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

CHAPTER X. Of the obligation of the English Benedictines to the Missionà

§§ 1, 2. Of the obligation of the English Benedictines to the Mission. The sublime perfection of that employment.

§§ 3, 4. The care of it belongs only to religious superiors, and not at all to particular religious.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Great danger of seeking that employment, and false pretences to obtain it, &c.

§ 12. How the said charge is to be performed.

1. It will not be amiss to adjoin to this section concerning a religious state certain considerations and advices touching a subject which, though it pertain not to religious persons in general, yet is annexed to our profession in the English congregation of St. Benedict's Order, and that is the Apostolical Mission into England, which all the professed do by a particular vow oblige themselves to undertake whensoever they shall be commanded by superiors.

2. An employment this is of high importance, and most sublime perfection, if duly undertaken and administered. But the care thereof only belongs to superiors; and indeed it is worthy both of their prudence and zeal, -- by a right managing whereof they may procure great glory to God, and good to souls miserably misled by infinite and most pernicious errors.

3. But as for particular religious, they are merely to be passive in the business -- they are to submit themselves to the undergoing of all the pains, incommodities, and dangers of it, whensoever it shall be imposed on them. But this being only an accessory obligation and capacity, they are not to suppose that when God gives them a vocation to a religious life, this doth make any alteration at all in their essential design, most secure and profitable to their own souls, which is the leading a solitary, devout, and abstracted life, and therein aspiring to contemplation. This only must they aim at, and to this must they order all their thoughts and actions, as if they were all their lives long to be imprisoned in their cloisters. Therefore, neither entering nor afterwards, must they entertain any thoughts or designs about anything that is out of the limits of their convents, in which, forasmuch as concerns themselves, their desire and intention must be to live and die. Particularly they ought to banish out of their minds all meditations and inclinations to go in mission into EngIand. Yea, if they will indeed comply with their essential profession, they must resolve, as much as lies in them, and without offence to God or disobedience to their superiors, to prevent such an employment (of which they cannot without pride think themselves worthy, or able to encounter all the temptations and dangers accompanying it), simply and sincerely confining all their thoughts and affections to that life of solitude, abstraction, and prayer which they have vowed, and in which their souls will find truest comfort and security.

4. Consequently, neither must they (with an intention to approve unto their superiors their fitness for that charge, thereby, as it were, inviting them to make use of them for it) apply themselves after such a manner to the studies proper for such an employment, as in any measure thereby to hinder or interrupt the reading of such books as are most beneficial to their souls, and much less to hinder their daily serious recollections. In case their superiors (who are only concerned in that business) shall require of them to apply themselves diligently to such studies as may fit them for the mission, they are obliged therein to submit themselves to obedience. Yet even in that case, if they find that much time cannot be spent in them without hurt to their spirit and a neglect or prejudice to their appointed recollections, they ought to acquaint their superiors with their ease, who no doubt will prefer the good and advancement of their souls by solitude, purity of spirit, and internal prayer, before any other considerations whatsover. Yea, they will judge prayer to be a better disposition, and to procure a greater enablement, even for such a calling than study, and will take heed how they send any abroad that for their studies neglect their prayer. For what blessing from God can such hope upon any endeavours of theirs? Is it not more likely that themselves will be perverted, than others by them converted?

5. It cannot easily be imagined how mischievous to many souls the neglect of such advices may be. Some will perhaps have a mind to take the habit for that end and intent principally of going afterward into England. What miserable distractions would such a resolution cause during all the time of their abode in their convent! for all their thoughts, almost all their affections, hopes, and designs will be carried abroad into another country; so that the place of their profession will be esteemed a place of exile to them. And so far will they be from procuring a divine light and grace to enable them for so terrible an employment by the means of prayer, that prayer and solitude will be distasteful to them. Regular observances will be a burden, and anything that may delay their intention, which they say is of converting souls; but, alas! perhaps with the loss, or at least imminent danger, of their own.

6. Nay, some that at the beginning have simply and with a good intention taken the habit, yielding afterward to the spirit of tepidity (which turns their happy solitude into a prison), will look upon the mission as a means to free themselves from their profession, and therefore will not fear to use all means, by friends and solicitations of their superiors, that they may be suffered to quit it and go in mission. God only knows into what dangers and temptations they wilfully thrust themselves, being utterly unprovided of light or grace to resist them. And what other issue can be expected but that God should give them up to such temptations, unto which (out of a sensual affection to the world, pride, and a weariness of prayer) they have exposed themselves, without any call from Him, yea, contrary to His will?

7. Now it is not only particular religious, but much more superiors, that ought to think themselves concerned most deeply in these matters; for in case such unwary rash souls shall come thus to destroy themselves, they cannot but know that those souls shall be required at their hands. They ought, therefore, to root out of the hearts of their subjects all such pernicious designs, by showing that they esteem them least worthy that are most forward to offer themselves. And great care and wariness ought they to use how they send or permit any to go abroad, before they be sufficiently furnished, not so much with learning as with the spirit of mortification and prayer, and with zeal proceeding from an established charity, that so they may not, by undertaking and executing active employments, prejudice and perhaps ruin their contemplative state.

8. Our examples ought to be our first holy converters of England, who did not undertake such a charge till they were grown old in the exercises of solitude and contemplation; and not then till an absolute command was imposed on them by the Supreme Pastor. And in the execution of their charge, they never suffered their labours and solicitudes to dispense with them for the continuing of their accustomed austerities and the exercise of prayer, but borrowed from their employments as much time as could possibly be allowed, to spend in abstraction, solitude, and contemplation. Yea, though they conversed only with pagans and barbarous souls, yet so zealous were they of their monastical life and profession that they would not so much as quit the habit; and when they were consecrated and exalted to the episcopal function, yet still they retained both the exercises and fashions of monastical contemplative persons, as St. Bede declareth.

9. Moreover, in latter times, experience hath witnessed that some humble and devout, though not so learned, missioners have prospered better in converting souls than the most acute and cunning controvertists, and have by their humility, modesty, and edifying conversation, but especially by the practice and teaching of internal prayer, gained to Catholic unity those souls that many other, most skilful in disputes, and withal enabled with experience, have for long time in vain attempted.

10. Notwithstanding all this, I do not deny but that to a religious soul an impulse and interior invitation may come from God to go into the mission. This is possible; but most certain it is that such an invitation will very rarely, if ever, come but to souls established in a spiritual life. And in this case it will be sufficient for the person to propose the matter humbly and modestly to his superiors; yet withal with an entire resignation, and almost a desire to be refused. If it be God's will actually to make use of such a religious person in an employment of that nature, He will no doubt facilitate the business, and in His own time incline the will of the superior, without the subject's solicitation, to permit him to go.

11. But whatever pretences are made by others for going into England, whether it be converting of souls, and particularly of some special friends or kindred, or of recovery of bodily health, gaining of temporal commodity to the community, &c., the true motives indeed ordinarily proceed from tepidity; which tepidity ought to be corrected by prayer and perseverance in religious duties, and not further increased and perhaps changed into open libertinage and profaneness by such an exemption from all regularity and order, by which a poor, unprovided, sensual soul will become deeply engaged in the world, exposed to innumerable temptations without spiritual armour, and, as it were, cast headlong into a pit of darkness, and of a forgetfulness of all things that concern a holy religious life.

12. As for their obligations in the discharge of that so terrible employment (when they are once engaged in it), it will suffice to put them in mind that the said charge doth not dispense with the essential obligations that lie upon them as religious. If in their convents they ought to be humble, abstinent, devout, &c., much more ought they, being still religious, but now exposed to innumerable temptations, to increase a vigilance over themselves, to avoid all unnecessary vain conversations, all solicitudes about external things, &c., and to practise all possible abstraction of life, solitude, both external and internal; but especially not to neglect the principal duty of all, which is pure spiritual prayer, which alone can procure security to their own souls and blessings upon others. For surely, if prayer be necessary in a convent, much more is it necessary to such persons living in the world.

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