ON THE ADVANTAGES OF THE RELIGIOUS STATE
II. CADIT RARIUS-THE RELIGIOUS FALLS MORE RARELY.
Religious are certainly less exposed to the danger of sin than seculars. Almighty God represented the world to St. Anthony, and before him to St. John the Evangelist, as a place full of snares. Hence, the holy Apostle said that in the world there is nothing but the concupiscence of the flesh, that is, carnal pleasures; the concupiscence of the eyes, or earthly riches; and the pride of life, or worldly honours, which swell the heart with pride. In Religion these poisoned sources of sin are cut off by the holy vows; for by the Vow of Chastity a Religious bids adieu to the pleasures of sense; by the Vow of Poverty the desire of riches is eradicated, and by the Vow of Obedience the ambition of empty honours is extinguished.
It is, indeed, possible for a Christian to live in the world detached from its goods; but he who handles pitch, as the saying is, easily blackens his hands. The whole world, says St. John, is seated in wickedness (1 Jo. v. 19). St. Ambrose, in his comment on this passage, says that they who remain in the world live under the miserable despotism of sin. The atmosphere of the world is noxious and pestilential for the soul, and he who breathes it easily catches some spiritual infirmity. Human respect, bad example, and evil conversations, are powerful incitements to earthly attachments, and to estrangement of the soul from God. Every one knows that the damnation of numberless souls is attributable to the occasions of sin so common in the world. From these occasions Religious who live in the retirement of the cloister are far removed. Hence St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was accustomed to embrace the walls of her convent, saying: “O blessed walls! O blessed walls! from how many dangers do you not preserve me!” Hence, also, blessed Mary Magdalen Orsini, whenever she saw a Religious laugh, used to say: “Laugh and rejoice, dear sister, for you have reason to be happy, being far away from the dangers of the world.”
III. SURGIT VELOCIUS-A RELIGIOUS RISES MORE SPEEDILY.
If a Religious should be so unfortunate as to fall into sin, he has, at least, the most efficacious helps to rise again. His Rule, which obliges him to frequent the holy Sacrament of Penance; his meditations, in which he is reminded of the Eternal Truths; the good example of his companions, and the reproofs of his superiors, are powerful helps to rise from his fallen state. Woe, says the Holy Ghost, to him that is alone; for when he falleth he hath none to lift him up (Eccles. iv. 10). If a secular forsake the path of virtue, he seldom finds a friend to admonish and correct him, and therefore he easily remains in his fallen state; but in Religion, if one falls he shall be supported by the other (Ibid.). If a Religious commits a fault, his companions assist him to correct and repair it. “He,” says St. Thomas, “is assisted by his companions to rise again.”
III. INCEDIT CAUTIUS-A RELIGIOUS WALKS MORE CAUTIOUSLY.
How much greater are the spiritual advantages enjoyed by Religious than those of the first princes or monarchs of the earth. Kings, indeed, abound in riches, honours, and pleasures; they have soldiers and lords to serve them, but they have no one who will dare to correct their faults, or to point out their duties. All abstain from alluding to their defects, through fear of incurring their displeasure; and to secure their esteem many even go so far as to applaud their vices. But, should a Religious go astray, he has many eyes upon him to correct him. His superiors and companions in Religion will not fail to admonish him and to point out his danger; and even the good example of his brother will remind him continually of the transgression into which he has fallen. Surely a Christian, who believes that eternal life is the one thing necessary, should set a higher value upon these helps to salvation than upon all the dignities and kingdoms of the earth.
As the world presents to seculars innumerable obstacles to virtue, so the cloister holds out to Religious continual preventatives against sin. In Religion the great care which is taken to prevent light faults is a strong bulwark against the commission of grievous transgressions. If a Religious resists temptations to venial sin, he merits by that resistance additional strength to conquer temptations to mortal sin; but if, through frailty, he sometimes yields to them, all is not lost-the evil is easily repaired. Even then the enemy does not get possession of his soul; at most he only succeeds in taking some unimportant outpost, from which he may be easily driven; while, by such defects, the Religious is taught the necessity of greater vigilance and of stronger defences against future attacks. He is convinced of his own weakness, and being humbled and rendered diffident of his own strength, he recurs more frequently and with more confidence to Jesus Christ and His holy Mother. Thus, from these falls, the Religious sustains no injury, since, as soon as he is humbled before the Lord, God stretches forth His all-powerful arm to raise him up. When he shall fall he shall not be bruised, for the Lord putteth his hand under him (Ps. xxxvi. 24). Such victories over his weakness contribute in some way to inspire greater diffidence in himself, and greater confidence in God. Blessed Egidius, of the Order of St. Francis, used to say that one degree of grace in Religion is better than ten in the world; because in Religion it is easy to profit by grace, and hard to lose it; while in the world, grace fructifies with difficulty, and is easily lost.