"Towards the end of the Way of the Cross which I was making, the Lord Jesus began to complain about the souls of religious and priests, about the lack of love in chosen souls. 'I will allow convents and churches to be destroyed.' I answered, "Jesus, but there are so many souls praising You in convents." The Lord answered, 'That praise wounds My Heart, because love has been banished from convents. Souls without love and without devotion, souls full of egoism and self-love, souls full of pride and arrogance, souls full of deceit and hypocrisy, lukewarm souls who have just enough warmth to keep them alive: My Heart cannot bear this. All the graces that I pour out upon them flow off them as off the face of a rock. I cannot stand them, because they are neither good or bad. I called convents into being to sanctify the world through them. It is from them that a powerful flame of love and sacrifice should burst forth. And if they do not repent and become enkindled by their first love, I will deliver them over to the fate of this world [...] O heart specially chosen by Me, were you chosen for this, to give Me more pain? The great sins of the world are superficial wounds on My Heart, but the sins of a chosen soul pierce My Heart through and through.' When I tried to intercede for them, I could find nothing with which to excuse them and, being at the time unable to think of anything in their defense, my heart was seized with pain, and I wept bitterly. Then the Lord looked at me kindly and comforted me with these words: Do not cry. There are still a great number of souls who love Me very much, but My Heart desires to be loved by all and, because My love is great, that is why I warn and chastise them." - diary of Saint Faustina, 1703
And so it happened. Just as Our Lord predicted in 1938. In the United Sates alone, the number of religious sisters dropped by 120,000 members in just forty years, from 1965 to 2005. Thousands of convents and monasteries have been abandoned in just a couple generations, and those that remained futher declined in spirit and fervor. In 1917, Our Lady of Fatima also predicted great hardship for the Church if we did not change our ways. And although nations have not been annihilated, the errors of Russia did spread in other forms, beginning with Freudian psychology in the 1940's, and the "Sexual Revolution" of the 1960's. (Even today, we see socialism on the rise once again under the euphemism of "democratic socialism"). And if Fatima was not enough, there have been countless apparitions in the last 100 years alone, far outnumberting all the previous centuries combined.
It is not unreasonable to state that the great trials that devasted the Church over the last 60 years, from scandal after scandal, with diminishing vocations and the general lack of fervor among Catholics, is a direct result of the wounded state of religious life. As God tells Saint Faustina, convents exist to sanctify the world; they are the ones that "uphold the world in existence." It is from them that "a powerful flame of love and sacrifice should burst forth." And when religious fail in this mission, when they fail to be that powerful flame of love to those around them, when they stop pleading before the throne of God for mercy upon the world, then the world suffers. There is a reason why Pope John Paul II said that monasticism is the "reference point" for all the baptized. The passage above, in short, encapsulates everything that has gone wrong with the world over the last century. It is love, and love alone, that gives religious life its reason for being. And once this flame of love dies out, then God retreats from the world and removes His protections. Remember, God will not impose Himself where He is not wanted. He continually pleads for our prayers for souls, as He did with Saint Catherine of Siena, "I beg you to pray to Me for sinners. I ask for your tears and sweat on their behalf so that they may receive mercy from Me." When we look around our world today, can we say that religous communities are doing what they were created for?
We mention this not to discrouage our readers, but only to underscore the point that religious life as we know it today is in a wounded state. Like old Israel, we too have turned to worshipping foreign gods, the three-headed idol of pride, avarice, and sensuality. And God has granted our desires, just as He did with Israel. He has handed us over to our enemies, to the tyranny of a foreign ruler. And we have been held captive for so long, that we have become accustomed to our slavery, as if it is the normative way of living.
There is a temptation, after one has received the habit and has lived the life of a religious for a little while, to lose one's first fervor and settle into a kind of tepidity, succumbing to the influences of the world or a lukewarm community. As Saint Teresa of the Andes exclaimed; "Woe to me if this should happen! Indeed, this is a risk and temptation for many, just as it is for a married couple to "fall away" over time. Without renewing ones efforts daily to keep a vertical gaze (through "humble, constant prayer"), religious will quickly become dissipated by the horizontal of daily affairs. When this happens, our vision becomes myopic; the slightest faults of others will be amplified; the slightest inconveniences will disturb our whole day. In short, by neglecting their intimacy with God, religious will lose the graces that bring joy, peace, and fruitfulness to their lives. By failing to exercise their will to die to self, to always choose the last place, to prefer to go unnoticed, religious will become more and more dissipated and discouraged over time, and eventually will abandon the spiritual life altogether.
Time is a double-edge sword. It can be either beneficial to souls, or it can be harmful, depending on how they use the time afforded them. In religious life, souls have a tremendous advantage, insofar as they are in the constant presence of God and receive sufficient and particular graces necessary to fulfill their vocation, which is to become saints. But God still requires their cooperation. He requires their effort, to simply try each day to be better, and lay the ax to the dead roots of self-will and vice. In religious life, good use of time begins and ends with prayer.
As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, the downfall of every priest or religious begins with laxity in prayer. In other words, when religious forsake prayer, when they stop making an effort to stir their hearts, then he has already forfeited his vocation to the enemy. Without prayer, nothing else he does will be able to bear fruit, and he will mechanically drag his feet through the day. Everything becomes burdensome and tiresome. Yet with prayer, everything is easy and light; the soul is free like a bird, which love makes possible (This is the happiness that perfected souls enjoy, according to Saint Catherine of Siena--a joy that religious have to look forward to: the bliss of the continual presence of God). As Our Lord told Saint Faustina, what causes Him more pain than anything else, is not the grave sins of those living in the world, but the small imperfections and lukewarmness of religious, whom He awaits with the greatest graces, because He depends on them to sanctify the world.
Saint Alphonsus De Ligouri even went so far as to say that a religious who does not seek holiness commits a mortal sin. Why? Because religion is the state of perfection. When a religious takes his final vows, he is not simply encouraged to become a saint, but rather, he is obliged to become one. It is not sufficient to rest on the dignity of one's state, thinking; "I have given up so much! I have left everything for Our Lord" to which Our Lord may respond, "but have you left yourself?... Have you abandoned sensuality, pride, self-will, anger, sloth? The walls of a cloister are not high enough to barricade against a worldly heart.
One of the great treasures of religious life is the continual enjoyment of the presence of God. However, with these consolations also comes the temptation to become attached to them; to the gift rather than the Giver. This danger tends to be more common for us in the West, who have been raised in a climate of individualism and entitlement, which can lead to discouragement when those consolations are removed. It is not unlike a child who only wants the sweet taste of cotton candy, but refuses the real meat and milk that nourishes. Saint Catherine of Siena advises us in the following manner;
"All who love God experience tepidity at times; the fervor of the spirit grows cold, and this is either God's will for us or the result of some sin or an astute machination by the Devil. Some people, the less wise ones, finding themselves more or less deprived of the joys they have been accustomed to, abandon prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, penance, at this stage, and so become weaker and weaker--much to the Enemy's delight, for his whole aim is to get the soldier of Christ to lay down his arms." The solution? Saint Catherine concludes, "Thus when the wise 'athlete of christ' feels himself growing inwardly tepid, he should go on with his usual spiritual exercises, and if anything increase them."
There is a certain "bi-polar" disorder in the spiritual life, of being happy during times of consolation and depressed during times of dryness. A good religious, however, will be more constant through the ups and downs, knowing that tomorrow will be different. More importantly, she realizes that Jesus is not for her alone, that He did not lay down His life only for her, but for all mankind. Just as Jesus' back was turned toward the Apostles when they walked from city to the city throughout Judea, so too must a religious be at peace if at times it may seem like Jesus' back is turned to her as well. And in fact, not only should this not phase her (that Jesus is not tending to her at every moment). But it should spur her to look where Jesus is walking, so to speak, to turn her gaze where His is, to those who need our prayers and sacrifices---to in other words, put one's hands to the plow and work.
There is no word to describe the immesurable joy and peace that awaits a religious who is able to persevere through dryness with humble constant prayer. If religious only knew the great graces reserved for those who simply make a little effort every day, they would never deviate from this path! As the saints remind us, holiness is not a raging fire that quickly dies, but rather, a small but steady flame, unceasing in its intensity and constant in its light. Padre Pio was once asked what is necessary to become a saint. And his response was candid and unambiguous; "One thing alone is necessary. You must will it." According to the revelations given to Venerable Mary of Agreda, many souls fail precisely because they flee from the cross--especially in the first stage of purification--from dying to self-love;
Our Lady to Mary of Agreda: "I desire, then, that thou labor until all love of self die within thee, that thou suppress all the effects of the first sin until all the earthly inclinations consequent upon it are totally extinguished....for the greatest difficulty in practicing virtue consists in dying to all that is pleasurable to the senses. Thou canst not be a fit instrument in the hands of the Lord, such as He desires thee to be, if thou dost not cleanse thy faculties even of the images of all creatures, so that they do not find entrance into thy desires...Be careful not to allow thyself to be mastered by anything, be it ever so small; for in order to start a great conflagration the smallest spark is sufficient...
"Ponder, then, my dear child, upon the small return given for the love of my Son and Lord by mortals, and how forgetful of thanks even his faithful continue to be. Assume it as thy task, as far as thy weak powers allow, to render satisfaction for this grievous offense: loving Him, thanking Him and serving Him with all thy powers, for all the other men who fail to do so. Therefore, thou must be an angel in promptitude, most fervent and punctual on all occasions; thou must die to all earthly things, eliminating and crushing all human inclinations and rising upon the wings of love to the heights of love designed for thee by the Lord...."
Saint Bernard: "a worldly spirit under the garb of the habit, is an apostasy of heart."
It should be evident to the reader by now the importance of visiting communities first hand--given the wide variance between them--in order to observe their way of life. As a general guideline, we recommend reviewing the information listed on the pages; "10 Tips for Choosing a Community" and also "7 Practical Tips for Discernment". We hope that with these guidelines will serve this purpose, that is; to better equip the reader to make an informed decision about which community Our Lord may be calling him to.