Vocation, or only fancy? If you have not been really called by God, you will not receive the grace of perseverance, and after you have made the vows you will repent and apostatize; you might have saved your soul in the world, and here it may be lost.” In order to overcome this temptation you must consider how one can know that his Vocation is certain. A Vocation is certain when three things concur — first, a good intention; that is to say, the desire of escaping from the dangers of the world, of better ensuring eternal salvation, or of becoming more closely united to God; secondly, when there is no positive impediment in regard to health or talent, or necessity of parents, and upon all these the novice should be perfectly at rest after he has submitted them to the judgment of his superiors sincerely and truthfully; thirdly, when he is accepted by the superiors. Now, where there is a concurrence of these three things, the novice should not doubt that he has a true Vocation.
VI. THE THOUGHT THAT ONE COULD LIVE MORE DEVOUTLY IF ONE WERE FREE
Another temptation which the evil spirit employs with those who, before entering Religion, led a spiritual life, is: “When you were in the world,” he says, “you prayed more than now, you practised more mortifications, you observed silence better, were more recollected, and gave more alms and so forth. You are not able to do all these good things now, and still less will you be when you have finished your novitiate, for your superiors will then put you to study or employ you in some office in the Community, or in other things of obedience which will divert you from these pious works.” O what an illusion! If a novice heeds such a temptation it is a sign that he does not understand the great merit of obedience. He who offers all his prayers to God (and St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi says that everything which is done in a religious community is prayer), his alms, his fasts and penances, gives to Him a part of what belongs to him, but not all; or, to speak more correctly, he gives what he possesses, but he does not give himself; whereas he who renounces his own will by a vow of obedience, gives himself entirely to God, and may say: “Lord, having consecrated my whole will to Thee, I have nothing more to give.” His own will is the thing of which it is the most difficult for a man to divest himself, but it is the gift which is most acceptable to God, and which He requires of us. My son give me thy heart (Prov. xiii. 26), that is, thy will; and therefore Our Lord declares that obedience is more pleasing to Him than all other sacrifices. Obedience is better than sacrifices (1 Kings, xv. 22). Thus he who gives himself to God by obedience obtains, not once only, but for ever, a victory over the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world, and whatever else may stand in the way of his perfection. An obedient man shall speak of victory (Prov. xxi. 28). A man who lives in the world, no doubt, gains merit by his fasts, disciplines, prayers, and such like, but following in these his own will, he gains less than a Religious, who does all through obedience. The Religious gains more merit, and gains continually, because everything in the Community is done under obedience. Here he merits not only when he prays, or fasts, or takes the discipline, but also when he studies, or takes the fresh air, or sits at table, or makes recreation, or takes repose. St. Aloysius Gonzaga used to say, that in the vessel of religion we always advance, even when we do not ply the oar. Hence we understand how persons who have led a spiritual life in the world have sought to submit themselves to obedience by entering some Religious Order, well knowing the greater merit of good works that are performed through obedience.