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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 2/Section 2/Chapter 4

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


THE question to be met in the choice of a state of life is this : Must I confine myself to the commandments, or must I undertake the practice of the counsels ? If I choose the counsels, shall I practise them in the world or in the religious state ?[1]

In order to answer this question, it is important that he who is about to make his choice should be free from every disorderly inclination, and be completely indifferent to everything ; having no other tendency than to follow the divine will, whatever it may be, as soon as it shall make itself known. To have a strong leaning toward riches, and little inclination for poverty, would not be a good disposition, and there would be no reason to expect much good from an election made in such a frame of mind. For, any inclination leading the soul away from the most perfect path, and drawing her to one less perfect, would impel the intellect to seek motives to strengthen still more this inclination, and the deliberation would issue in the soul's taking her own will for the will of God.[2]

Many go wrong, says our illustrious guide, and take as a divine call what is only a badly made choice. A divine call is always pure, clear, and free from carnal affection and perverse desire.[3] Therefore, he who is about to choose must have reached, by meditation on the example of our Lord and of his saints, such a state of indifference, as to be equally disposed to practise both counsels and commandments, or the commandments only, if such be the divine will.[4]

St. Liguori speaks in the same way : " He who is not in this indifference, and still prays to God to enlighten him on the choice of a state of life, and who, instead of conforming to God's will, rather asks God to conform to him, resembles a pilot that pretends to wish his vessel to advance, yet in reality does not want it to stir : he first throws out his anchor, and then unfurls his sails. God does not shed his light on souls thus disposed. On the other hand, if he prays to God with generous indifference, and a resolution to follow his holy will, God will show him clearly what state is best for him."[5]

Indeed, the best disposition for the choice of a state is not to be as ready to follow the counsels as the commandments, but even to be more inclined to what is most perfect.[6] " It is to be observed," says St. Ignatius, " that, when we perceive that our affections are opposed to perfect poverty, which consists in detachment from, and readiness to quit, all things, and that they rather incline to riches, it is very profitable, in order to rid ourselves of such affections, to ask God, even though the flesh resist, that he would call us to poverty. Meanwhile, we should preserve our will free, so that we may in the end go the way which is the more suitable for the service of God."[7] And truly, even though one were not to choose the state of perfection, because, perhaps, he is not called to it, this perfect disposition not only can do no harm, but must prove even very beneficial to the soul. Hence, during the spiritual exercises, the most perfect way is set before men as one that should be desired and asked of God. In this connection we call attention to the following saying of St. Ignatius, which is found in one of his writings : " He who directs another during a retreat, must so dispose him as to make him as ready to follow the counsels as the commandments. Indeed, then, we should have, as far as depends on us, greater readiness for the counsels, where the observance of them will contribute more to the glory of God. For, more evident tokens are required to decide that God wishes a soul to remain in the state of the commandments alone, than to believe that soul called to follow the path of the counsels ; for our Lord has very clearly exhorted men to embrace the counsels."[8]

These grave principles apply chiefly, it seems to us, to persons who have received from heaven more than ordinary talents. " Much shall be asked from him who has received much " (Luc. xii, 48), says our Lord. What we have received is not to be buried in the earth : now, St. Gregory tells us that we bury our talents when we devote them solely to earthly objects : Talentum abscondere est acceptum ingenium terrenis actibus implicare. (Hom. ix, in Evang.) In order to foster in the soul a disposition to embrace what is most perfect, we must be careful to meditate on the life of Christ; for, without such meditation, we will not make a good choice of a state of life, and will only hurt ourselves. Meditation strengthens the soul ; it enlightens it, lifts it above the earth, makes it fitter to know and do God's will, and to beat down every obstacle. The soul that gives up meditation is weak and in darkness.[9] "Lastly, let him who is choosing a state remain in deep recollection during his deliberations. Let him close the gates of his senses, and banish from his mind every other thought. Let him give no ear to any other voice than that of heaven. This means, first, that the soul should not allow itself to be distracted ; that it should bury itself only with its election, attend to it alone, and put aside every other interest. Secondly, it means that, during this deliberation, the soul should consider only heavenly motives ; that is, it should reject all reasons suggested by flesh and blood, and should not permit itself to be influenced by any human and earthly consideration. Every thought must start from and be based solely on this principle : the desire to glorify God and to do his holy will. This gives the soul great confidence that God will not allow her to be deceived. For, since she seeks him sincerely and with all her heart, he will never turn away from her, because his goodness is too great, and his love for his creatures is so boundless, that he often goes to meet those who flee from his face. Yet, though the choice is excellent when made out of love for God, nevertheless, if, as we already stated, any other motive combines to bend the soul in the same direction, the choice is not ill-made on that account, provided this secondary motive is not in opposition with faith or the divine will, and that it is good in itself; as, for instance, one s own consolation, quiet of mind, health, or some similar incentive. But this latter motive must not be the chief one, nor chiefly influence our decision ; and, besides, it must be subordinated to the love of God."[10]


  1. Direct., c. xxv, nn. 2, 3.
  2. Direct., c. xxiii, n. 3.
  3. Introduct. ad eligend. Tertinm.
  4. Ibid., n. 3.
  5. Ascetic Works "Retreat To a Young Man."
  6. Director., c. xxiii, n. 4.
  7. " Exercise on the Three Classes,"
  8. Director., c. xxiii ; n. 4.
  9. Ibid., c. xxx; n. 3.
  10. Director. , c. xxiii, n. 5.