Saturday, October 9, 2010
Why Our Lord Gave the Evangelical Counsels

FromThe Three Ages of the Interior Lifeby Rev Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Christ and the Rich Young Man

Christ said to the rich young man mentioned in St Matthew’s Gospel: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me.” The Evangelist adds: “When the young man had heard this word, he went away sad, for he had great possessions.” (St Matthew 19:21)

The effective practice of the three evangelical counsels (i.e. the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience) is not obligatory nor is it indispensable to reach the perfection toward which we must all tend, but it is a most suitable means more surely and rapidly to reach the end and not run the danger of stopping halfway.

We have said that a soul cannot reach perfection without having the spirit of the counsels, or the spirit of detachment. Now, it is difficult truly to have this spirit without the effective practice of this detachment, which seemed too hard to the rich young man. Sanctity can be attained in the married state, as we see from the lives of St Clotilde, St Louis, and Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, but it is more difficult and more rare to reach it by this common road.

It is not easy to have the spirit of detachment in regard to worldly goods, permitted pleasures, and our own will, if, in reality, we do not effectively detach ourselves from them. The Christian who lives in the world is often exposed to excessive absorption and preoccupation about a situation to be acquired or maintained for himself and his family. He is also in danger of forgetting to some extent that he must advance toward another life, another fatherland, and that to reach it, something is needed quite different from the understanding of worldly affairs: in other words, the help of God, which should be sought through prayer, and the fruit of grace, which is merit.

In family life he is also inclined to dwell on affections in which he finds a legitimate satisfaction for his need of loving. He is also led to forget that he must above all things love God with his whole heart, with his whole soul, with all his strength, and with his whole mind. Frequently charity is not in him a living flame which rises toward God while vivifying all other affections; instead, it is like a burning coal which slowly dies out under the ashes. This explains the ease with which a number of these Christians sin, scarcely reflecting that their sin is an infidelity to the divine friendship, which should be the most profound sentiment in their hearts.

Lastly, the Christian living in the world is often exposed to doing his own will, side by side, so to speak, with the will of God. After giving a few moments to prayer on Sundays and weekdays, he may organize his life from the simple, natural point of view in accordance with his reason which is more or less deformed by self-love and the prejudices or conventions of his environment. Then faith seems at times reduced to a number of sacred truths that have been memorized, but have not become truths of life. The understanding is then too much preoccupied with earthly interests, sometimes with diversions; should difficulties demanding great moral energy arise, the spirit of faith is often found wanting. The great truths about the future life, about the helps that come to us from Christ, remain practically inefficacious, like distant truths that have never been assimilated and are lost in the depths of the heavens. Practical faith is lacking then, a faith that would cause the light of the mysteries of salvation to descend into the midst of the difficulties of daily life.

Such are evidently the dangers which the Christian encounters when he does not seek to practice effectively the evangelical counsels in the measure possible to him. If he fails in this matter, he will go astray and fall progressively into three moral maladies radically opposed to the three counsels.

St John speaks of these evils when he says: “For all that is in the world (or according to its spirit) is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.” They are three purulent wounds which ravage souls and bring death to them by turning them away from God.

Banishment of our First Parents from Eden

These three moral wounds appeared in the world after the sin of the first man and our repeated personal sins. To understand their gravity, we should recall the fact that they replace in many souls the triple harmony that existed in the state of original justice. It is this triple harmony that Christ wishes precisely to re-establish by the three evangelical counsels. Originally, on the first day of creation there was perfect harmony between God and the soul, between the soul and the body, between the body of man and exterior goods. Harmony existed between God and the soul, since it is created to know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and by this means to obtain eternal life.

The first man, who was created in “the state of sanctity and original justice,” was a contemplative who conversed familiarly with God, as we read in the first chapters of Genesis. His soul found its principal nourishment in divine things, “a little less than the angels.” (Psalms 8:6). In the light of God, he considered all things, and he obeyed the Lord.

From this superior harmony came that which existed between the soul and the body, which was made to serve the soul. Since the soul was perfectly subordinated to God, it had dominion over its body. The passions or movements of the sensible appetites followed with docility the direction of right reason enlightened by faith and the impelling force of the will vivified by charity.

Finally, there was harmony between the body and exterior goods. The earth produced its fruits spontaneously without the necessity of being worked painfully; the animals were docile, or at least did no harm to man, who had received dominion over them.

Sin disturbed this triple harmony by destroying the highest of the three; it introduced the triple disorder, called by St. John “the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

Lucifer: "I will not serve."

Man revolted against the law of God; and the human soul, thenceforth inclined to pride, has often repeated: “I will not serve.” The soul has ceased to nourish itself with divine truth, and instead conceives its own narrow, false, ever-changing, little ideas. It wished to make for itself its own truths and principles, and to direct itself alone, limiting as far as possible the authority of God, instead of receiving from Him the salutary direction which alone leads to true life. Refusing to submit to the dominion of God, the soul has lost control over its body and its passions, which were made to obey the reason and will. What is more, the soul has often made itself the slave of the body, of its lower instincts: this is the concupiscence of the flesh. Many people so far forget their divine destiny as to be occupied from morning to night with their bodies, which become their idols. Their passions reign as masters; the soul becomes their slave, for passions that are antithetic, love, jealousy, anger, hatred, follow each other in the soul in spite of it. Instead of directing these passions, the soul is carried away by them as by wild horses which no longer know the bit.

Finally, the body, instead of making use of exterior goods, becomes their slave; it overtaxes itself at times to obtain an abundance of these exterior goods. It surrounds itself with useless luxury, to the detriment of the poor who are hungry. It must have all that glitters and makes a man seem important: this is the concupiscence of the eyes. After accumulating a fortune, many men are wholly absorbed in the care of maintaining and increasing it. Slaves to their business, they never find time to pray, to read a page of the Gospel, to feed their souls. They settle down here on earth as if they were going to stay here always, with hardly any concern for their salvation.

This triple slavery, which replaces the original triple harmony, is order overthrown. Christ came to restore the order that had been destroyed; with this end in view, He gave us the three evangelical counsels.

The three virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience are called religious or holy virtues because they are subordinated to the virtue of religion, which renders to God the worship that is due Him. By reason of its object, the worship due to the Lord, the virtue of religion is the first of the moral virtues; it takes its place immediately after the three theological virtues and infused prudence which directs it. It offers to God the acts of the three religious virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. To make certain of not turning back, the religious binds himself by the three corresponding vows, a triple engagement or promise to practice these three virtues, first for a time, then until death, following the example of Christ, who was obedient “unto death, even to the death of the cross.”

As the Savior offered Himself, the religious offers himself also in union with Him, giving his entire life as an oblation or sacrifice. Since the religious ought to offer everything, – exterior goods, body, heart, will, personal judgment – this sacrifice, if well made and not revoked as time goes on, truly deserves the title of holocaust. It ought to be lived daily in an ever more intimate manner; then it obtains the hundredfold promised by the Savior, who declared: “Amen, I say to you, there is no man who hath left house or brethren or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for My sake and for the gospel, who shall not receive a hundred times as much, now in this time, houses and brethren and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come, life everlasting.” (St Mark 10:29)

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