ON THE ADVANTAGES OF THE RELIGIOUS STATE
Well may the words addressed by Moses to God in regard to the children of Israel, after their delivery from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and the bondage of Egypt, be applied to Religious: In thy mercy thou hast been a leader to the people which thou hast redeemed, and in thy strength thou hast carried them to thy holy habitation (Exod. xv. 13). As the Hebrews, compared with the Egyptians, were, in the Old Law, the beloved people of God, so are Religious, contrasted with seculars, in the New Law. And as the Hebrews went forth from Egypt, a land of labour and slavery, where God was not known, so Religious retire from the world, which gives to its servants no other recompense than pains and bitterness and in which God is but little known. Finally, as the Hebrews in the desert were guided by a pillar of fire to the Land of Promise, so Religious are conducted by the light of the Holy Ghost into the sanctuary of Religion, which is like the Promised Land of Heaven. In Heaven there is no thirst for earthly riches, or for sensual pleasures, or of doing one’s own will; in the cloister, by means of the holy Vows of Obedience, Poverty, and Chastity, these pernicious desires are effectually excluded. In Heaven, to praise God is the constant occupation of the Saints, and in Religion, it is the same, since every act of the Community is referred to the glory of His Name. “You praise God,” says St. Augustine, “by the discharge of every duty; you praise Him when you eat or drink; you praise Him when you rest or sleep.” Religious praise the Lord by regulating the affairs of the monastery, by assisting in the sacristy, or at the grate; they praise God when they go to table; and they praise Him when they retire to rest and sleep; in a word they praise God in everything they do. Lastly, in Heaven the Saints enjoy continual peace; because they find in God the Source of every good; and, in Religion, where God alone is sought, is found that peace which surpasses all understanding, and contentment which the world cannot give. Well, then, might St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi say, that Religious should have a high esteem and veneration for their state; since, after Baptism, a Vocation to Religion is the greatest grace which God can bestow.
You should, therefore, hold the Religious state in higher esteem than all the dignities and kingdoms of the earth. In that state you are preserved from sins, which you would commit in the world; there you are constantly occupied in holy exercises; there you have every day opportunities of meriting eternal joys; there you are the spouse of Jesus Christ, and, after this short life, He will make you to reign in the eternal kingdom of His glory. How is it that this grace is yours in preference to so many others more worthy than you? Black, indeed, must be your ingratitude if you do not, with all the love of your heart, thank God every day for the great grace of your Vocation. No one has described the advantages of the Religious state better than St. Bernard. The holy Doctor asks: “Is not the Religious state holy, in which a man lives more purely, falls more rarely, rises more speedily, walks more cautiously, is bedewed with grace more frequently, rests more securely, dies more confidently, is purified more quickly, and rewarded more abundantly?” Let us examine these advantages one by one, and see the great treasures which each of them contains.
I. VIVIT PURIUS-A RELIGIOUS LIVES MORE PURELY
All the works of Religious, considered in themselves, are most pure and acceptable before God. This great purity consists in doing what we do solely to please God. Hence, our actions will be agreeable to God in proportion to their conformity to His holy will, and to their freedom from self-will. The actions of a secular, however holy and fervent they may be, partake more of self-will than those of Religious. Seculars pray, receive Holy Communion, hear Mass, make Spiritual Reading, take the discipline, and recite the Divine Office when they please. But a Religious performs these duties at a time prescribed by obedience — that is, when God wills them, for it is God Himself speaks through obedience. Hence, a Religious, who obeys his Rule and superiors, merits, not only by his prayers and other spiritual duties, but also by his labours, his recreations, his attendance at the door, his meals, his amusements, and his repose. For, in doing these things, not through self-will, but by obedience, he does in each the holy will of God, and by each gains merit.
Oh! how often does not self-will vitiate the most holy actions! Alas! to how many, on the day of judgment, when they shall ask, in the words of Isaias, the reward of their labours — Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded? — have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? — to how many, I say, will not our Lord answer — What pretence! Reward for you! Behold in the day of your fast your own will was found (Is. lviii. 3). Have you not, in doing your own will, already received the recompense of your toil? Have you not, in all your works, sought your own pleasure rather than Mine? Abbot Gilbert says that the smallest work of a Religious is more meritorious than the greatest action of a secular. St. Bernard asserts that if a person in the world did the fourth part of what is ordinarily done by Religious, he would be venerated as a saint. And has not experience shown, that the virtues of many, whose sanctity shone resplendent in the world, faded away before the bright example of the fervent souls, whom, on entering Religion, they found in the cloister? A Religious, then, because in all his actions he does the will of God, can truly say that he belongs entirely to Him. The Venerable Mother Mary of Jesus, Foundress of the Convent of Tolouse, used to say that she entertained a high esteem for her Vocation — first, because a Religious enjoys the society of Jesus Christ, Who, in the Blessed Sacrament, dwells with her in the same house; and secondly, because a Religious, having by the vow of obedience sacrificed her own will and her whole being to God, belongs unreservedly to Him.