ON THE ADVANTAGES OF THE RELIGIOUS STATE
VI. A RELIGIOUS RESTS MORE SECURELY (continued).
It is true that, even in the cloister, there are some discontented souls; and why, I ask? Because they do not live as Religious ought to live. To be a good Religious, and to be content, are one and the same thing. Of necessity, therefore, does the happiness of a Religious consist in a constant and perfect union of his will with the will of God. Whosoever is not thus united with Him cannot be happy; for God will not infuse His consolations into a soul that resists His holy will. Hence, I am accustomed to say, that a Religious in the cloister enjoys a foretaste of Paradise, or suffers an anticipation of hell. For what is hell? It is to be separated from God, to be forced against the inclinations of nature, to do the will of others, to be distrusted, despised, reproved, chastised, to be in a place out of which there is no escape — in a word, it is to be in continual torture without a single moment’s peace. Such is the miserable condition of a bad Religious; and therefore he suffers on earth an anticipation of the torments of hell. On the other hand, what is Paradise? The happiness of Paradise consists in freedom from the cares and afflictions of the world; in conversation with the Saints; in a perfect union with God, and in the enjoyment of continual peace. A perfect Religious possesses all these blessings, and therefore receives in this life a foretaste of Paradise.
It is, indeed, true that fervent Religious have their crosses to carry here below, for this life is a state of merit, and consequently of suffering. The inconveniences of common life are burdensome; the reproofs of superiors, and the refusal of permissions galling; the mortification of the senses painful; self-love complains at the contradiction and contempt one meets with. But to a Religious who desires to belong entirely to God, all these occasions of suffering are so many sources of consolation and delight; for he knows that by embracing pain, he offers a sweet odour to God. St. Bonaventure says that the love of God is like honey, which sweetens every bitter. The Venerable Caesar de Bustis addressed a nephew who had entered Religion in the following words: “My dear nephew, when you look up at the heavens think of Paradise; when you see the world, reflect on hell, where the damned endure eternal torments without a moment’s enjoyment; when you behold your monastery, remember purgatory, where many just souls suffer in peace and with a certainty of eternal life.” And what more delightful than to suffer — if suffering it can be called — with a tranquil conscience, to suffer for Jesus, and with an assurance that one day every pain will become a gem in an everlasting crown? Ah! the brightest jewels in the diadems of the Saints are the sufferings which they endured in this life with patience and resignation.
God is faithful to His promises, and bountiful beyond measure. He knows how to remunerate His servants, even in this life, by interior sweetness, for the pains which they patiently suffer for His sake. Experience shows that Religious who seek consolation and happiness from creatures are always discontented, whilst they who practise the greatest mortifications enjoy continual peace. Let us, then, be persuaded that neither pleasures of sense, nor honours, nor riches, nor the world with all its goods, can make us happy. God alone can content the heart of man. Whoever finds Him, possesses all things. Hence St. Scholastica says, that if men knew the peace, which Religious enjoy in retirement, the entire world would become one great convent; and St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi used to say that men would abandon the delight of the world, and force their way into Religion. Hence St. Laurence Justinian says that “God has designedly concealed the happiness of the Religious state, because if it were known, all would relinquish the world and fly into Religion.”
The very solitude, silence and tranquility of the cloister gives to the soul that loves God a foretaste of Paradise. Father Charles of Lorrain, a Jesuit of royal extraction, used to say that the peace which he enjoyed during a single moment in his cell repaid him well for the sacrifice he had made in quitting the world. Such was the happiness which he sometimes experienced in his cell, that he would dance for very joy. Arnolf, a Cistercian, comparing the riches and honours of the court which he had left, with the consolations which he found in Religion, exclaimed: “O Jesus, true indeed is Thy promise, offering a hundred-fold to him who leaves all things for Thy sake!” St. Bernard’s monks, who led lives of great penance and austerities, received in their solitude such spirtual delights, that they were afraid they should obtain in this life the reward of their labours. Let it be your care to unite yourself closely to God; to embrace with peace the crosses He sends you; to love what is most perfect; and, when necessary, to do violence to yourself. But to have the necessary strength you must pray continually; pray in your meditations, in your Communions, in your Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and especially when you are tempted by the devil; thus you will be amongst those fervent souls who are more happy and content than all the princes and kings and emperors of the earth.
Beg of God to give you the spirit of a perfect Religious; that spirit which impels the soul to act, not according to the dictates of nature, but according to the inspirations of grace, or from the sole motive of pleasing God. This is to be a true Religious. What use is it to wear the habit of a Religious if in heart and soul you be a secular, and live according to the maxims of the world? Whosoever profanes the garb of Religion by a worldly spirit and a worldly life, has an apostate heart. “To maintain,” says St. Bernard, “a secular spirit under the habit of Religion is apostacy of heart.” The spirit of a Religious requires an exact obedience to the Rules, and to the orders of the superiors, together with great zeal for the interests of Religion. There are some who wish to become Saints, but only according to their own caprice; that is, by long silence, prayer, and spiritual reading, without taking part in any of the offices of the Community. Hence, if they are appointed porters, or given any occupations that keep them from their devotions, they become impatient, complain, and sometimes obstinately refuse to obey, saying that such offices are to them occasions of sin. Oh! such is not the spirit of a Religious; surely what is conformable to the will of God cannot hurt the soul. The Religious spirit requires a total detachment from the world, great love of prayer, silence, and recollection, an ardent zeal for exact observance, a deep abhorrence of sensual indulgence, intense charity towards all men, and finally, a love of God capable of subduing and ruling all the passions. Such is the spirit of a perfect Religious. Whosoever does not possess this spirit, should, at least desire it and earnestly beg God’s assistance to obtain it. In a word, the spirit of a Religious supposes a total disengagement of the heart from everything which is not God, and a perfect consecration of the soul to Him, and to Him alone.