ON THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER FOR SEMINARIANS
"Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples." Luke 11:1.
One of the most important duties of a pastor is to teach the people the necessity and efficacy of prayer, and how they are to pray, and for what they are to pray. Hence it is said, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, that "Amongst the duties of the pastoral office, it is one of the highest importance to the spiritual interest of the faithful to instruct them in Christian prayer, the nature and efficacy of which must be unknown to many, if not enforced by the pious and faithful exhortations of the pastor. To this, therefore, should the care of the pastor be directed in a special manner, that the faithful may understand how, and for what, they are to pray."
Oh, how unspeakable is the pleasure given to Jesus Christ by a pastor, who often in public, as well as in private, fulfils this duty! Would to God that all pastors would adopt the sentiments of St. Alphonsus, and could say with him: "I wish I had nothing else to do than to speak and to write on this great means of prayer; for, on the one hand, I see that the Holy Scriptures, including both the Old and New Testament, exhort us to pray, to ask and cry aloud if we wish for Divine grace; and on the other hand, I must openly confess that I cannot help complaining of preachers, confessors, and spiritual writers, because I see that none of them speak as much as they ought of the great means of prayer. And in the many courses of Lenten sermons which have been published, where shall we find a discourse on prayer? Scarcely do we find a few passing words concerning this important means of grace. Hence I have written at length on this subject in so many of my little works, and whenever I preach, I always repeat these words: 'Pray, pray, if you wish to be saved, and to become saints.' It is true that, to become saints, we must have all virtues, mortification, humility, obedience, and principally holy charity; and to acquire these virtues other means besides prayer are necessary, such as meditation, Holy Communion, and good resolutions; but, unless we pray, all our Communions, meditations, and resolutions will not suffice to make us practice either mortification, humility, or obedience. We will neither love God nor resist temptations; in a word, we will do no good. Hence St. Paul, after having enumerated many of the virtues necessary for a Christian, tells us to be 'instant in prayer' (Rom. 12:12), thereby giving us to understand, as St. Thomas remarks, 'that to acquire all necessary virtues we must always pray, because without prayer we would be deprived of the assistance of God, without which it is impossible to practice virtue.'" (Spouse of Christ on Prayer, No. 13).
These sentiments of St. Alphonsus were common to all the saints. Should you ever hear anyone oppose them, rest assured that he cannot say in truth, with St. Paul: "I think that I also have the spirit of God" (1 Cor. 7:40); nor should you believe that he is "of the seed of those men by whom salvation was brought to Israel." (I Mach. 5:62).
Let us, in imitation of the saints, never grow weary of repeating this sacred truth in public and in private. What St. Augustine says is but too true. "The understanding flies on," he says, "but resolution and action follow slowly, or not at all." Our will is weaker to do what is right, than our understanding is to comprehend it. The people, then, must often be told the same thing. St. Paul himself assures us of this: "To write the same things to you," he says, "to me is not wearisome, but to you is necessary." (Phil. 3:1). The Apostle was not in want of matter to write, for he who had been wrapt to the third heaven was certainly able to say many new and sublime things, but he deemed it profitable, and even necessary, for the faithful to write to them the same thing again and again.
It was the opinion of St. Francis de Sales that "a preacher should not take the least notice of those fastidious minds who are displeased when a preacher repeats a thing, and goes over the same ground again. What! Is it not necessary, in working iron, to heat it over and over again, and in painting, to touch and retouch the canvas repeatedly? How much more necessary, then, is it not to repeat the same thing again and again, in order to imprint eternal truths on hardened intellects, and on hearts confirmed in evil?" Now, what can be more necessary and more profitable than often to imprint on souls the necessity of prayer?
How, then, does it happen that so many pastors neglect to comply with this most essential duty? It is principally because they themselves have never learned how necessary prayer is, and how efficacious, if performed well. No one can speak of what he knows not, nor give what he does not possess. To be able to discharge this pastoral duty properly, a priest must have learned, whilst as yet a student, to lead a holy life, and to practice faithfully meditation and prayer. For this reason I have thought it necessary to insert a chapter on the great obligation which ecclesiastical students have to sanctify themselves in the time of their studies by the practice of solid virtue, and especially by prayer and meditation. And, first of all, I must remark that I am far from believing that all who study for the priesthood are called to this sublime office. Alas! There are but too many who study from low and worldly motives, and seek in the ecclesiastical state nothing but temporal advantages. To this kind of students I have but a few words to say.
My dear young friends, I conjure you, by the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, consider well that, in order to save your souls, you must embrace that state of life to which God has called you; for in that state alone you occupy the place for which God has destined you from all eternity, and in that state He will give you all the graces necessary to fulfil all your duties. If you live out of the state to which you are called, it will be very difficult, nay, almost impossible, for you to work out your salvation. This is true of everyone who lives in a state of life to which God has not called him, but it is especially true of all those who have chosen the ecclesiastical state without being called thereto by God. This is evident; for, in the first place, it is grievous presumption in anyone to dare enter into the Holy of Holies without having a clearly Divine vocation. Moreover, everyone who enters this holy state without being called thereto by God, will be deprived of the proper means and graces to comply with the duties of this holy state; and even though he should be able to comply with these duties, yet, having strayed away from the right road, he will find every other very steep and difficult, and he will be like a dislocated member, which, indeed, may still perform some services, but not without great difficulty and many defects.
Anyone who receives Holy Orders without having the signs of a true vocation from God becomes guilty of mortal sin. This is the teaching of St. Alphonsus, and of many other learned theologians, especially of St. Augustine, who says, when speaking of the punishment of Core, Dathan and Abiron, who wished to exercise the functions of High Priest without being called thereto, "they were condemned, in order than everyone might be deterred from taking upon himself the office of High Priest without being called thereto by God. This terrible fate will befall all those deacons, priests, and bishops who enter or intrude themselves into the ecclesiastical state from mere worldly motives, and without being called thereto by God." (Sermon 98). St. Ephrem considers as reprobates all those who dare become priests without a Divine vocation. "I am astounded," says he, "at the madness of those who are so presumptuous as to perform the functions of the priesthood without having grace for it from Jesus Christ. Unhappy wretches! They do not consider that by doing so they are preparing for themselves everlasting torments." (De Sacerdot). I would therefore earnestly urge all those young men who are studying for the priesthood, without having an evident vocation, to give up the idea as soon as possible. The sooner they do this the better it is for themselves, and for thousands of others.
I will now turn to those students whom Jesus Christ has really called, and to whom the words of the Gospel may be applied: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." (John 15:16). My dear young friends, consider well the high dignity to which you are called. The priesthood is the highest dignity on earth. Innocent III says, "The priest is placed between God and man; he is less than God, but more than man." This dignity supposes, besides the Divine vocation, positive holiness of life; that is to say, whosoever intends to embrace the ecclesiastical state must not only be free from mortal sin, but he must also be enriched with every virtue. The Church, during eleven centuries, excluded from this holy state everyone who had committed even one mortal sin after Baptism; and if any one, after having received Holy Orders, fell into a mortal sin, he was deposed forever from his sacred office, for the simple reason that he who is not holy should not touch what is holy.
This severe discipline of the Church, it is true, has been greatly mitigated; but it has been always required that he who had in his past life become guilty of grievous sins, and desired to receive Holy Orders, should first lead a pure life for some time previous to his ordination. It would certainly be a mortal sin to receive any of the Holy Orders while still addicted to a sinful habit. "If I consider your vocation," says St. Bernard, "I am seized with horror, especially if I see that no true penance has preceded your ordination."
Many of the saints would never consent to receive Holy Orders. St. Francis of Assisi once beheld, in a vision, a crystal vase filled with most limpid water. God revealed to him that the soul of a priest must be as pure as this crystal vase. This vision made such a deep impression upon him that he could never afterwards be prevailed upon to accept the dignity of the priesthood.
The Abbot Theodore had received the Order of Deacon. One day he beheld a fiery column, and heard, at the same time, a voice, saying: "If thy heart be as fiery as this column, thou mayest exercise the functions of thy sacred Order." He could never afterwards consent to exercise these sacred functions. Everyone, even the most perverse, feels naturally that the candidate for the priesthood should be holy; the least fault in him is considered unpardonable.
"I have appointed you," says Our Lord Jesus Christ, "that you should go and should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain." (John 15:16). Now a student will not bring forth this fruit, that is to say, holiness of life, unless he seriously endeavours, in the course of his studies, to sanctify himself. Let him not imagine that sanctity will be infused into his soul by the sacrament of Holy Orders; let him rest assured that, if he is not a virtuous student, he will never be a virtuous priest. A light-minded student will be a light-minded priest; a proud, immortified and sensual student will make a proud, immortified and sensual priest.
It is true, you must study to acquire the necessary science, without which you would be unfit for the sacred ministry. But, my dear young friends, it is not learning, but purity of life, that will qualify you for the priesthood. A certain author says, "Those who know that their hearts are enslaved by sinful habits, and still dare to receive Holy Orders, should rather be led to a place of execution than to the Church of God." It is not enough for the candidate for the priesthood to be free from sin; he must, moreover, have led a pious life, and have acquired a certain facility in the practice of virtue. Should a candidate for any of the Holy Orders be addicted to some sinful habit at the time of his ordination, he is, according to the opinion of theologians, unworthy to receive even the sacrament of Penance, even though he should otherwise be properly disposed. For in order to receive the sacrament of Penance worthily at such a time, he must also be properly disposed to receive that of Holy Orders. A confessor who knowingly and willfully would absolve such a candidate, would thereby become guilty of mortal sin; and should he give him a good testimonial, so that the young candidate would on that account be promoted to Holy Orders, such a confessor would become answerable for all the sins committed by this unworthy priest during the whole course of his ministry.
Whoever, then, wishes to receive Holy Orders worthily, must necessarily lead a virtuous life. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, a priest must be possessed of greater interior holiness than even a religious, on account of the holy and sublime functions of the sacred ministry, and especially because he has to offer up so often the most august Sacrifice of the Mass.
I do not fear so much that students will fail to acquire sufficient knowledge, but I fear very much that they will not acquire sufficient holiness of life before receiving Holy Orders. I have always observed that the greater number of ecclesiastical students make great efforts to acquire sufficient knowledge; but few indeed are those who earnestly strive to lead a holy life. The natural ambition to appear learned before others, and the thought that they will have to preach one day in presence of heretics and unbelievers, induce them to make every exertion to learn how to refute every error, and to defend the truths of our holy religion. They apply themselves so seriously to their studies, that their mind is altogether taken up with them. This is especially the case when they consider the actual state of society, and the infidel and immoral principles that prevail everywhere. It is, indeed, only too true that we live in a most anti-Christian age; principles are disregarded, and iniquity is held in veneration; we see nothing but confusion in religion, in government, in the family circle. Sects spring up and swarm like locusts, destroying not only revealed religion, but rejecting even the law of nature. Fraud, theft, and robbery are practised, almost as a common trade. The press justifies rebellion, secret societies, and plots for the overthrow of established governments. The civil law, by granting divorce, has broken the family tie. Children are allowed to grow up in ignorance of true religious principles; their fathers being without religion, or given up to the most detestable vices, or their mothers destitute of virtue, and infected in the highest degree with the spirit of vanity, the natural consequence is, that these children are regardless of their parents. The number of apostates is on the increase, at least in the younger generation: Immoral books and tracts circulate freely; daily journals, weekly magazines, the great organs of public opinion, become more unchristian every day; so much so, that no one who has at heart the morality of his fellow men, especially of youth, can, with propriety, recommend them for perusal; and yet how eagerly are they sought for and devoured by every class of men!
Such diseases of the human mind and heart, the student will think, require remedy. To counteract and heal them, he will think, will require great learning and experience, and that consequently a thorough and earnest study of philosophy and theology will be absolutely necessary. But here lies the stumbling block for the greater number of students: They endeavour rather to cultivate the mind than the heart; they are more desirous to fill their memory with the principles of philosophy and other profane sciences, than with the principles of Jesus Christ and His saints; they care more to know their lessons well, than to make a good meditation; they take more pains to appear well-prepared before their professors and schoolmates, than before Jesus Christ in Holy Communion; they make greater efforts to compose a good discourse, than to make a good examination of conscience; they long more ardently to ac quire a reputation for learning and great talents, than they do to acquire the virtues of humility and sincere charity; they are more pleased with the praises of the world, than with the good pleasure of Jesus Christ. Clearness in reasoning, and ability in delivering a learned discourse, is, in their opinion, of more importance than the spirit of meekness, condescension, and submission in all their words and actions. They take more pleasure in reading profane, frivolous books, than such as nourish piety and inspire love for solitude and prayer. In a word, they make greater efforts to acquire the wisdom of the world than that of Jesus Christ and His saints. Thus study, instead of uniting them more closely with God, only separates them farther from Him.
I do not by any means wish to blame students for applying themselves to study. What I blame in them, is the manner in which they apply themselves.
Learning can do much good, it is true; but however much it may accomplish, experience teaches us, in the present, as in the past, that moral evils never yield to any other force than the grace of God. A learned man may enlighten the minds of his fellow men, and expel their darkness and errors, but unless the grace of God touch their hearts, they will not embrace the truth. "It is neither philosophy," wrote St. Vincent de Paul to one of his priests, "nor theology, nor eloquence alone, that moves the soul." This truth was felt most keenly by St. Bernard whilst at Paris, 1123. He had scarcely arrived in the capital, when he was pressed to deliver a discourse at the Academy of Philosophy and Theology. He yielded to this invitation, and, having to speak before a numerous assembly, he prepared himself with care, and pronounced a learned dissertation on the most sublime questions of philosophy; but when he had finished his discourse, the audience remained cold and unmoved.
Alas, there are but too many who imitate St. Bernard in this point! Like him, they, too, know how to prepare very learned discourses; they use the most eloquent language. They may indeed enlighten the mind, but they do not reach the heart. The only fruits their sermons produce are a few unmeaning flatteries, which serve only to nourish. their pride and self-love. "What a magnificent sermon!" the people will say; "What an eloquent speaker! What profound knowledge! What a clear mind! What a fascinating preacher! What a pleasure it is to listen to such a man! I never had such a treat in my life!" Would to God these preachers would imitate St. Bernard in his preparation for his second discourse! How different would be the fruit of their labors!
When this saint had finished his first discourse, and saw how his audience remained cold and unmoved, he with drew in sadness and confusion; he shut himself up in an oratory, where he sighed and wept abundantly before God. On the morrow, St. Bernard presented himself again in the same school; "But this time," says the author of the Exordium of Citeaux, "the Holy Ghost spoke by his mouth, and guided his lips; and the admirable discourse which he pronounced made such an impression, that many ecclesiastics, being deeply moved by it placed themselves under his direction, and followed him to Clairvaux, there to serve God under his guidance." It is related in the life of this saint, that mothers used to keep their children, wives their husbands, and friends their friends, from listening to him, because the Holy Ghost gave so great a power to his words that no one could resist them; everyone felt inspired to follow him, or at least to lead a better life.
After John Tauler had shone in the pulpit for many years, and won applause in Cologne and all Germany, he suddenly retreated to his cell, leaving the people astonished at his disappearance. The fact was, an unknown man accosted him after one of his discourses, and asked permission to speak his mind regarding him. Tauler having given this permission, the unknown replied: "There lives in your heart a secret pride; you rely on your great learning, and your title of Doctor. In the study of letters you do not seek God or His glory with a pure intention, you seek only yourself in the passing applause of creatures. Therefore the wine of heavenly doctrine and the Divine Word, though pure and excellent in themselves, lose their strength when passing through your heart, and drop without savour or grace into the breast that loves God." (Tauler's Life, by Darius, B. D.). Tauler was magnanimous enough to listen to these words, and assuredly no one would have ventured so to address him, had he not deserved it. He kept silence. The vanity of his present life was apparent to him. Withdrawn from all commerce with the world, he abstained for two years from preaching or hearing confessions, night and day an assiduous attendant at every conventual exercise, and passing the remainder of his time, in his cell, deploring his sins and studying Jesus Christ. After two years, Cologne learned that Doctor Tauler was to preach once more. The entire city repaired to the church, curious to penetrate the mystery of a retirement which had been variously explained; but when he ascended the pulpit, after vain struggles to speak, tears were the only thing he could bring from his heart; he was now not merely an orator, he was a saint.
Let us hear what the saints say in reference to mere worldly wisdom. "You must consider," says St. Vincent de Paul, "that learning without humility has always done great harm to the Church; that pride has always brought the greater part of learned men, like the rebellious angels, to everlasting perdition. God does not need learned men to carry out His wise designs. Generally speaking, He makes use of the simple to convert men, and procure the welfare of His Church. This we see in the case of the Apostles, and, in recent times, of St. Catherine of Siena, and of St. Teresa"; and I may add, in our own days, of the Curé of Ars, in France. St. Ignatius Loyola says: "It is of greater importance for students to advance in virtue than in science; if they cannot do both at the same time, virtue must have the preference minus scientiae, plus virtutis." (Life, by C. Genelli).
St. Francis of Assisi said to those who wished to enter his Order and had already completed their course of studies, and wished to apply themselves solely to the study of Holy Scripture: "I am well pleased with such, provided, according to the example of Jesus Christ, who seems to have devoted more time to prayer than to anything else, they do not neglect the exercise of prayer, and endeavour rather to practice what they have learned than to learn new things, which they will probably never practice. The truths of the Gospel are better understood by those who practice them, than by those who know them but neglect to put them into practice. A man possesses knowledge and eloquence only in proportion as he practices what he knows and teaches. Many think they will find happiness in acquiring great learning; but truly happy is he only who knows Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."
Studies undertaken with a view to gain the applause of men, were always an abomination in the eyes of this great saint. He used to say of these vain men, that on the day of retribution they would find their hands empty; that they should rather strive now to acquire solid virtue, and advance in the grace of God; for the time will come when books and worldly learning will be rejected as useless. You should, therefore, earnestly endeavour, beloved brethren, to acquire the virtues of humility, simplicity, prayer, and the love of holy poverty. This is the only sure way of edifying your neighbor, and of procuring his salvation; for you are called to imitate Jesus Christ, who did not point out to us any other road to Heaven. Many abandon these virtues, under the specious pretext of edifying their neighbor by their learning; but they are greatly deceived if they think that by great learning alone they can fill the hearts of their fellow men with light, devotion, and love for God. Learning only puffs up such vain men, and extinguishes the love of God in their hearts. Hence it usually comes to pass that after having wasted their time in useless studies, instead of striving to live up to the spirit of their vocation they will find themselves incapable of returning to their original fervor.
Father John de Starchia, Provincial of the Friar Miners in Lombardy, having been upbraided in vain by St. Francis of Assisi for introducing an excessive application of study and making regulations more promotive of science than of piety, was publicly cursed by this saint, and deposed at the ensuing chapter. The saint, on being entreated to withdraw this curse and give his blessing to brother John, who was a learned nobleman, answered: "I cannot bless him whom the Lord has cursed." A dreadful reply, which was soon after verified. This unfortunate man died exclaiming: "I am damned and cursed for all eternity." Some frightful circumstances, which took place after his death, confirmed this fearful prediction.
St. Francis was by no means averse to the acquisition of learning; on the contrary, he exhorted those of his brethren whose duty it was to teach, to apply themselves diligently to study. But he was always opposed to that vain and worldly wisdom which is always without devotion, and which preaches itself instead of Jesus Christ crucified. He often repeated these words of Holy Writ: "Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity." (Molt. 7:2223).
St. Francis knew full well that man is naturally more inclined to learn the truth than to practice it, and that virtue, which purifies the soul, is far more precious and far more necessary than learning, which enlightens the mind.
St. Alphonsus speaks in the same manner: "The Apostle St. Paul," says he, "wrote of the world's wisdom:
'Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. If any man think he knoweth anything, he hath not yet known as he ought to know. (1 Cor. 8:1). Knowledge, united to the love of God, is most useful to us and to our neighbor; but if charity does not accompany it, it does us much harm, by making us proud, and leading us to despise others; 'for the Lord is merciful to the humble, but He resisteth the proud.' Happy is the man to whom God has given the science of the saints. This science He gave to the righteous Abel, upon whom, as Holy Scripture assures us, 'He bestowed the knowledge of the holy things.' (Wis. 10:10).
"The Holy Spirit speaks of the science of the saints as being the greatest of all gifts. How many do we not see who are puffed up on account of their knowledge of mathematics, philology, archaeology, and philosophy. But what does religion gain by their knowledge? What gain do so many learned men derive from all their knowledge, if they have not yet even learned how to love God and to practice virtue? The Lord refuses His light to those wise ones of the world who labor only to gain applause of men, and He grants His gifts only to the pure and simple of heart. 'I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,' says our Divine Saviour, 'because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. (Matt. 11:25).'Happy is he,' says St. Augustine, 'who knows God, His greatness and His goodness, though he be ignorant of all besides; for he who knows God cannot help loving Him. Now he who loves is wiser than all the learned of the earth who know not to love. The ignorant arise, and win Heaven.' How many ignorant people, how many poor peasants, sanctify them selves daily, and gain eternal life! St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: 'I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Happy are we if we acquire the knowledge of Jesus Christ, of the love He has shown us on the Cross.
"We must study, it is true, because we are laborers; but we ought to be fully convinced that the one thing needful which Jesus Christ requires, above everything else, is that we should strive to be saved as saints. We must study, but the sole object of our study ought to be to please God; otherwise our studies will cause us to remain longer in Purgatory, nay, may even cause some of us which may God forbid to be cast in the everlasting flames of Hell. Let your aim, then, always be the glory of God and the salvation of souls; and when an opportunity of appearing ignorant occurs, do not recoil from it."
St. Alphonsus wrote to his students, after the departure of a certain professor, who had introduced among them an excessive application to study: "I am not sorry when I see you retrench your studies, and give more time to prayer. We have been called to succor poor destitute souls; we have therefore more need of sanctity than of science. If we are not holy, we are exposed to the danger of falling into a thousand imperfections. I repeat it once more, if you retrench somewhat from your studies in order to apply yourselves more diligently to prayer, far from being sorry, I shall, on the contrary, feel greatly consoled." (Life, by Father Tanoja, Vol. V, p. 34).
An ecclesiastical student, then, must bear in mind that knowledge without the love of God is nothing but "a sounding brass and tinkling cymbal." "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." (I Cor. 13:1). The venerable Father Alvarez, S.J., took all possible care that study should not weaken the piety of the students under his charge. To succeed in this, he adopted the following means:
Above all, he inculcated on the students such striking truths as these: "Virtue and knowledge are the two trees planted by God in Paradise; they are the two great luminaries created by God to give light to the world; they are the two Testaments, the Old and New; they are the two sisters, Martha and Mary, living under one roof in great union and harmony, and mutually supporting each other. Holiness gives to knowledge, authority and solidity. The Apostle St. Paul writes to his disciple Timothy: 'Take heed to thyself and to doctrine; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.' " (I Tim. 4:16). Commenting on this advice of St. Paul, Father Alvarez says: "We acquire knowledge in proportion as we endeavour to acquire virtue. Who is there that does not know that knowledge is a gift of God, and that God bestows this gift upon us in proportion as we purify our hearts? An ecclesiastical student, then, should make greater efforts to avoid sin, and correct his faults, than to study learned authors, and peruse many books."
This zealous director of souls was also very careful to inspire the students with love of mortification, as a powerful means to make them advance both in perfection and science. "But some will ask," says he, "how can mortification be a means of advancing in science? All I answer is, try it, and you will experience that there is nothing which removes all difficulties more surely than mortification. By the practice of mortification you will easily overcome the inordinate desire to study at the time when you are engaged in prayer. Mortification will teach you to overcome your pride, when you feel offended at some question of the professor, or at the objections of your fellow students. Mortification will induce you to apply yourselves only to such branches of science as are assigned to you, and to learn only what is useful, and not what nourishes curiosity. If you love mortification, you will prefer the views of your professor to your own, i.e., provided they are not evidently against faith and morals. This was the advice of St. Augustine, who says: 'That student knows much, who knows how to profit by the teachings of his professor.' As the professor is gifted with knowledge, so must the student be endowed with docility. It belongs to the professor to judge what is fit for him, and to point out the studies best calculated to cultivate his mind.
"The spirit of mortification will prevent you from boasting before others of your knowledge; it will teach you to study diligently, and to overcome all dislike and weariness in your studies; it will enable you to study without too great haste. There is no greater obstacle to the acquisition of solid science, than over-haste in studying; this over great haste will cause you to study everything superficially. As discretion is a virtue, so is too great eagerness a fault, which must be avoided. 'Sapere, et sapere ad sobrietatem' The spirit of mortification will enable you to overcome that foolish shame which you may feel in asking for an explanation when you are in doubt; it will also teach you to be diligent in taking notes of whatever you may find of utility in the books which you read, or in the observations of your professor. 'Multa scribendo didici' says St. Augustine. It will keep you from reading books which are forbidden by your professor, and which would only take away your mind from your studies.
'To study well,' says St. Bernard, 'we must know the true end for which we study. We must not study in order to nourish our vainglory or to gratify our curiosity; but we must study in order to sanctify ourselves, and edify our neighbor. There are some who wish to know merely for the sake of knowing; this is detestable curiosity. Others wish to know in order to become known; this is execrable vanity. Others, again, study in order to sell their science; this is filthy lucre. But there are others who study in order to be able to edify their fellow men; this is charity. Others, again, study in order to edify themselves; this is wisdom.
The two latter classes of students only, do not abuse knowledge; for they study only to do good.'" (Serm. 26,in Cant.).
Father Alvarez also made every effort to inspire the students with a great love for prayer, as he knew by his own experience that it is a most efficacious means of making rapid progress in science and in virtue. His modesty would not allow him to speak of himself; hence he used to cite to his students the example of the Abbot Theodore, who, as Cassian assures us, had acquired great learning more by assiduous application to prayer, and by purifying his heart, than by studying many books. One day this holy abbot, wishing to find out the meaning of a certain passage of Holy Scripture, began to study diligently, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he commenced to pray for light, and instantly he understood its meaning. (Life of Father Alvarez).
St. Thomas Aquinas confessed publicly that he owed his wisdom more to prayer than to his efforts in studying. There are numerous examples of this kind to be found in the lives of the Fathers of the Desert. In our own times we have, in the Curé of Ars, a most striking proof of the wonderful power of prayer in enlightening the understanding. How could this man, who, on account of his want of talent, had so much difficulty in being admitted into the seminary, and who had, since his promotion to the priest hood, spent all his time in prayer and in the labours of the confessional, how, I ask, could he have acquired the power to teach like one of the Fathers of the Church? Whence did he derive his astonishing knowledge of God, of nature, and of the human soul? How came it that his thoughts and expressions so often coincided with those of the greatest minds in the Church; of a St. Augustine, a St. Bernard, a St. Thomas Aquinas? The Spirit of God was pleased to engrave on the heart of this holy priest all that he should know and teach to others. His lively faith was the great fountainhead whence he drew all his wisdom. His "book" was the death and the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. To him all other science was vain and useless. He sought wisdom not amid the dusty tomes of libraries, not in the schools of philosophy, but in prayer, kneeling at his Master's feet, and covering these Divine feet with his kisses and tears. It was in the presence of his Divine Lord, hidden in the Sacrament of His love, that he learned all his wisdom. Prayer, then, is certainly a most powerful means to acquire true and solid wisdom. "If any one wants wisdom," says St. James, "let him ask it of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and it shall be given to him." (James 1:5).
In order to be able to draw souls to God, we ourselves must first be united to God. Now it is especially in prayer that God unites the soul to Himself. We see in the lives of St. Dominic, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Regis, St. Alphonsus, St. Leonard of Port Maurice, that these holy men, after having labored during the day for the salvation of souls, were wont, after the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to spend the greater part of the night in prayer. St. Francis de Sales declared that "The masses and prayers which he offered up for the inhabitants of Chablais contributed more toward their conversion than all his learning. The Apostles," said he, "never preached the Word of God without having first offered up most fervent prayers to Heaven. He is greatly mistaken who expects to convert infidels, heretics, or other great sinners, by any other means than those which Jesus Christ and His Apostles employed; it is God alone who, by His grace, changes the hearts of men, and for this grace we can never pray too fervently."
"The labors of a priest who is not given to prayer," says St. Vincent de Paul, "will produce little or no good; whilst, on the contrary, a priest who is given to prayer can easily move the hearts of his hearers, and convert even the most hardened sinners. Yes, give me a man of prayer, and all his efforts will be crowned with success. He will be able to say with St. Paul: 'I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me!' Prayer is the grand fountainhead from which he can derive true eloquence to inspire the hearts of the people with horror of sin and love of virtue." Indeed, the priest who diligently practices prayer may say with Our Lord Jesus Christ: "I speak that which I have seen with my Father" (John 8:38); he can also say with St. John: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon... we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 13).
The Curé of Ars is a most admirable example of this truth. When the people heard this saintly priest, who made no pretensions to learning, speak of Heaven, of the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, of His sorrowful Passion, His real presence in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, when they heard him discourse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of her mercy and greatness, when they heard him speak of the happiness of the saints, the purity of the angels, the beauty of a pure soul, the dignity of man, of ail those subjects which were familiar to him, when the people, I say, heard this saintly priest speak of ail these subjects, they generally came away from the discourse quite convinced that the good father had seen the things of which he spoke with such fullness of heart, with such lively emotions, and with such an abundance of tears. Indeed, his words then bore the impress of Divine tenderness; they penetrated the heart with a warmth and unction which was undescribable. There was so extraordinary a majesty, so marvelous a power in his voice, in his gestures, and in his looks, that it was impossible to listen to him without being moved.
Views and sentiments which are imparted to the soul by God produce a far different impression from those which are acquired by study. Doubt gave way, even in the most darkened minds, to the absolute certainty of faith. The words of the Curé of Ars were the most efficacious, because he preached from his inmost heart. His very appearance was a living proof of the truth of what he said. It could be truly said of him, that he was able to convince men even by his silence. When you saw that pale and emaciated face in the pulpit when you heard that shrill, piercing voice uttering such sublime thoughts, clothed in the most simple and popular language you naturally fancied yourself in the presence of one of those great characters spoken of in the Bible. You already felt yourself filled with respect and confidence, and disposed not to criticise his words, but to profit by them.
To those to whom it was given to assist at his catechetical instructions, two things were equally remarkable the preacher and the hearer. They were not the words that the preacher gave forth it was more than words; it was a soul, a holy soul, all filled with faith and love, that poured itself out before you, of which you felt in your own soul the immediate contact, and the warmth. As for the hearer, he was no longer on the earth; he was transported into those purer regions, from which dogmas and mysteries descend. As the saint spoke, new and clear views opened to the mind Heaven and earth, the present and the future life, the things of time and eternity, appeared in a light that you have never before perceived.
When a man coming fresh from the world, and bringing with him worldly ideas, feelings and impressions, sat down to listen to his doctrine, it stunned and amazed him; it set the world so utterly at defiance, and all that the world believes, loves and extols. At first he was astonished and thunderstruck, then by degrees he was touched, and surprised into weeping like the rest.
No eloquence has drawn forth more tears, or penetrated deeper into the hearts of men. His words opened a way before them like flames, and the most hardened hearts melted like wax before the fire. They were burning, radiating, triumphant; they did more than charm the mind; they subdued the whole soul, and brought it back to God: not by the long and difficult way of argument, but by the paths of emotion, which lead shortly and directly to the desired end.
He was the oracle that people went to consult, that they might learn to know Jesus Christ. Not only the sinful, but the learned, not only the fervent, but the indifferent, found in it a Divine unction which penetrated them, and made them long to hear it again. The more often you heard him, the more you desired to go and hear him again and again. Nothing more clearly showed that the Curé of Ars was full of the Spirit of God, who alone is greater than our heart. We may draw from His depths without ever exhausting them; and the Divine satiety which He gives only excites a greater appetite.
He spoke without any other preparation than his continual union with God. He passed, without interval or delay, from the confessional to the pulpit; and yet he showed an imperturbable confidence, which sprang from complete and absolute forgetfulness of himself. Besides, no one was tempted to criticize him. People generally criticize those who are not indifferent to their opinion of them. Those who heard the Curé of Ars had something else to do they had to pass judgment on themselves.
This real power of his word supplied in him the want of talent and rhetoric. It gave a singular majesty and an irresistible authority to the most simple things that issued from those venerable lips. He loosened his words like arrows from the bow, and his whole soul seemed to fly with them.
In these effusions, the pathetic, the profound, the sublime, was often side by side with the simple and the ordinary. They had all the freedom and irregularity, but also all the originality and power, of an improvisation. Those who have sometimes tried to write down what they had heard, found it impossible to recall the things which had most moved them, and to put them into form. What is divine in the heart of man cannot be expressed in writing.
"Experience," says St. Thomas of Villanova, "shows us every day that a priest of moderate learning, but full of the love of Jesus Christ, converts more souls than many learned orators, whose eloquent discourses are praised by everyone." St. Jerome used to say: "One single priest inflamed with Divine love, is able to convert a whole nation." "One word," says St. Alphonsus, "uttered by a priest inflamed with Divine love, will produce more good than a hundred sermons composed by a learned divine, who has but little love for God." "I will always repeat," says St. Francis de Sales, "that whoever preaches with love preaches sufficiently against heresy, although he may not utter a single word of controversy. During the thirty-three years that I have been in the ministry, I have always remarked that the practical sermons of a priest whose heart is filled with piety and zeal, are like so many burning coals heaped upon the heads of the enemies of our holy Faith. Such sermons always edify and conciliate non-Catholics."
Now it is not in the study of books, but in holy prayer and meditation, that the heart of the priest becomes enkindled with Divine love, and zeal for souls. "St. Philip Neri," says St. Alphonsus, "received far more light in the catacombs of Rome, where he spent whole nights in prayer, than in all the books which he studied; and St. Jerome acquired far greater wisdom by his meditations in the cave of Bethlehem, than by all his studies. It often happens that you learn more in one moment of prayer than in a ten years' study. Now the more ardently we love God, the greater will be our knowledge of Him. It takes much time and labor to acquire profane sciences; but to acquire the science of the saints the love of God it suffices to will it earnestly, and to ask it perseveringly of God. The wise man says: 'Wisdom is easily seen by them that love her, and is found by them that seek her. She anticipateth them that covet her, so that she first showeth herself unto them. He that awaketh early to seek her shall not labor, for he finds her sitting at his door!' (Wis. 6:13, 16). This wisdom or love of God, as St. James the Apostle assures us (James 5:1516), must be sought for in prayer."
St. Paulinus reproached Jovian, a Christian philosopher, for spending so much time in studying the works of philosophy, whilst he neglected to advance in virtue. Jovian excused himself by saying that he had no time left for prayer. "You find time," said Paulinus, "to devote to philosophy, and you find none to devote to a Christian life."
There are many students who imitate Jovian; they spend almost all their time in Studying mathematics, astronomy, profane history, philosophy, and the like; and when blamed for this, they excuse themselves by saying that they have no time left for prayer and meditation. What a delusion! They find time to become learned, and they can find no time to prepare themselves for the worthy reception of Holy Orders. Seneca uttered a great truth, when he said: "We do not know what is necessary, because we learn what is superfluous." (De Brev. Int. ch. 1). Most assuredly it would be much better for a student to give up studying, than to let his studies interfere with his spiritual progress.
The Apostles had received the command to preach the Gospel to all nations; and though they knew that preaching was of the highest importance, nevertheless they looked upon prayer as even more important still. When they saw that their occupations became too numerous, and interfered with the sacred duty of prayer, they chose seven deacons to help them in their labors. "But," said they, "we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the minis try of the word." (Acts 6:4). They say, expressly, we must give ourselves first to prayer, and then only to the preaching of the word of God; for they knew very well that their preaching would be fruitless, unless it was accompanied by fervent prayer. St. Teresa wrote as follows, in answer to a letter of the Bishop of Osma, who, through over-great zeal for his flock, gave but little time to prayer and meditation: "Our Lord gives me to understand that you need what is most necessary prayer and meditation, and perseverance therein; this is the cause of the dryness of your heart." St. Bernard, too, advised Pope Eugenius never to omit prayer for the sake of exterior occupations, as otherwise his heart might become so hardened as not even to heed any longer the voice of his conscience.
Whenever St. Ignatius found that a student could not apply himself to his studies with calmness of heart, and that these studies were an obstacle to his advancement in perfection, he usually took him away from them, and made him apply himself exclusively to prayer and meditation. "It may be," said he, "that he is well able to study, but study will be hurtful to him. What does it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world, but cometh to suffer the loss of his soul?" (Life, by C. Genelli).
St. Charles Borromeo made it a rule that a candidate for the priesthood should be asked in particular, before his ordination, whether he was in the habit of making his meditation, and in what manner he made it; and Father Avila, S.J., dissuaded everyone from becoming a priest who was not given to prayer.
Indeed, a student who is not fond of meditation and prayer will never be a good, holy priest. Woe to such a one, if during the course of his studies he has not always preferred prayer to all his other occupations! His heart will be like a hard, barren rock. Experience teaches that there is nothing which dries up the heart more quickly than study which is not sanctified by prayer. The heart of such a student will be like a reservoir that has a larger outlet than inlet. The dry land will soon make its appearance. Being destitute of interior lights, he will not see the necessity of sanctifying himself, nor the strict obligation he has to sanctify his fellow men. As he cannot have a lively faith, his genuflections at the altar, when he becomes a priest, will be like the bows of an automaton. Could you see his interior dispositions whilst celebrating the august Sacrifice of the Mass, or whilst administering the Sacraments, or reciting the Divine Office, you might be tempted to believe that you saw an actor on the stage, or a harlequin going through his role. His sermons, and all his actions, will be lifeless and mechanical.
But there is no need of heaping proofs on proofs. I will merely repeat, in conclusion, what I have said before, that a student who does not practice prayer and meditation during the course of his studies, will be unfit for ordination; and will, if he becomes a priest, not only lose his own soul, but cause the ruin of thousands of others.