There are certain inspirations which tend only to an extraordinary perfection of the ordinary exercises of the Christian life. Charity towards the sick poor is an ordinary exercise of true Christians; but an ordinary exercise which was practised by S. Francis and S. Catharine with an extraordinary perfection, when they licked and sucked the ulcers of the leprous and the cancerous; and by the glorious S. Louis, when bare-head and upon his knees he served the sick; -- at which a Cistercian abbot was lost in admiration, seeing him in this posture handle and dress the horrible and cancerous sores of a poor wretch. And it was also a very extraordinary exercise of this holy monarch to serve the most abject and vile of the poor at his table, and to eat their leavings. S. Jerome entertaining in his hospital at Bethlehem the pilgrims of Europe who fled from the persecution of the Goths, did not only wash their feet, but descended even so low as to wash and rub the legs of their camels, imitating Rebecca whom we just mentioned, who not only drew water for Eliezer, but for his camels also. S. Francis was not only extreme in the practice of poverty, as is known to all, but was equally so in the practice of simplicity. He redeemed a lamb which he feared was going to be slaughtered, because it represented our Saviour. He showed respect to almost all creatures, contemplating in them their Creator, by an unusual yet most wise simplicity. Sometimes he would busy himself with removing worms from the road, lest passers by should trample them under their feet, remembering that our Saviour had compared himself to the worm. He called creatures his brothers and sisters, by a certain admirable consideration which love suggested unto him. S. Alexius, a gentleman of very noble descent, practised in an excellent manner the abjection of himself, living unknown for the space of seventeen years in his father's house at Rome as a poor pilgrim. All these inspirations were for ordinary exercises, practised, however, with extraordinary perfection. Now, in this kind of inspiration we are to observe the rules which we gave for desires in our Introduction. We must not strive to practise many exercises at once, and upon a sudden, for the enemy often tries to make us undertake and begin many designs, to the end that overwhelmed with the multiplicity of business we may accomplish nothing, but leave all unfinished: yea, sometimes he suggests the desire of undertaking some excellent work which he foresees we shall not accomplish, in order to turn us from prosecuting a work less excellent which we should have performed; for he cares not how many purposes, plans and beginnings be made, so long as nothing is done. He will not hinder the bringing forth of male children, any more than Pharao did, provided that before they grow they are slain. On the contrary, says the great S. Jerome, amongst Christians it is not so much the beginning as the end that is regarded. We must not swallow so much food as to be unable to digest what we take. The deceiving spirit makes us stay in beginnings, and content ourselves with the flowery spring-time, but the Divine Spirit makes us regard beginnings only in order to attain the end, and only makes us rejoice in the flowers of spring in the expectation of enjoying the ripe fruits of summer and autumn.
The great S. Thomas is of opinion that it is not expedient to consult and deliberate much concerning an inclination to enter a good and well-regulated religious Order; for the religious life being counselled by our Saviour in the Gospel, what need is there of many consultations? It is sufficient to make one good one, with a few persons who are thoroughly prudent and capable in such an affair, and who can assist us to make a speedy and solid resolution; but as soon as we have once deliberated and resolved, whether in this matter or in any other that appertains to God's service, we must be constant and immovable, not permitting ourselves to be shaken by any appearances of a greater good: for very often, says the glorious S. Bernard, the devil deludes us, and to draw us from the effecting of one good he proposes unto us some other good, that seems better; and after we have started this, he, in order to divert us from effecting it, presents a third, ready to let us make plenty of beginnings if only we do not make an end. We should not even go from one Order to another without very weighty motives, says S. Thomas, following the Abbot Nestorius cited by Cassian.
I borrow from the great S. Anselm (writing to Lanzo) a beautiful similitude. As a plant often transplanted can never take root, nor, consequently, come to perfection and return the expected fruit; so the soul that transplants her heart from design to design cannot do well, nor come to the true growth of her perfection, since perfection does not consist in beginnings but in accomplishments. The sacred living creatures of Ezechiel went whither the impulse of the spirit was to go, and they turned not when they went, and every one of them went straight forward: we are to go whither the inspiration moves us, not turning about, nor returning back, but tending thither, whither God has turned our face, without changing our gaze. He that is in a good way, let him step out and get on. It happens sometimes that we forsake the good to seek the better, and that having forsaken the one we find not the other: better is the possession of a small treasure found, than the expectation of a greater which is to find. The inspiration which moves us to quit a real good which we enjoy in order to gain a better in the future, is to be suspected. A young Portuguese, called Francis Bassus, was admirable, not only in divine eloquence but also in the practice of virtue, under the discipline of the Blessed (S.) Philip Neri in the Congregation of the Oratory at Rome. Now he persuaded himself that he was inspired to leave this holy society, to place himself in an Order, strictly so called, and at last he resolved to do so. But the B. Philip, assisting at his reception into the Order of S. Dominic, wept bitterly; whereupon being asked by Francis Marie Tauruse, afterwards Archbishop of Siena and Cardinal, why he shed tears: I deplore, said he, the loss of so many virtues. And in fact this young man, who was so excellently good and devout in the Congregation, after he became a religious was so inconstant and fickle, that agitated with various desires of novelties and changes, he gave afterwards great and grievous scandal.
If the fowler go straight to the partridge's nest, she will show herself, and counterfeit weakness and lameness, and, raising herself up as though she would take a great flight, will immediately tumble down, as if she were able to do no more, in order that the fowler being busied in looking after her, and expecting easily to take her, may not light on her little ones in the nest; but when he has pursued her a while, and fancies he has her, she rises into the air and escapes. So our enemy, seeing a man by God's inspiration undertake a profession and manner of life fitted for his advancement in heavenly love, persuades him to enter into some other way, more perfect in appearance; but having put him out of his first way, he makes him by little and little apprehend the second way impossible, proposing a third; that so keeping him occupied in the continual inquiry for various and new means of perfecting himself, he may hinder him from making use of any, and consequently from attaining the end he seeks, which is perfection. Young hounds leave the pack at every new scent, and make after the fresh quarry; the old and well-scented hounds never change, but keep the scent they are on. Let every one then, having once found out God's holy will touching his vocation, keep to it holily and lovingly, practising therein its proper exercises, according to the order of discretion and with the zeal of perfection.