Q. What is a vow?
A. A vow is a voluntary promise made to God, to carry out a more perfect act.
Q. Is a vow binding in a matter which is the object of a commandment?
A. Yes. The carrying out of an act which is the object of a commandment has a double value and merit; and the neglect of such an act is a double transgression and evil, because by breaking such a vow we add to the sin against the commandment, the sin of sacrilege.
Q. Why do religious vows have such value?
A. Because they are the foundation of the religious life approved by the Church, in which the members bound together in a religious community undertake to strive always for perfection by means of the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, observed according to the rules.
Q. What is the meaning of the words, “strive for perfection?”
A. To strive for perfection means that the religious life does not in itself demand that perfection be already attained, but obliges, under the pain of sin, that we work daily to attain it. Therefore, a religious who does not want to become perfect neglects his principal duty of state.
Q. What are “solemn” religious vows?
A. “Solemn” religious vows are so absolute that, in extraordinary cases, only the Holy Father can dispense from them.
Q. What are simple religious vows?
A. These are vows which are less absolute – the Holy See dispenses from perpetual and annual vows.
(40) Q. What is the difference between a vow and a virtue?
A. A vow pertains only to that which is commanded under pain of sin; the virtue goes beyond this and helps in the carrying out of the vow; on the other hand, by breaking the vow we fail in the virtue and do it damage.
Q. To what do the religious vows oblige us?
A. The religious vows oblige us to strive to acquire the virtues and to submit ourselves completely to our Superiors and to the Rules which are in force; thus, the religious gives his own person to the Community, renouncing every right over himself and his actions, which he sacrifices to the service of God. The Vow of Poverty 49 The vow of poverty is the voluntary renunciation of the right over property or to the use of such property with the purpose of pleasing God.
Q. What objects does the vow of poverty concern?
A. All those goods and those objects which appertain to the Community. We have no longer any right over anything that has been given to us, once it has been accepted, whether an article or money. All these donations and presents, which may have been given us out of gratitude or in any other way, belong by right to the Community. We cannot make use, without violating the vow, of any wages we may receive for work or even any annuity.
Q. When do we break or violate the vow in a matter which entails the seventh commandment?
A. We break or violate it when, without permission, we take for ourselves anything that belongs to the house; when, without permission, we retain something on order to appropriate it; and when, without authorization, we sell or exchange something that belongs to the Community. When we make use of an object for some other purpose than that intended by the Superior. When we give to, or accept from another, anything whatsoever without permission. When, by negligence, we destroy or damage something. When, in going from one house to another, we take something with us without permission. In a situation where the vow is broken, the religious (41 ) is bound to restitution to the Community. The Virtue of Poverty This is an evangelical virtue which impels the heart to detach itself from temporal things; the religious, in virtue of his profession is strictly obliged to it.
Q. When do we sin against the virtue of poverty?
A. When we desire something, contrary to this virtue. When we become attached to something, and when we make use of superfluous things.
Q. How many degrees of poverty are there and what are they?
A. There are, in practice, four degrees of poverty for one who is a professed religious; to dispose of nothing without the consent of the Superiors (the strict matter of the vow); to avoid superfluities and be content with necessities (this pertains to the virtue); to readily content oneself with things of inferior quality in what concerns one‟s cell, clothing, nourishment, etc., and to experience this contentment interiorly; to rejoice in extreme poverty. The Vow of Chastity
Q. To what does this vow oblige us?
A. To renounce marriage and to avoid everything that is forbidden by the sixth and ninth commandments.
Q. Is a fault against the virtue a violation of the vow?
A. Every fault against the virtue is at the same time a violation of the vow, because here there is no difference as in the case of poverty and obedience, between the vow and the virtue. (42) 50
Q. Is every bad thought a sin?
A No, every bad thought is not a sin; it becomes so only when the acquiescence of the will and consent are joined to the consideration of the mind.
Q. Is there anything, over and above sins against chastity, which is detrimental to the virtue?
A. Lack of custody of the senses, of the imagination, of the feelings; familiarity and sentimental friendships are detrimental to the virtue.
Q. What are the means by which this virtue may be preserved?
A. To conquer interior temptations with the thought of the presence of God, and moreover to fight without fear. And for exterior temptations, to avoid occasions. There are, in all, seven principal means: to guard the senses, to avoid occasions, to avoid idleness, to remove temptations promptly, to remove oneself from all – and especially particular friendships, the spirit of mortification, and to reveal all these temptations to one‟s confessor. Besides this, there are also five means of preserving this virtue: humility, the spirit of prayer, modesty of the eyes, fidelity to the rule, a sincere devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Vow of Obedience The vow of obedience is superior to the first two. It is, to tell the truth, a holocaust, and it is more necessary because it forms and animates the monastic body.
Q. To what does the vow of obedience oblige us?
A. By the vow of obedience, the religious promises to God to be obedient to his legitimate superiors in everything that they will ordain in virtue of the rule. The vow of obedience makes the religious dependent on his superior in virtue of these rules for his whole life and in all his affairs. A religious commits a grave sin against the vow every time he disobeys and order given (43) in virtue of obedience and of these rules. The virtue of obedience goes further than the vow; it embraces the rules, the regulations and even the counsels of the superiors.
Q. Is the virtue of obedience indispensable for a religious?
A. The virtue of obedience is so indispensable to a religious that, even if he were to perform good actions contrary to obedience, these would be evil and without merit. Q. Can we sin gravely against the virtue of obedience? A. We sin gravely when we scorn the authority or the order of the superior, or when spiritual or temporal harm to the community results from our disobedience.
Q. What faults endanger the vow?
A. To be prejudiced against the superior, or to harbor an antipathy for him – murmuring and criticism, tardiness and negligence. The Degrees of Obedience 51 Prompt and complete fulfillment – the obedience of the will, when the will persuades the intellect to submit to the advice of the superior. To facilitate obedience, Saint Ignatius suggests, moreover, three means: always to see God in our superior, whoever he might be; to justify in itself the order or advice of the superior; to accept each order as an order from God, without examining it or reflecting on it. General means: humility. Nothing is difficult for the humble.
94 (44) O my Lord, inflame my heart with love for You, that my spirit may not grow weary amidst the storms, the sufferings and the trials. You see how weak I am. Love can do all. 95 + A Deeper Knowledge of God and the Terror of the Soul. In the beginning, God lets himself be known as Holiness, Justice, Goodness – that is to say, Mercy. The soul does not come to know this all at once, but piecemeal, in flashes; that is to say, when God draws near. And this does not last for long because the soul could not bear such light. During prayer the soul experiences flashes of this light which make it impossible to pray as before. Try as it may to force itself to pray as it did before, all is in vain; it becomes completely impossible for it to continue to pray as it did before it received this light. This light which has touched the soul is alive within it, and nothing can either quench or diminish it. This flash of the knowledge of God draws the soul and enkindles its love for Him. But this same flash, at the same time, allows the soul to know itself as it is; the soul sees its whole interior in a superior light, and it rises up alarmed and terrified. Still, it does not remain under the effects of terror, but it begins to purify itself, to humble and abase itself before the Lord. These lights become stronger and more frequent; the more the soul is crystallized, t5he more these lights penetrate it. However, if the soul has responded faithfully and courageously to these first graces, God fills it with His consolations and gives himself to it in a perceptible manner. At certain moments, the soul, as it were, enters into intimacy with God and greatly rejoices in this; it believes that it has already reached the degree of perfection destined for it, because its defects and faults are asleep within it, and this makes it think that they no longer exist. Nothing seems difficult for it; it is ready for everything. It begins to plunge itself into God and taste the divine delights. It is carried along by grace and does not take account of the fact that the time of trial and testing may come. And, in fact, this state does not last long. Other moments will soon come. I should add here, however, that the soul will respond more faithfully to divine grace if it has a well-informed confessor to whom it can confide everything. 96 (45) + Trials sent by God to a soul which is particularly loved by Him. Temptations and darkness; Satan. The soul‟s love [for God] is still not such as God would have it. The soul suddenly loses the tangible perception of God‟s presence. Various defects and imperfections rise up within it, and it must fight them furiously. All her faults lift up their heads, but the soul‟s vigilance is great. The former awareness of the presence of God gives place to coldness and spiritual dryness; the soul has no taste for spiritual exercises; it cannot pray, either in the old way, or in the manner in which it had just begun to pray. It struggles this way and that, but can find no satisfaction. God has hidden himself from it, and it can find no consolation in creatures, nor can any of these creatures find a way of consoling it. The soul craves passionately for God, but sees its own misery; it begins to sense God‟s 52 justice; it seems to it that it has lost all the gifts that God had given it; its mind is dimmed, and darkness fills it; unspeakable torment begins. The soul tries to explain its state to the confessor, but it is not understood and is assailed by an even greater unrest. Satan begins his work. 97 Faith staggers under the impact; the struggle is fierce. The soul tries hard to cling to God by an act of will. With God‟s permission, Satan goes even further: hope and love are put to the test. These temptations are terrible. God supports the soul in secret, so to speak. The soul is not aware of this, but otherwise it would be impossible to stand firm, and god knows very well how much He can allow to befall a soul. The soul is tempted to unbelief in respect to revealed truths and to insincerity toward the confessor. Satan says to it, “Look, no one understands you; why speak about all this?” Words that terrify it sound in its ears, and it seems to the soul that it is uttering these against God. It sees what it does not want to see. It hears what it does not want to hear. And, oh, it is a terrible thing at times like these not to have an experienced confessor! The soul carries the whole burden alone. However, one should make very effort to find, if it is all possible a well-informed confessor, for the soul can collapse under the burden and come to the very edge of the precipice. (46) All these trials are heavy and difficult. God does not send them to a soul which has not already been admitted to a deeper intimacy with Him and which has not yet tasted the divine delights. Besides, in this God has His own plans, which for us are impenetrable. God often prepares a soul in this way for His future designs and great works. He wants to try it as pure gold is tried. But this is not yet the end of the testing; there is still the trial of trials, the complete abandonment of the soul by God. + The Trial of Trials, Complete Abandonment – Despair 98 When the soul comes out victorious from the preceding trials, even though it may stumble here and there, it fights on valiantly, humbly calling upon God, “Save me, I am perishing!” And it is still able to fight on. At this point, however, the soul is engulfed in a horrible night. It sees within itself only sin. It feels terrible. It sees itself completely abandoned by God. It feels itself to be the object of His hatred. It is but one step away from despair. The soul does its best to defend itself; it tries to stir up its confidence; but prayer is an even greater torment for it, as this prayer seems to arouse God to an even greater anger. The soul finds itself poised on the summit of a lofty mountain on the very brink of a precipice. The soul is drawn to God, but feels repulsed. All other sufferings and tortures in the world are as nothing compared with this sensation into which it has been plunged; namely, that of being rejected by God. No one can bring it any relief; it finds itself completely alone; there is no one to defend it. It raises its eyes to heaven, but is convinced that this is not for her – for her all is lost. It falls deeper and deeper from darkness to darkness, and it seems to it that it has lost forever the God it used to love so dearly. This thought is torture beyond all description. But the soul does not agree to it and tries to lift its gaze toward heaven, but in vain! And this makes the torture even more intense. (47) If God wishes to keep the soul in such darkness, no one will be able to give it light. It experiences rejection by God in a vivid and terrifying manner. From its heart burst forth painful moans, so painful that no priest will comprehend it, unless he himself has been 53 through these trials. In the midst of this, the evil spirit adds to the soul‟s suffering, mocking it: “Will you persist in your faithfulness? This is your reward; you are in our power!” But Satan has only as much influence over the soul as God allows him, and God knows how much we can bear. “What have you gotten out of your mortifications,” says Satan, “and out of your fidelity to the rule? What use are all these efforts? You have been rejected by God!” This word, rejected, becomes a fire which penetrates every nerve to the marrow of the bone. It pierces right through her entire being. The ordeal reaches its climax. The soul no longer looks for help anywhere. It shrinks into itself and loses sight of everything; it is as though it has accepted the torture of being abandoned. This is a moment for which I have no words. This is the agony of the soul. 99 When for the first time this moment was drawing near, I was snatched from it by virtue of holy obedience. The Directress of Novices, alarmed by me appearance, sent me off to confession, but the confessor did not understand me, and I experienced no relief whatsoever. O Jesus, give us experienced priests! When I told this priest I was undergoing infernal tortures, he answered that he was not worried about my soul, because he saw in it a great grace of God. But I understood nothing of this, and not even the least glimmer of light broke through to my soul. 100 Then my physical strength began to fail me, and I could no longer carry out my duties. Nor could I any longer hide my sufferings. Although I did not say a word about them, the look of pain on my face betrayed me. The Superior told me that the sisters had come to her saying that, when they look at me in the chapel, they are moved to pity because I look so terrible. Yet, despite all efforts, the soul is unable to conceal such suffering.