ENCOURAGEMENT TO NOVICES
VII. THE THOUGHT THAT ONE COULD BE MORE USEFUL TO ONE’S NEIGHBOURS IN THE WORLD THAN IN RELIGION
There is a temptation yet more dangerous, namely, the devil represents to a novice that he can be of more use in the world than in Religion. “You are come,” he says, “into this Community, where there are so many others striving to assist souls, but you could do far more good by remaining in your own country, which has such need of Apostolic labourers to help souls.” A man who feels this temptation must remember that the greatest good which we can possibly do is that which God wishes of us. He has no need of any one, and if He sees fit to send more help to your countrymen, He can do it by others. As He has called you into His House, it is there that you will find the good which He has appointed for you to do and it is this: to be perfectly obedient to your Rule and to the commands of your Superiors. If through obedience you should remain inactive in any one place, or be employed in sweeping the house or washing the dishes — these are the best works for you.
And what good can a man do in his own country? Jesus Christ Himself when asked to preach and do good in His own country, replied: No prophet is accepted in his own country (Luke iv. 24). This is so true that people have, indeed, a great repugnance to confess great faults to a priest who is their own relative and fellow-countryman, and is constantly amongst them, and they frequently prefer to go to strangers. As regards sermons, it is often said that those of a fellow-countryman are little valued by his hearers, because he is one of themselves, and they are accustomed to his voice. If a preacher were a St. Paul he would be listened to, at first, with great effect, but when he had been heard for six months or a year he would please less and be of less profit to his hearers. Missionaries for this reason do much good in the places they visit, because they are strangers, and their voice is new to the people. It is certain that a priest belonging to a Community, and, above all, a missionary, will save more souls in a single month and in a single mission, than if he had remained ten years labouring in his native place. Besides, by remaining in the same place, he can only assist those immediately around, whereas if he is engaged in missions he will save souls in a hundred, in a thousand different places. Again, a secular is sometimes doubtful and uncertain as to which, among different good works, is most pleasing to God; a Religious in obeying his superior, is certain of the will of God. Religious are those servants who may say with confidence: We are happy O Israel; because the things that are pleasing to God are made known to us (Baruch. iv. 4).
In fine, the devil tempts those whom God has, perhaps, favoured with spiritual consolations, such as the gift of tears, and sensible emotions of love, saying: “Do you not perceive that you are not called to an active life in Religion, but are intended for the contemplative, for solitude, and for union of the soul with God? You should choose some other Order or a hermitage.” If the devil were to tempt me in this manner, I should answer: “As you have mentioned Vocation, I ought to follow my Vocation rather than my inclination, or your suggestions; and, as God, in the first instance, has called me to an active Order, who will assure me that the thought of leaving it is an inspiration, and not a temptation?”
I would say just the same to you, my brother. God no doubt calls some to the active, and others to the contemplative life. But, as He has called you to an active Order, you should believe that any other thought comes from the devil, who thus tries to make you lose your true Vocation. St. Philip Neri says: “that we ought not to leave a good state for a better, unless we are certain that it is the will of God; and, therefore, if you would avoid error, you should be more than morally certain that God desires you to change.” But what certainty can you have, especially if your superior and your spiritual Father tell you that it is a temptation? Consider, moreover, St. Thomas teaches that though the contemplative life is in itself more perfect than the active, yet the mixed life — that is, one divided between prayer and action — is the most perfect of all; for such was the life of Jesus Christ Himself. And such is the life in all well-ordered active Communities, in which many hours are each day devoted to prayer and silence; and we may say that the Religious lead an active life when abroad, but are like so many hermits at home.
Therefore, my dear brother, suffer not the enemy to lead you away by specious pretexts, and be assured that if you leave the Congregation which has accepted you, you, like so many others, will repent when it will be too late to apply a remedy; for he who has once abandoned the Religious life will find it very difficult to be received again.