§§ 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Of several grounds and motives by which souls may be induced to undertake a religious state.
§§ 8, 9. What motives are perfect and what unfitting; and how a soul once engaged has then a necessary divine vocation to continue, &c.
1. Before I quit this passion of fear, it will neither be impertinent nor unprofitable, I hope, to speak somewhat of a temptation taken notice of by Thaulerus, the which affords great matter of fear to some tender souls, and regards their vocation to a religious life. The case stands thus:
2. Some tender souls in religion, that have good minds and wills to persevere in seeking God, but being unsatisfied with themselves because they see so many imperfections not yet amended, yea, some that they had not observed before they entered into that state, impute all their unsuccessfulness in curing their defects to God's judgment upon them, for having upon light or vain grounds of their own choice undertaken such a state of life for outward, and perhaps unworthy, ends, as to avoid worldly troubles, wants, persecutions, &c., and not out of a pure intention to seek God, nor from any inspiration from Him.
3. But to show the groundlessness of such scrupulous apprehensions, such suspicious souls may do well to consider, first, that in these wicked times, in which there is such a decay of charity in the world and of fervour in religion, such heroical enterprises and such admirable calls to a religious state are not every day to be expected as we read of in former times, when kings and princes, sometimes even in the prime vigour of their age, out of a loathing of transitory things and a longing after God, renounced all the abundance of wealth, pleasure, and glory that the world could afford, inasmuch as they were impediments to their holy designs of embracing solitude, poverty, and all other penitential austerities in religion. So that it is much to be doubted, that if the greatest part of those that now enter into religion had met with the like temptations and offers in the world as those despised, most of our cells would be empty, and our convents become true deserts. Yet all this does not argue that because the calls to religion usual in these days are not so extraordinary as formerly, therefore they are insufficient, or not at all divine. For though our intentions now are not so heroical and deiform (because our charity is not so inflamed), yet for the substance of them they may be upright.
4. Secondly, they ought to consider that God is often pleased, in love to certain souls that perhaps would be in danger to make shipwreck of that imperfect charity which is in them if they continued in the world, to permit by an especial providence certain external casualties to befall them, by which they may be in some sort compelled to retire into the secure solitude of a religious state. For which purpose also He removes many impediments to such a course, depriving them of their dearest friends, riches, &c., crossing also their designs, which if they had succeeded would have chained them to the world. Hence it is that some for want of a comfortable subsistence; others to avoid suits and other troubles, or even for want of bodily strength, and being disabled to taste the pleasures of the world; others out of a tediousness and satiety of sensual contentments; lastly, some out of a deep remorse for some special crimes, or other respects no better than these, are induced to embrace a religious state. None of which respects notwithstanding, without some degree of charity, would probably have been sufficient to have produced this change, as neither would charity alone, had it not been actuated and quickened by such considerations. Now these vocations, though mixed with much impurity, yet are far from being unlawful.
5. In the third place, it may possibly happen that some may have come into religion, induced merely and only by outward, yea perhaps unlawful, respects. They had much rather have stayed in the world, the pleasures of which, if they could have enjoyed them, they preferred far before God. But God debars them from such pleasures, sending them great crosses, which they can no otherwise avoid but by the refuge of a religious state. In which also, it may be their first design is to seek themselves only, and not God; yea, we read of one that adjoined himself to a religious community merely for this wicked end, to get an opportunity to commit sacrilege by stealing a chalice. But being there, God touched his heart to repent and acknowledge his criminal hypocrisy, after which he led a very religious holy life.
6. Again, fourthly, some do come into religion, it may be, with a good harmless meaning, but, meeting with tepid or perhaps irreligious companions, they grow weary of their condition, the difficulties of which they have not yet spiritual strength to support and improve to their soul's advancement; so that if they were again freely to dispose of themselves, they would choose to return into the world, were it not that they are chained by a vow and ecclesiastical laws. Now although these came into religion uncalled by God, yet now the impossibility of changing their present condition is an effectual call from Him to keep them constant and faithful to Him.
7. Lastly, some come into religion as it were unawares unto themselves, and without any election of their own parts, which is the case of many persons of noble families (especially virgins), that are even forced to such a state by the tyranny of their parents, or inveigled into it by the subtle avaricious insinuations and persuasions of others engaged in the same state, &c. By which means they engage themselves in a state of life unknown to themselves, relying wholly on the wills and judgment of others; and being once a little engaged, the opinion of honour, and to avoid the imputation of inconstancy, forces them to persevere.
8. Now among all these varieties of cases and vocations to religion, shall we say that only those perfect souls mentioned in the beginning have a true call to religion? If so, how much the smaller number of religious could be judged to have had a lawful call! What reason, therefore, have any souls that now desire to seek God in religion, however they come thither, to disquiet themselves? Is it because they were not perfect in charity before they entered into religion? (For a perfectly pure intention cannot proceed but from a perfect habitual charity.) Is it therefore strange to them that nature, as long as it is alive in them, should mix its own interests even in the most holy actions? Or rather is this possible to be wholly avoided, unless we were perfect in an instant? If there were any undue or unlawful external motives that induced them in the beginning to betake themselves to such a state, since it now pleases God to show unto them that such a state is so secure and so happy a condition for their souls, surely they ought rather to employ their tongues and thoughts to bless Him, who dealt with them mercifully and graciously beyond their deserts, rather than to trouble and disquiet themselves. Are they afflicted because God made them happy against their wills? Or that, by His special and most merciful providence, He discouraged them from abiding in the temptations and snares of the world? Or that He took advantage from their imperfections to bring them into the way of perfection? Or that He changed their neglect into a desire of seeking Him, though with many defects?
9. They ought, therefore, to consider that, in the present state they now are, nothing can so much harm them as such unreasonable and unquiet apprehensions. If they were now in a capacity to begin to make a free choice, they would, with an undoubted good and right intention, renounce the world, having oftentimes freely confirmed their first profession. And surely this ought to satisfy them; for God looks upon all His servants according as their present condition is, so that if they now seek Him in truth, whatsoever the motives were that brought them to their present state, they shall be no prejudice to them: if they were impure, they are forgiven, and shall never be considered; if good, they shall be considered for their good only. If they still have imperfections, it is no wonder: who does not complain, and justly, of imperfections? When they are more perfect they will have lesser defects, but they will see many more and be more humbled, though less disquieted for them. However, certain it is that scrupulosity and fear is their far greatest and most harmful imperfection; for this alone will make perfection in the divine union impossible to be obtained as long as the soul acts according to its inclination. And the way to cure it is not to dispute or contest with the cause of it, but to neglect, transcend, and work quite contrary to it; and doing so, though the pain continue in sensitive nature, yet such will prove a very purifying mortification.