Especial necessity of prayer for religious persons.
The very name of religious shews the obligation under which such persons are of cultivating, in an especial manner, the spirit of prayer. This name, as the holy doctors teach, is taken from the word religion, and signifies one who is especially bound to God by the most sacred ties,—a person who adopts the worship and service of God as his own peculiar profession,—a person who quits the world and all its vanities, in order to consecrate himself entirely and for ever to the love of his sovereign Lord,—a person who tramples under foot all visible things, in order to raise his heart and soul to the invisible, and who has his conversation in heaven, where his treasure is. All this shews that a religious, if he desire to be worthy of the name which he bears, and to fulfil the end of his holy vocation, must apply himself to cultivate with particular attention the interior life, and must use his greatest diligence to become a truly spiritual man. And how, except by the practice of frequent and fervent prayer, shall he be able to effect this?
Again: the difficulties and trials which accompany the profession of the religious life exhibit most forcibly the especial necessity which religious have of prayer; for it is certain that the religious state, being one of the highest value and favour before God, as well as productive of the greatest merit towards the attainment of eternal life, is for this very reason accompanied with numberless difficulties and trials; such a profession of itself essentially implies a complete renunciation of all things — a perfect holocaust—a sort of mystical death, by which a person not only must die to the world and its pleasures, but also to himself, to his own will, desires, and inclinations. 'The habit and the tonsure,' says the Imitation of Christ, 'contribute little; but change of manners, and entire mortification of the passions, make a true religious man. He that seeks in religion any thing except God and the salvation of his soul, will find nothing but trouble and sorrow Man comes to religion to serve, not to govern ... to suffer, not to enjoy; to labour, not to be idle Here men are tried as gold in the furnace; here no man can remain, unless he be willing, with all his heart, to humble himself for the love of God. [Kempis, book i. chap. xvii.]
Some persons fancifully picture to themselves the religious state as one of the greatest comfort and ease, and imagine that the individuals who have entered on it are exempt from suffering, and continually enjoy the sweetest pleasures and delights; but they are much mistaken; for the religious state could scarcely possess so much excellence and value before God, unless it were one of the greatest sacrifice. It is true, that the good religious, who is faithful to his vocation, will be supported and animated by the love of God, which will lighten what is burdensome to flesh and blood, and sweeten what is bitter; so that he will not fail very frequently to derive great pleasure and comfort from the performance of his religious duties, if not at all times; but it is also true that, in order to live up to the spirit of his vocation, he is obliged to use continual violence to his corrupt nature — to wage a constant war against his disorderly inclinations—to endure many privations, encounter frequent humiliations, and lead a life of self-abnegation and sacrifice. So that if any religious community should exist in which this spirit of self-denial and total sacrifice is not a distinguishing mark of its members, no clearer sign would be wanting to prove that it had fallen into relaxation, and that it retained only the outward phantom and appearance of religion without the substance and reality. 'It is especially in renouncing ourselves,' says St. Liguori, 'in dying a spiritual death, and giving ourselves wholly to Jesus Christ, that the essence of the religious life consists. [Means for Preserving the Religious Vocation.] And St. Bernard calls the religious life one of continual martyrdom, which, though it may not cause so much horror by its outward appearance as when the limbs are torn with hooks, the sword, the wheel, or other instruments of cruelty, yet, by its long duration, it is the cause of severe suffering. It is, therefore, evident, that the characteristics of the religious life are, humiliation, self-denial, trial, and sacrifice. Now, for a person to be able to persevere faithfully in such a life, and obtain strength to overcome the difficulties which surround him on all sides, that he may continue faithfully until death in this life of crucifixion, he requires an especial grace from above, and stands in need of particular assistance from Almighty God. But how shall he hope to obtain this, unless by frequent and fervent prayer to Him?
There is another reason which makes it still more incumbent on religious to apply themselves to the practice of prayer, which is, the peculiar duty under which they lie of labouring earnestly for the attainment of perfection. All Christians, whatever may be their condition or state of life, are bound to labour in their own station for the attainment of perfection. For Jesus Christ laid on all the command of loving God with their whole heart, with their whole mind, and with their whole soul; and has said to all, "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." [Matt. v. 48.] But although all Christiana are strictly bound to aspire after the attainment of perfection, by virtue of their sublime character of disciples of Christ — yet religious persons have a still more direct obligation of labouring to this end, because they have consecrated themselves in an especial manner to God by the profession of the religious vows. Having bound themselves by a most solemn engagement to the practice of the evangelical counsels for their whole life, they have incurred an additional duty of detaching themselves from created things, that they may attain to an intimate union with God, and render their whole life a constant and perpetual holocaust to the Divine Majesty; 'although religious persons,' as the angelic doctor St. Thomas teaches, 'are not bound to be actually possessed of perfect charity; yet they are bound to work and labour earnestly for its attainment.' Now, from this principle that religious persons are under a particular obligation to labour for the attainment of perfection, arises their more especial duty of applying themselves to the practice of prayer. For as the work of advancing in the way of holiness, and of attaining to an intimate union with God, is the greatest and highest blessing which God can bestow upon His creatures, it would be the highest folly and presumption to expect to receive such a grace from God through any other means than that of humble, frequent, and fervent prayer.
Oh! that all religious persons would reflect diligently on this point, and resolve to avail themselves of the instructions which it contains. Oh! that they would use as much diligence in praying 'as they do in proposing curious questions;' and then there would not he so great evils committed, nor so much relaxation in monasteries. 'Verily, when the day of judgment comes, we shall not be examined as to what we have read, but what we have done; nor how learnedly we have spoken, but how religiously we have lived. [ Kempis, book i. chap. Hi. N.S.] Let all religious imprint deeply in their mind what is taught by all the Saints, that, by virtue of their profession, it belongs especially to them to be men of prayer; and that whilst their bodies are upon earth, their hearts and souls ought to be in heaven.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.