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Holy Wisdom Or Directions For The Prayer Of Contemplation by Ven. F. Augustine Baker

CHAPTER IX. Advices to novices.à

§ 1. Advices to novices.

§§ 2, 3, 4, 5. Of the Fervor Novitius.' Why God gives it at the beginning of our conversion; and what use is to be made of it.

§§ 6, 7. How they are to behave themselves after their noviceship.

§ 8. Superiors ought not to employ young religious in distractive employments.

§ 9. How they are to be ordered about their studies.

1. There will be occasion in the following treatises to speak of several special duties of religious persons, as how they are to behave themselves in exterior offices, in sickness, refections, &c. I will therefore content myself to adjoin here a few directions and cautions, addressed particularly to beginners or novices in religion.

2. Daily experience confirms that which spiritual writers observe, that God in great goodness to souls does usually upon their first conversion bestow upon them a great fervour in divine and religious duties, which, therefore, our holy Father calls fervorem novitium. Yea, even naturally the inbred liking that our infirm nature has to all novelty and change causes a more than ordinary pleasure, diligence, and earnestness in any new begun employment.

3. To this purpose there is, in the annals of the Franciscans, related a passage touching a devout brother called Michael Magothi, by which we may learn the ground and intention of Almighty God in bestowing such a fervour. The story is this: There was one of the religious brethren in his convent that observed of himself that, ordinarily when he was in any external employment of study, labour, &c., God did present his soul with His blessing of sweetness and an affection of tender sensible devotion; the which, whensoever he set himself purposely to prayer, forsook him; whereupon he addressed himself to this good brother Michael to demand his counsel; who answered him thus: When you are walking at leisure in the market-place thinking of nothing, there meets you a man with a vessel of wine to sell. He invites you to buy it, much commending the excellency of it; and the better to persuade you, he offers you gratis a small glass of it, to the end that, being delighted with the colour and fragrancy of it, you may be more tempted to buy the whole vessel, which, you must expect, will cost you very dear. Even so our Lord Jesus, whilst your thoughts are wandering upon other matters, either in reading, or hearing a sermon, or working, by a secret inspiration invites you powerfully (instilling a few drops of His sweetness into your heart) to taste how delicious He is. But this is but transitory, being offered, not to satiate or inebriate you, but only to allure you to His service. And therefore, if you expect any more, you must consider it is to be sold, and a dear price paid for it. For spiritual sweetness can be obtained in no other way but by corporal affliction, nor rest but by labour.

4. Good souls, therefore, are often to be exhorted to make good use of this fervour, and to improve it diligently (yet with discretion), thereby to produce in their hearts an unshaken resolution to proceed in the ways of the divine love, notwithstanding any contradiction or pain that may happen. They must not expect that this fervour will be lasting; for, being seated in the inferior grosser part of the soul, it is not of long continuance, since it may easily be altered, even by any change made in the bodily humours, or by external occurrents. So that if it be not well managed, and good use made of it to fix holy and resolute desires in the spirit (which are more lasting, as not depending on the body or outward things), it is justly to be feared that God will not bestow the like afterward.

5. A noviceship is a golden time for the learning and practising matters of the spirit. In that short space, therefore, a religious person is to raise a stock for his whole future life; so that if a noviceship be negligently and improvidently spent, he will scarce ever have the like opportunity to promote his spiritual good; for after his profession he will, besides liberty, have many more distractions, more freedom of conversation, and more intercourse with the news and affairs abroad. Besides, he will not utterly be out of danger of some offices and employments, for the discharge of which some, perhaps, will suppose him already fit and prepared in spirit.

6. At the going out of the noviceship, the person is to be very careful with whom he converses, so as to become an inward acquaintance, lest, being so tender as he is yet, he happen quickly to be corrupted with the society of negligent tepid companions. For want of this care too often it happens that all the good gotten in a noviceship is clean lost in a short time, since usually things are no other way preserved but by the same means that they were first gotten. Therefore, since it was by prayer and abstraction of life that a novice procured all the little proportion of divine love that he is possessed of, he must expect that it will no other way be preserved. For this reason it is very requisite that the superior should appoint such an one his companion.

7. A soul must consider that it is not a little diligence, nor yet the space of a year or two, that will, ordinarily speaking, suffice to get a habit and stability in mortification and prayer. And, therefore, a young beginner ought to imprint deeply in his heart this most important truth and advice, that his duty is never to abate or slacken, but rather continually to increase in firmness of mind and resolution, to proceed courageously during the whole course of his following life in the internal exercises of spirit. For he is to consider that his noviceship being once ended, he must never expect such advantages thereto afterward, such stillness, such want of interruptions and temptations, such clear light, and such calmness of passions, as he enjoyed before. Therefore, lest by a change of his state from a rigorous solitude and silence to ordinary conversings, and perhaps employments or studies, he should come to endanger a decay in spirit, and so be miserably reduced to his first natural state or worse (for, indeed, worse it will be if such a decay happen), let him be very vigilant and industrious to avoid all things that may hinder him from prosecuting internal prayer, and let him be careful to continue, according to the utmost of his ability, to use all abstraction possible, as if he were still in his noviceship.

8. Indeed, superiors ought to be very careful not to put their young religious into distractive employments or studies, either sooner, or more than can well stand with their spirit, or before they be reasonably well grounded in prayer. For how is it possible for an imperfect beginner, having such hindrances, to make progress in spirit? Whereas, if a good foundation of spiritual prayer were once laid, such a soul, by being applied to his studies or external offices, will suffer no decay; yea, moreover, he will probably profit in studies above the proportion of his natural abilities, by reason that passions which must distract and darken even the natural understanding will be much abated by prayer; and, moreover, he will undertake his studies as a duty and matter of conscience, which will increase his attention and diligence. Yet perhaps, by reason of his abstinence and exercises in spirit, his bodily strength will not be vigorous enough to enable him to support very much study; and if it should prove so, the loss is not great, since the divine love will sufficiently recompense all other wants. So it fared with our holy Father, who, as St. Gregory says, was sapienter indoctus; his wisdom consisted in despising all learning which was not helpful or not necessary to his advancement in the divine love, which alone is the true wisdom and learning.

9. Truly, so great harm comes to young religious after a noviceship well spent by being put immediately to schools, and for that purpose dispensed with in a great measure about their monastical duties of prayer, abstraction, silence, &c., that it were very good and fit when persons of tender age come to demand the habit to put them off; and in the first place to inform them well about prayer, and to endeavour to persuade them that before they undertake a religious state they should despatch their course of philosophy and divinity, and during such a course to use as much abstraction and recollection as well they can, for which they will then find more time than if they had been religious, because they shall not be interrupted by the choir and other regular observances. So that if studies be then a hindrance to prayer, how much more would they be so in case they had been religious? Having done all this, then in God's name let them demand the habit. By this means good souls would not be interrupted in their religious course, nor put in danger never again to recover the spirit of prayer. And if, following such directions, they should come to die before the time of taking the habit, they may assure themselves that in God's account they shall be esteemed as religious souls, wholly consecrated unto Him.

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