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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 2/Section 1/Chapter 2

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church

CHAPTER II. REFLECTION.Edit

" WITH desolation is all the land made desolate," says the prophet, " because there is none that considers in his heart." (Jer. xii, 11.) It is this absence of reflection that every day throws into careers not made for them men who are swayed, not by reason or by grace, but by the threefold concupiscence spoken of in St. John. Who can tell the amount of evil which this thoughtlessness begets in individuals, in families, and in society at large? How many beings lead hapless lives because they are out of their true way ; into how many dangers for salvation are not souls plunged inconsiderately, which might have been avoided by a little care and foresight ! What noble talents are buried in the earth, what grand intellects become utterly powerless ! What countless souls, capable of the sublimest achievements, waste away in trifles and folly ! " O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?" (Ps. iv, 3.) Do you not fear the endless despair of those who shall cry out on the day of wrath, " Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, we fools" ? (Wisd. v, 6.) " O that they" (young people) " would be wise and would understand, and would provide for their last end" (Deut. xxxii, 29), in the important affair of the choice of a state of life. " Prudence," says the Angelical Doctor, " is one of the most necessary virtues for human life. To live well is to do well ; but to do well, it is not enough to act. We must, besides, act in a proper manner, that is to say, follow a righteous decision, and not be led by mere impulse or passion."[1] But if this righteous decision is required in all human acts, it is still more heedful when there is question of one of the most decisive and important acts of our whole existence on earth. Now, among the faults opposed to prudence, St. Thomas reckons imprudence, precipitation, and thoughtlessness, or want of reflection.[2] This last defect consists in overlooking or neglecting things that may lead to a wrong judgment, and it is evident that this is a defect.[3]

But thinking, or reflection, ought to be used by a man chiefly in important undertakings, and therefore in the choice of a state of life. It is then, above all, that he should meditate carefully on the end of man here below. For, as St. Thomas remarks, to make a right and just choice, we must set before ourselves a proper end : "Rectitudo electionis requirit debitum finem"

In his Exercises, to which the Holy See has given such direct and laudatory approbation, and whose authority is consequently of the greatest weight, the illustrious founder of the Society of Jesus says that, in order to choose anything well, it is our duty, with a pure and single eye, to consider for what we were created, namely : for the praise of God, and our own salvation.[4]

The grand, fundamental, and luminous principle which should direct and enlighten this grave deliberation, is this : " Man was created for this end, that he might praise and reverence the Lord his God, and, serving him, at length be saved. But the other things which are placed on the earth were created for man's sake, that they may assist him in pursuing the end of his creation ; whence it follows that they are to be used or abstained from in proportion as they profit or hinder him in pursuing that end."[5] The letters of St. Liguori, from which we are about to make some quotations, aim at impressing these lofty thoughts on the minds of young men.

To a young man who asked his advice about the kind of life he ought to embrace, the saint wrote : "If you desire to follow the state of life that is the surest to reach salvation, which is for us the all-important point, remember that your soul is immortal, and that the end for which God placed you in this world is, assuredly, not to gain riches and honors, nor to lead an easy and agreeable life, but solely to merit everlasting life by the practice of virtue. On the day of judgment it will profit you nothing to have shed lustre around your family, nor to have shone in the world : the only thing that will then be of any service to you will be to have loved and served Jesus Christ, who will be your judge. The evil is, that in the world little thought is given to God, and to that other world in which we are to dwell for ever. All, or nearly all, the thoughts of men are for the things of earth. As a consequence, life is irksome, and worse than death itself. If, then, you wish to be sure of making a good choice of a state of life, represent yourself as at the point of death, and choose the state which then you will wish to have embraced. Remember that all things here below have an end. Everything passes away, and death advances toward us. At every step we take, we go nearer to death and to eternity. At the moment we think least of it, death will be at our door ; and then what comfort shall we find in the goods of this life? Shall we find in them anything more than delusion, vanity, falsehood, and folly? And all that will contribute only to make us end an unhappy life by a still more unhappy death."[6]

The holy doctor wrote in the same strain to a young lady: " Examine," said he, " what is most advantageous for you, what can best make you happy : whether it is to have for spouse a man of this earth, or to have for spouse Jesus Christ, the Son of the King of heaven. See which of these two alliances appears to you the better, and choose it. Consider likewise what may be the consequences of the state that you choose, either in going into the world, or in giving yourself to Jesus Christ. The world offers you the goods of this earth ; on the other hand, Jesus Christ holds out to you a cross. That is what he himself preferred while he was in this world. But he unites with it two immense advantages : peace of heart in this life, and heaven in the life to come. Blessed is he who saves his soul ; woe to him who damns it. See what has become of so many grand ladies, so many princesses and queens, who in the world were waited on, praised, honored, and all but adored. If they have had the misfortune to lose their souls, what have they now of all their wealth, their pleasures, and their honors? Remorse and torments that shall overwhelm them forever as long as God shall be God, and leave them not a ray of hope ever to retrieve their eternal loss. Hence, my dear daughter, since you have to choose a state in which to spend your whole life, take the one which you would be glad to have taken if you were about to die. Think well on it. In the world there is a vast number of women who damn their souls ; the number of those who lose their souls in convents is very small."[7]

When, by thoughts of this nature, the soul has convinced herself that all is vanity save loving God and serving him alone ; when she understands fully her real end, she must, besides, in a sincere election, reflect on the means suited and proper to that end : " Rectitudo electionis" says St. Thomas, "requirit id quod convenienter ordinatur aa debitum finem. [8]

" Those things alone are to be chosen," says St. Ignatius, " which conduce to our end, since in all cases the means ought to be subordinate to the end, not the end to the means. Wherefore they err who determine first to marry a wife, or take an ecclesiastical office or benefice, and then afterward serve God ; reversing the use of the end and means, and not going straight to God, but obliquely endeavoring to draw him over to their own perverse desires. The true way to act is the direct contrary : to set before ourselves first the service of God as our end, and then to choose marriage or the priesthood, as well as all other things, so far as it is expedient, they being ordered toward the end previously determined."[9]

" But in order to know what state will best suit our end, we must reflect. We must interrogate the experience of our past falls, the causes of our sins, the nature of our aptitudes, the excellences, the advantages, the dangers, of the several states of life. We will not enter here into any details. What we have said in the first part of this book, while it gives a correct idea of the different states of the Christian life, will also serve to direct the reflections which every serious mind ought to make. It is true that, while living in the world, it is not always easy to enter into one's self; and hence theologians[10] and the masters of the spiritual life advise persons who are about to choose a state of life, to spend some days in retreat in the quiet and retirement of a religious house, far from the noise of the world and the bustle of business. Here is what St. Liguori wrote to a young man : " If a spiritual retreat is good for all classes of persons, it is especially useful for any one that wishes to choose properly a state of life. The first object aimed at in the establishment of these pious exercises was the choice of a state."[11] The holy doctor afterward advised the same young man to read a book of meditation, which would take the place of sermons, and to get the Lives of the Saints. This advice is especially needful for those who cannot enjoy the benefit of a retreat. They should endeavor to make up this deficiency by serious reading, and by studying the examples of the chosen ones of God. Was it not on hearing read these words of Scripture, " Go, sell all thou hast" (Matt, xix, 21), that St. Anthony and St. Francis of Assisi resolved to enter on a poor and penitential life ? Was it not meditation on those other words of our blessed Lord, " What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he lose his soul "(Matt, xvi, 26), that opened the eyes of St. Francis Xavier to the vanities of the world and the glory of earth, and of a university professor made an apostle ? " Can I not do what others do?" St. Augustine used to exclaim, when thinking of men who led a chaste life ; and by putting himself this question, he stimulated himself to return from the wanderings of his early years. Let every one, then, who cannot snatch from his occupations the time necessary to shut himself up in solitude and meditate there, reflect every day while attending to his duties, and study in good books, and in the silence of a recollected soul, the heroism of saints and the glorious thoughts of our faith.

FootnotesEdit

  1. St. Th., I, 2, q. 57, a. 5.
  2. Id., 2, 2, q. 53, a. 2-4.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Praelud. ad elect.
  5. Ibid. "I.a. hebd. principium"
  6. St. Lig., " Answer to a Young Man." (Ascetic Works.)
  7. "Advice to a Young Woman."(Ascetic Works.)
  8. Ibid., St. Th., i, 2, q. 57, a. 5.
  9. Exerc. praelud. electionis.
  10. Lessius, De statu vita eligendo, q. 6, n. 77.
  11. "Retreat." (Ascetic Works.)