ENCOURAGEMENT TO NOVICES
VIII. ON THE MEANS OF PERSEVERING IN THE RELIGIOUS STATE
1. The first means for persevering in the Religious State is to avoid wilful faults. Let each one be persuaded that the devil tempts him to commit faults, not so much that he may do evil, as that he may lose his Vocation, for by deliberate faults he begins to lose his fervour in prayer, at Communion, and all the spiritual exercises. The Lord then justly witholds His especial graces, according to that of St. Paul: He who sows sparingly, shall reap sparingly (2 Cor. ix. 6). And this the more certainly if his defect be pride, for God resists the proud, and over these the devil acquires great power. So that whilst on the one hand, the tepidity of the novice increases, on the other, the Divine light diminishes; and thus it will not be difficult for the enemy to succeed in making him give up his Vocation.
2. Another means is to blow up the mine; that is, to reveal the temptation to the Superior. St. Philip Neri said, “that a temptation made known, is a temptation half conquered.” As an abscess, if unopened, becomes gangrened, so a temptation concealed brings on our own ruin. Experience shows that those who hide such temptations in their own bosoms, allow themselves to be brought into a position where they know not whether they should take the right or the left (that is, to doubt which way they ought to take, the right or the left), and generally lose their Vocation. It is necessary, therefore, to make one great effort, and discover all to the Superior. God will be so pleased by this act of humility, and by the violence the novice does to his feelings, that He will instantly enlighten his darkness and dissipate his doubts.
3. The third means is Prayer, that is, recourse to God, that He may give you the grace of Perseverance, a grace which, according to St. Augustine, can only be obtained by prayer. But let that novice who has received from God the gift of Vocation, and is tempted to abandon it, take care when he prays to Our Lord, not to say: “Lord, show me what I ought to do; enlighten me” — because God has already given him light by calling him to His holy House, and if he only asks for this grace, the devil, who can easily change himself into an angel of light, may deceive him and make him believe that the thought of leaving Religion is an effect of divine light. His prayer should rather be: “O Lord, Thou hast given me a Vocation, give me also strength to persevere in it.” A certain young man was called by God to the Religious state, and his Vocation being approved by his director, after many trials he joined a Religious Community. His parents did all in their power against him, and succeeded in prevailing upon him to go to another place, that he might more thoroughly examine his Vocation; unfortunately, instead of returning to the Community, he went home, satisfying his parents by this step, but displeasing God. When I asked him how it happened that he committed such an error, he replied, that he had prayed to God in these words: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth (1 Kings iii. 9). And afterwards he adopted the resolution of returning to his family. I said to him: “O my son, you were mistaken in your prayer. Your Vocation was certain, being confirmed by so many evident signs; you should not have said: Loquere, Domine, for God had already spoken, but: Confirma hoc, Deus, quad operatus es in me (Ps. lxvii. 26). (Give me, O Lord, strength to execute Thy will, which Thou hast made known to me). You omitted to do this, and, therefore, you lost your Vocation.” Let the misfortune of this young man serve as an admonition to others. Again, let not the novice endeavour to tranquillise his mind by the light of his own reason in such times of temptation, for they are indeed seasons of darkness and confusion; let him simply offer himself anew to God, saying: “O my God, I give myself to Thee, I will never leave Thee, help me lest I become unfaithful to Thee.” By repeating these words whenever the temptation returns, and, as I have already said, by making his state known to his Superior, he will certainly be victorious. He should recommend himself particularly at such times, to Mary, the Mother of Perseverance.
A novice once suffered himself to yield to a temptation of this kind, and was on the point of quitting the monastery, but, passing before an image of the Mother of God, he stopped and knelt down to repeat an Ave Maria, when he suddenly found himself fixed to the spot and unable to rise; upon which he repented, and made a vow of perseverance. He was immediately freed, and rising, went to ask pardon of the Master of novices, and continued firm in his Vocation.
Finally, I entreat you, my brother, whenever you are tempted concerning your Vocation, to reflect on these two points. First, that the grace of Vocation which God has given you, He has not given to many of your companions, some, perhaps, more deserving than you: He hath not done in like manner to every nation (Ps. clvii. 19). Therefore you should fear to be so ungrateful as to turn your back upon Him, for by so doing you would greatly endanger your eternal salvation. And rest assured that you will not have peace, but will be tormented, even to your dying day, with remorse because of your infidelity.
Secondly, if the temptation should present itself to your mind, that if you remain in Religion you will fall into despair and repent of it, and have to render an account to God for it, or things like those we have already spoken of; call to your thoughts the hour of death: you will not then regret that you followed your Vocation, but you will be filled with peace and contentment, instead of the anguish and remorse which would have followed on your having abandoned it. Keep this thought before your mind, and you will not lose your Vocation; you will enjoy in life, and at death, that peace, and hereafter that crown of glory, which God has prepared for His faithful servants.
An Act of Oblation and Prayer which the Novice should make frequently to obtain from God the Grace of Perseverance in his Vocation
My God, how can I ever thank Thee enough for having called me so lovingly to Thy family? How have I merited this grace after having committed so many offences against Thee? How many of my companions are left in the world amidst so many dangers of losing their souls, and in occasions of sin! and I am admitted to Thy House, and to the company of so many of Thy dear servants, and to so great an abundance of all things necessary for my sanctification! I hope one day O Lord, to testify my gratitude to Thee in Heaven, by singing eternally Thy mercies to me. Meanwhile I am all Thine, and desire to be so for ever. I will remain faithful and will never leave Thee, even had I to lay down my life, nay, a thousand lives, for Thy sake. I here dedicate myself to Thy will without reserve. Do with me whatever Thou pleasest. Let me live desolate, infirm, despised, if such be Thy pleasure. It is enough that I obey and please Thee. I desire only the grace to love Thee with all my strength, and to remain faithful to Thee till death. Most Holy Mary, my dear Mother, it is you who have obtained from God the so great graces which I have received, pardon of my sins, my Religious Vocation, and the strength to follow it; accomplish your work and obtain for me Perseverance unto death. This is my hope: so may it be!
SOME ADVICE TO A NOVICE UPON THE MEANS BY WHICH HE MAY PRESERVE HIS FERVOUR
When reproved or accused, never excuse yourself, and love cordially in God the person who accuses or reproves you. Love to be made little of in whatever manner it may be, whether in employment, or dress, or cell, or food, etc. Do not give your opinion unless you are asked.
Mortify yourself in all things, according to prudence and obedience, in eating, in sleeping, in hearing, seeing, etc.
Observe modesty when alone, as well as in the presence of others. Lay not your hand upon any person, nor look steadfastly in his face; keep your eyes continually cast down, especially in the church, at table, during recreation, and when abroad. Observe silence, except when there is need to speak for the glory of God, or for your own or your neighbour’s benefit. Be careful particularly during the time of recreation, not to raise your voice too loud. Avoid disputing or talking about your birth, talents, or riches; about eating, hunting, sports, war, or on the means of acquiring honours, riches, and such secular subjects, but endeavour to introduce pious conversation upon the vanity of honours, riches and pleasures of the world, on the love we owe to Jesus and Mary, on the happiness of the Saints, and on the means of advancing in perfection.
If you commit a fault, immediately humble yourself, make an act of contrition, and then rest in peace.
Desire nothing but what God wills.
Seek not consolations; and, in aridity, say to God with entire humility and resignation: “O Lord, I do not deserve consolations; I am content to remain in this state all my life.”
Frequently raise your mind to God by means of ejaculations, such as the following:
My God, I desire nothing but Thee,
Show me Thy will and I will accomplish it.
Do with me what Thou wilt.
I desire, O God, whatever Thou willest.
My Jesus, I love Thee, I love Thee.
I renounce all; Thou alone are sufficient for me.
My God and my all.
Jesus our love, and Mary our hope.
O good Jesus, mayst Thou be ever praised.
My life was Thy death, Thy death is my life.