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CONFERENCES

ON
THE
VOWS
GIVEN BY

MOTHER MARY FRANCIS, P.C.C.


IN 1965-1966
TO THE ROSWELL NOVITIATE

TABLE OF CONTENTS
POVERTY #1THE FREEDOM OF POVERTY............................................................................... 3
POVERTY #2GIVING TESTIMONY TO POVERTY THROUGH PERMISSIONS .................. 9
POVERTY #3THE FOUR DEGREES OF HOLY POVERTY ..................................................... 15
POVERTY #4OUR LADYS POVERTY OF SPIRIT (MARCH 24, 1965) .................................. 21
POVERTY #5LIVING THE VIRTUE OF POVERTY IN COMMUNITY.................................. 27
CHASTITY #1OUR VOW OF LOVE ........................................................................................... 33
CHASTITY #2TOTAL WOMANLY SURRENDER .................................................................... 39
CHASTITY #3EXPRESSING THE QUALITIES OF WOMANHOOD ..................................... 47
CHASTITY #4THE GRANDEUR OF VIRGINITY ..................................................................... 53
CHASTITY #5THE FRUITFULNESS OF VIRGINITY ............................................................... 59
OBEDIENCE #1FREEDOM IN SURRENDER (FEBRUARY 4, 1966) ..................................... 61
OBEDIENCE #2LEARNING OBEDIENCE IN THE SCHOOL OF SUFFERING (MARCH
3, 1966) ................................................................................................................................................ 67
OBEDIENCE #3ACTIVE AND RESPONSIBLE OBEDIENCE ................................................. 74

POVERTY #1THE FREEDOM OF


POVERTY
Dear Sisters, let us begin with a study of our vow of holy poverty. The first thing that we want
to remember is that there is no such thing as a religious being deficient in one vow and very
fervent in the others. We cannot be perfectly obedient and consistently fail in holy poverty
this simply could not be. There is coordination among the vows; there is integration among the
vows. All of the vows are self-expression in the deep and radical and beautiful sense of the
word, the expression of our love. This is all that they area pure and radical and
comprehensive expression of our selves, of our love, of our inmost self. Neither would it be
possible for a religious to have attained to the perfection of religious chastity so that her love
would be exquisitely faithful, exquisitely virginal, exquisitely tender, and to be a disobedient
religious. This simply could not be. We could go on interweaving the comparisons among the
four vows, and we would see that either we shall advance in our understanding of all our vows,
and our fidelity in observing all our vows, or we shall regress in understanding and in fidelity
as regards all the vows. It is true that the perfection of one vow may shine out in a religious in
a particular season of her life, and another in a differant circumstance. But this does not mean
that all four vows are not being perfected by her, or are being less understood by her.
The most fundamental thing of all about holy poverty is considering it as a way to real
religious freedom, the real freedom of love. Never think of holy poverty as a restrictive thing. It
does not at all concern itself with, I have a vow of poverty so I cant have this and I cant have
that; I cant do this and I cant do that. This is not the idea at all. As we saw last time in
considering all the vows, negations are simply by the way. It is positive. Holy poverty is an
expression of love, and so it must be radically positive, not negative. It is simply the way we
wish to express to God, in very simple terms, You are quite enough, God, and you alone are
enough. It isnt a matter of giving up this and giving up that. It is a matter of saying to God, I
need very little, and I desire even less, because you are sufficient.
There is a poet who I think has understood our Holy Father Francis concept of holy poverty
very wellAlice Meynell. Years and years ago I read her little poem, The Lady Poverty. It is
a very simple little poem, a very sad little poem, really; and to me it shows a real Franciscan
heart. She understood that poverty, as our Holy Father Francis understood it, is a great, free,
beautiful thing. There is nothing cramped about it, nothing crabbed about it, nothing stingy
and pinching about it. It is spacious:
The Lady Poverty was fair:
But she has lost her looks of late,
With change of times and change of air.
Ah slattern! She neglects her hair,
Her gown, her shoes; she keeps no state
As once when her pure feet were bare.
Oralmost worse, if worse can be
She scolds in parlors, dusts and trims,
Watches and counts. Oh, is this she
Whom Francis met, whose step was free,
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Who with Obedience caroled hymns,


In Umbria walked with Chastity?
Where is her Ladyhood? Not here,
Not among modern kinds of men;
But in the stony fields, where clear
Through the thin trees the skies appear,
In delicate spare soil and fen,
And slender landscape and austere.
Very simple, isnt it? And yet I think she has grasped what he meant. Holy poverty, the Lady
Poverty, is not a slattern. She is lovely. She is the expression of all that is free and beautiful and
liberated. So the poet says that she has lost her looks of late, and that she has become a
slattern, neglecting her hair and her shoes, and then adds so sadly, Is this she whom Francis
met? Then you notice how immediately she says (grasping the coordination of vows, although
she was a laywoman), Is this she who with Obedience caroled him? When we are poor, then
our obedience too is a singing thing. She says, In Umbria walked with Chastity. Poverty
always walks with chastity, and chastity always walks with poverty, or neither of the two walk
along. And without obedience, neither of them sings; neither of them carol hymns, as the poet
said.
So here is our fundamental concept: that poverty is the freedom to cling to God. Its radix, its
radical worth is that it is a matter of choice, and this is basically the difference between the
unchosen poverty of the world, which is often a bitter and ugly thing, and the chosen poverty of
the religious, which is a spacious, shining, lovely thing. There is no particular merit in not
having things if we want things. If we are simply in a state of impoverishment against which
our heart rebels, then there is certainly nothing of value of this in Gods eyes. Neither is there
anything beautiful in indigence, whether in or out of religious life. It is not necessary unless the
circumstances of religious life would indicate clearly that for a time this is part of the religious
sacrifice; but in ordinary circumstances, it is not required that a religious should not have
sufficient food, should not have sufficient clothes, that she should not be able to preserve the
normal human signs of the dignity of her station. Not at all! But it is this beautiful freedom of
heart.
Here is where we must walk this little tightrope. There is no particular merit in indigence. It is
not a thing pleasing to God to have nothing, to be hungry, to have nothing but rags to wear.
Even if we are not rebelling against it, the thing itself is not pleasing to God. If we were
reduced to such a state, and we all go hungry and we all have to wear rags, you may be in a
state pleasing to God in your rags and in your hunger, but this is not the normal state of
religious life, and this is not what God requires. But it is that we never tighten our hold on
anything. The tightrope is knowing that this is true, and on the other hand, never falling into
the other extreme of saying that as long as we are poor in heart, it doesnt matter how much we
have. We can have the most beautiful, spacious building; we can have the very best kind of
furnishing, the very best kind of clothing, the most luxurious foods, little femininities allowed
for our use, and say, Well, this doesnt matterIm not attached to them! What does it matter
if I have a glass mirrored holy water font, scented stationery, a gold fountain pen, the finest
kind of tunic material? Im not attached to it! This is not the way human nature works, and
this is where great and pathetic mistakes have been made in religious life. We also are
coordinated. God made our being coordinated, and our exterior is to reflect our interior. God
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himself said, It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to
enter heaven. This is, we all would agree, quite a strong expression! It is possible, yes, to be
absolutely poor in spirit in any state of life. This is true. But it is also true that the looser our
hold on all material things, the easier it is to be poor in heart. And it is a deception, a fallacy
ever to think that it doesnt matter how much we have, as long as we are not attached to it.
Whether we realize it or not, the little fingers of our human nature are always closing around
things. As we continue our discussions of holy poverty and get beyond the materialities to the
loftier, interior poverty, we shall see that much more than with material things do we close the
little fingers of ourselves around the immaterial. We close the fingers of our being around all
our little attachments; we close them around our judgments, opinions, our plans, our likes, our
dislikes, our reactions.
Now, we must begin on the lowest plane and not delude ourselves that we are going to take for
our particular examen poverty of judgment when we dont know anything about poverty of
materialities yet, when we havent even learned to be careful of things in the house of God. We
cant get to the unitive way without passing through the purgative way, and we dont arrive at
the pinnacle of poverty of judgment, will, and heart, without practicing good old, plain old,
every day material poverty. Holy Father Francis and holy Mother Clare were very good
psychologists, and I think they could have had some graduate seminars for some of our presentday psychologists. They knew human nature so well. They knew how important it was for
souls who aspire to true interior poverty (which is all that they were striving for, aiming that
we should practice and achieve)they knew that this is normally not accomplished except
through the lowly ways of material poverty. They wanted their sons and daughters to be as
free as possible to love God, they wanted them to touch the earth as lightly as possible, to walk
the earth on tiptoe, as it were, admiring and loving everything.
The world is a very beautiful place to live in, and I can never understand how people could
possibly think that anyone comes to the conventand especially comes to the cloister
because the world is such a bitter place. Maybe it is; there is a lot of evil in the world; but I
personally always found it a perfectly delightful place. It is a wonderful place. God made it! It is
for our use, but not for our enjoyment. We should use it as God allows; we should appreciate it,
and we should love it. But it is not for our intense enjoyment. He is for this. This is what holy
Mother Clare meant when she said we should remember that we ate strangers and pilgrims in
this worldit is a lovely country, but we are strangers. This is not our native land, and we do
not speak its language. We have enough of its language to get along, but it is not our native
tongue; so we never learn to speak it fluently. It is not where we belong. We were created in
the mind of God, and we are on our way to see the face of God. Meanwhile, we are passing
through this world, which is a very delightful place, but as I say, let us walk on tiptoe. Never let
us put our feet down in its sands. Never let us plant our feet solidly on the earth, much less let
us drag them along through it, because it is not for this that we were made.
Poverty is a continual choice. It is not a matter of making the vow and then, Thats it! Im set
for life! I take the clothes I am given; I eat the foods that they cook here; I use the utensils they
provide; and thats it. I am a poor religious. Nonsense! Every day, its a choice. Every day we
are becoming poorer and poorer, or richer and richer. There is about holy poverty a sense of
high adventure, as there is about the other vows. We are choosing all the time. We are wanting
each day to be a little freer to love God than we were the day before. Each day we are trying to

relax our hold on materialities a little more, that they matter just a little less. That is why, as
we grow older, it is only normal that we should love the poorest more and more.
It is one of our own saintseither St. John Capistran or St. Bernardinewho says of our dear
Lords life that it may be summed up in three phrases: pauper in nativitate; pauper in vita;
pauperissimus in morte. He was poor in his birth, poorer in his life, and most poor at his death.
This, I think, is a beautiful summation of what our life should be, of our Franciscan poverty.
Our vows are a real rebirth, on a legal level, the Church tells us, equal with Baptism. When we
make solemn vows, we are, on the word of Holy Church, restored to a state of complete
innocence, as we were at Baptism; so that if we died immediately after our pronouncement of
solemn vows, we should, on the word of the Church, pass immediately to the beatific vision,
because every stain of temporal punishment is remitted by solemn vowsonly by Baptism,
solemn vows, and martyrdom. The Church teaches that there is equality between these three
things. But dont you dare pray that you die right after solemn vowsthats not fair to the
community! This is such a marvelous thing. This is our birth: poor. The making of vows is
the real birth into religious life. But then it is a matter of being pauperior in vita, still poorer
each day of our life in vows; until we come to the end of our life, and then we should be
pauperissima, poorest of all at death.
This shows very clearly in the external aspects of our dear Lords life, certainly. Even
externally, he was born poor as few people are born poor; he was poorer yet in his life, having
so little of what the world calls good, what the world thinks is necessary; and he was most poor
of all at his death. Holy Father Francis, holy Mother Clare, who wanted to imitate him,
followed this very carefully. Now, if we had no other reason for being poor except that he was
in his incarnate life, this would be quite sufficient. There are other reasons, such as the freedom
to love God; but even this incentive of imitation is quite sufficient, because this is radical and
peculiar to love: that we always wish to imitate what we love, imitate it a very deep sense, not a
superficial or external sense.
It is so true that love begets a likeness. I think I have mentioned to you before, and you have
noticed it yourselfeven in gestures and little idiosyncrasies, people who love one another
very much take on one anothers mannerisms, not through a studied copyingno, this would
be superficialbut because love begets likeness. In the end, as we see in elderly people, it even
seems to beget a physical likeness. Perhaps I have mentioned to you before that I have
marveled sometimes to see aged couples, and the wife looks like the husband, and the husband
looks like the wife. They really do physically resemble one another in their features! If love can
beget such a likeness exteriorly, what should it not beget interiorly? This alone, as I say, is
reason enough; because of all possible modes of life stretched out before the gaze of an infinite
God, he chose this onea very poor life, a very simple life. Because we want to imitate him and
follow him, we choose the same kind.
Let us dwell at our work, as we go about things, on these few fundamental principles that I
have outlined today. We are freer as we are poorer. A priest once said to me that the poorest
communities of sisters that he has known throughout his life have been the happiest, and the
most well-provided for have been the unhappiest. I was glad to hear him say this, because I
have always thought there was something very deeply related between these two things:
religious poverty, and happiness and joy. A sister whom I know very well (an active teaching
sister) wrote to me a few years ago, when she had been transferred to a brand new very large
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convent with every convenience, with many little luxuries. She said, This is a big change. Last
year [and she mentioned the convent that I knew very well] I lived in the poorest community I
have ever known, the happiest and the most charitable. Now, why is there such a deep
relationship between these two things? Why is it that when a community is very poor, it is
always happy, and it is usually charitable? And why is the opposite true? Turn this over in your
own mind before we examine it together more the next time; because there is a very deep
relationship between these two things.
I might just mention in passing (I like you to think your own thoughts on these things) that
this is part of the encumbrance that our Lord spoke of. You have to be very, very thin to get
through the eye of a needle. You cant have much luggage at all to get through the eye of a
needlein fact, I dont think you could have more than a very small handbag to get through
the eye of a needle! The more we are encumbered with, the more we are weighed down, the less
happy we are. Everybody likes to have a lightsomeness about herself. Nobody is particularly
enchanted in a material way if you have to drag five trunks after you everywhere you go! And
yet we forget that this is a thousand times more true in the spiritual life. So let us, from the
beginning of our religious life, love to travel light, to touch the earth on tiptoe, loving it,
admiring it, delighting in thingsbut knowing that we really dont belong here. We are just
passing on. We are just going through. We are strangers and pilgrims. This is not our native
land; this is not our native tongue. And we dont carry any luggage with us. We are going to a
place where we dont need it. We are passing quickly through this present strange country, so
we dont need any encumbrances here, either.
Holy poverty always begets a sense of wonder, and it should constantly beget this in us. We
want to be very poor. Well, what about this paradox of our wanting to live very frugally, and
people giving us so much? This should fill us with a sense of wonder. This is part of the
testimony, not of our security, but of our insecurity. People bring us things. They bring us
alms, food, gifts. But we never knowthey dont have to bring it, and they can stop any time.
We are twenty-three religious in an out-of-the-way city, really (not to hurt anyones civic pride,
but it is!) It is an obscure little community. Where do all these things come from? I dont know.
God inspires everyone who sends us this sum. Nobody had to send us any money. Why should
they want to do all this? This is an essential part of the core of our Franciscan poverty. We
dont really have anything. God gives so much, but none of it is ours, none of it belongs to us.
This leaves us beautifully insecure, holding on to God with both hands all the time. So when
anyone ever gives us anything, we should always have a sense of wonder about it. We should
always be spiritually wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the things that God sends. Not one
dollar, not one piece of candy, not one can of vegetables would come without a special
inspiration from him to these people to send these things. We are wonderfully insecure. The
reason I say wonderfully is that we have to depend on God every minute. We seem to have
everything we need materially today, but I dont know if we will have dinner tomorrow. I cant
be sure. Maybe we wont. This is our beautiful insecurity. We have to love him every minute,
trust him every minute, and depend on him every minute in a very deep and fundamental way.
If we are given much, then we should be astonished, and we should never cease being
astonished at what we are given.
Take these few thoughts away today: the thought of freedom and of spaciousness in our
interior, of never tightening the little fingers of our hearts, of our being, around anything; and
let holy poverty, as I said at the beginning of this little conference, never be a matter of I cant
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have this and I cant have that, but always a matter of I dont need this, and I dont need that.
Then as we grow older and wiser (and I hope holierall of us), then it is a matter of I dont
want this. I dont want that. I need less and less. I want less and less, until I arrive at the point
where I can say with perfect honesty that I want nothing but Godand then I shall be
pauperissima, and then I shall die.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

POVERTY #2GIVING TESTIMONY TO


POVERTY THROUGH PERMISSIONS
Dear Sisters, I tried to make quite a point last time of telling you that holy poverty is a matter
that concerns freedom. It is not a matter of constraint. It is not a matter of anything cramped
or crabbed, or anything that dwindles the soul. It allows the soul to feel its real dimensions.
Today we want particularly to consider the matter of permissions. This also is a thing that
involves freedom, not anything cramped, not anything confining, although I think this would
be difficult to make people outside understand. We ourselves often in religious life do not
understand, except vaguely; but it will become more real and more significant to us as we grow
older in religious life.
We were examining together last time Alice Meynells poem about poverty, and saw that she is
a lady, as holy Father Francis called her. So her very appearance is to be lovely, as becomes a
lady. In the last strophe of the poem, you will recall the poet said, Where is her ladyhood? Not
here, not among modern kinds of men. We should always be able, by our lives in the cloister,
to answer the poets lines Where is her ladyhood? with the simple words, Here. Here her
ladyhood is preserved. Here she does keep state. Here she is all that Holy Father Francis
conceived of her as being. Here she is still the ideal and the practice with which he really fell in
love.
Father Maurice Zundel, who wrote The Splendor of the Liturgy and Our Lady of Wisdom, among
some other very excellent and profound spiritual books, says somewhere of holy poverty that it
does not consist in a lean face or a paupers dress, but in a soul diaphanous to God. I think
that is one of the most significant expressions I have ever heard about holy poverty. It consists
essentially, fundamentally, and comprehensively, too, in a soul diaphanous to God. That is a
perfectly beautiful word. What is diaphanous? We know it is something transparent, but its
connotation goes beyond that. It is a transparency which clings, which takes its form from that
on which it resides. One poet said that all creation is like a diaphanous veil thrown across the
face of God. This was certainly how holy Father Francis saw all creation. But this is the proper
office of povertyto make the soul diaphanous to God. A piece of very light veiling could
properly be called diaphanoussomething so delicate that if I let it drop, it would take its form
from the very breeze as it passed through the various layers of air. If it fell upon something,
there would be nothing in it to offer an obstacle to the object on which it fell, so that it would
assume the outline of whatever object it took residence upon. This is what our soul should be,
and this is what holy poverty, rightly understood and rightly practiced, should make our soul
to belight, transparent, entirely unencumbered by anything.
I also mentioned before about the direct proportion or direct ratio between happiness and
contentment in a religious house, and holy poverty. This is very obvious in the world. We live
in a world today that is beleaguered by status symbols. We call our society today a status
society. Everyone has to maintain a certain level. You must dress in a certain way to maintain
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status. You must have certain possessions to maintain status. In order to do this, people are
letting the normal human acquisitive instinct simply run away with them, until it gets to the
place where (as will happen with any instinct or passion that gets the upper hand) it devours
them, and they are no longer the master.
I remember, when I was a young girl, thinking even then how foolish certain practices were in
social life. I remember a friend of mine being simply tragically upset over the fact that she had
worn this dress the last time with this same group of people, and therefore it could not be worn
again. She couldnt afford to buy another dress for this formal occasion, and what was she going
to do? You see, there was the status society. The dress might be perfectly beautiful and entirely
appropriate to the occasion, but these same people saw it the last time, and therefore it was
impossible that it should be worn this time! These things are so ridiculous, and yet the world is
largely almost governed by such things. We have to get and get and get to maintain a status,
and then we have to get more and more and more, and we have to acquire and acquire, until, as
I said, we are devoured by our acquisitiveness. We are devoured by our own status society.
People who live like this are always very unhappy people. They are seeking for worldly security
which we have given up, and the paradoxical result is that they are the most insecure people in
the world. We who have abandoned this material security are perfectly secure in God; or,
looked at from another facet of the paradox, we are wonderfully, happily insecure, in the
security which is God. Got that now? We have given up worldly security; therefore, we are
beautifully insecure, as the world sees things, because we rest in the security of God only. He is
our only bank account. He is our only rock. He is our only support. And he is enough.
There was a little song that was popular in the world (years and years ago, when I was in the
world!) and it is strange (I am sure you have had the experience, too) how a little line of a song
will stay in your mind through the years. This popular song was not at all about holy poverty!
And yet, I have thought so often that the two first lines of it are very meaningful: Footloose
and fancy free, thats the way I want to be. I still remember the little tune to it. It went like
this: Footloose and fancy free, thats just the way I want to be.
Well, it went on from there to matters quite divorced from holy poverty! And yet, this is
Franciscan poverty. We are footloose and fancy free, and that is just the way we want to be.
You see, our feet are never mired in any mud of worldly possessions, and we are fancy free
God is the source and the place of return for our love. He is our entire fancy, our entire delight;
so we are fancy tree. We are not tied down by anything. Footloose and fancy free, thats just
the way we want to be! Now, in this matter of permissions, we must enter into them as
Franciscans from this kind of viewpoint. Many people would have the idea that permissions
fetter us. We cant have this or that unless we ask for it. We cant have a new garment unless
we ask for it. We cant even have a new dust cloth (they would say, For goodness sake!)
unless we ask for it. Worse still, as some worldlings would say, you cant even throw away a
worn-out garment which any fool can see isnt worth anything anymore without asking
permission. These things upset people who do not understand religious poverty. They say this
is blighting the personality; this is childish; this is cramping; this is confining; this is really
quite foolish. The thing is that they have it all upside-down. Every time we ask a permission,
we are giving testimony that we really are footloose and fancy free, and we are giving witness
that that is just the way we want to be. If I am so free that I dont have dominion over
anything, then every time I ask to have something, I ask to discard something, or even if I ask
to borrow something, I am giving this beautiful unworldly testimony that I dont have
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proprietorship over anything. I am so free. I am so unencumbered. I dont own anything. I


dont want to own anything. This is just the way I want to be, and I am eager and glad when
there is occasion to ask permission, because I am giving testimony to my vow each time.
This is how you must look on permissions. Never look at it as something crabbed, something
narrow, something stuffy, something that is simply the accepted way of getting the goods,
and without which you cannot licitly get the goods (or get rid of the goods!); but as a beautiful
thing, giving witness, giving testimony; and being grateful for every occasion when you need
to ask permission, because God is giving you this opportunity to give testimony to your vow of
poverty, or to the vow that you wish to make somedaygiving testimony to your desire, if you
do not already have the vow.
Permissions, of course, enter very deeply into the matter of obedience; but as it may have
occurred to you, the spiritual life and the vows are coordinated and integrated! In this matter of
permissions, they can be considered from the angle of obedience, but still there is very much in
the concept of permissions which belongs very properly in the consideration of holy poverty.
We have to have permission to acquire, permission to relinquish, permission to lend. There are
different headings under which we can consider permissions. The first one is really the
superiors sphere. I want you always to understand what you are doing; to understand your
vows; to understand why you do things. I might mention just in passing (we will go into this
more in detail when we get to the vow of holy obedience) that there are terms which I do not
care to have used in our novitiate. One term that you will find in many books but which I do
not like is blind obedience. I think this is a very misleading term. There is no value in
anything that we do with our eyes closed, our minds closed. The exact value of so-called blind
obedience is that we see clearly the value of obedience when we do not see the reason for it; so
it is anything but blind. People who are strong enough, spiritual enough, profound enough to
obey a command for which they see no reason at all, which may seem to them ridiculous, which
may seem to them even harmfulpeople who can obey in such circumstances have better
spiritual vision than anybody else! They know and they understand and they see very clearly
why they do this thing, which humanly speaking seems foolish, perhaps even harmful or
impractical to them. We know why we do things. We might not know the reason the superior
may have (and this is a glorious opportunity) but we see beyond the immediate thing to the
end. The so-called blind obedience is the very highest exercise of spiritual vision that we may
ever be called upon to use. Some people have such poor spiritual vision that when it comes to an
occasion of so-called blind obedience, they bog down, simply because they cant see far enough.
They are so nearsighted that they cant see what is right in front of them. They cant see
beyond that to God. That is just a little digression about terms.
This first division of permissions is what is called permissions according to power, or
permissions according to rightthat is, it concerns the superiors right to grant permissions,
her power to grant permissions. Now, this is her concern; and yet, it is your concern, too,
because you have a right to know what the superior has a right to do. This is not legalistic; this
is simply intelligent. The superior has the right or the power first to give what we call a valid
permission. What is a valid permission? This is simply something that is entirely within the
superiors power, and which she desires to give. Therefore, it is in my power to say to any one
of you that instead of having five tunics, you can have twelve tunics. This is my power from the
Holy Rule. The abbess can give each sister garments according to her need. Just because it is
customary to have five tunics, that doesnt mean that if I want to, I cant say that you can have
11

twelve tunics! Now, I have the power to do that, and if I have the desire to do it also, then all
rightsome sister gets twelve tunics. I do not have the right to give you fur-lined tunics. I do
not have the power to do that, because the Holy Rule says we cant have fur-lined tunics. I may
have a burning, yearning desire to give you fur-lined tunics, but I dont really have the power.
The superior has the power on occasion to say that in this particular circumstance, a particular
point of the Rule need not be observed or cannot be observed; but the examples I am talking
about now in the matter of permissions are for a general rule. Power and desire are included in
a valid permission.
An invalid permission given by the superior would be one such as the foolish example I just
gave you about the fur-lined tunics. She has the desire without the power. Also, she might have
the power, but no desire at all! It takes the two things to make it operative.
Secondly, there is (as regards the superior) a licit permission. She not only has the power and
the desire, but there is really sufficient reason. Suppose the sister has a skin disease, so that in
summer when she is troubled with this eczema, let us say, she has to change her tunic twice a
day. All right, the poor soul obviously needs the dozen tunics! Therefore, the superior not only
has the power and the desire to do this, but there is obviously a sufficient reason. It would not
be a sufficient reason if the superior had a very particular affection for somebody, and said, I
like that little darling. Shes a very dainty little soul. She ought to change her tunic twice a day.
I dont expect that poor child to wear one tunic all day long. This I might have the power to
do, and I might have the desire to do (if I had gone ping) but I would certainly not have
sufficient reason to grant a permission like that. So this would be an illicit permission. I could
do it, but it would not be licit.
Then the legitimate permission simply combines these two. It is valid (that is, the superior has
the power and the desire) and it is licit (she has sufficient reason to do this). If either of these
things is missing, then it is an illegitimate permission. If she really doesnt have the power to
grant this thingif you are in perfectly good health and I say you should eat hamburger for
dinner on Friday, I dont have the power to do this. I would have the power to suspend the
Holy Rule in a matter like that on an ordinary day, if I thought you were going to die of
pernicious anemia in an hour if I didnt rush this hamburger to you as fast as I could; but on
Friday, I would not have the power.
Power, desire, and sufficient reason combine to make a legitimate permission that the superior
may grant The reason I want you to understand these things particularly well is not only that
you should know and be educated in all things that concern your vows (even if properly this
angle of it belongs to the superior) but also that you should understand that you must ask
permissions intelligently. You should not ask for a thing that you know is not legitimate, valid,
or licit for you to have. There is an intelligence and a spirituality that the superior is expected
by God to observe in granting permissions; but there is also an intelligence and a spirituality
which God expects the subjects to observe in asking permissions. We should never embarrass
the superior by asking for little extras that we do not really need. Neither should we be
imprudent in not asking for things which we do need, and which the superior may not realize
that we need. This can often be a puzzle to young religious, especially as concerns medicine.
You think, Maybe it would be more fervent never to mention that I have this blasting,
screaming headache, and I have had it for three days, and I could bite everyones ears off, just
from having this headache for so long. But it is much more fervent not to tell Dear Mistress,
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not to ask for anything, so I will go around making myself obnoxious to everyone, and I will
qualify as the novitiate cactus, because I am so fervent with this headache that I wouldnt ask
for an aspirin for anything on earth! You see, thats foolish. It is equally foolish that as soon as
we get an ache somewhere, we gallop right off to the superior to ask for an alleviation. Now,
this is where the area of the subjects intelligence and prayerfulness and common sense come in.
We must never think of our vows, as I mentioned before, as something that we do, something
that is tied up as a gift given to God, and thats it I make a vow of holy poverty, this is it, and
the community takes care of me for the rest of my life, period. Thats not the idea at all. I make
a vow of obedienceall right, I do what Im told, thats it for the rest of my life. I make a vow
of chastityI dont get married, thats it. This is the worst kind of superficialityyes, it is
worth snickering about, because it is perfectly ridiculous. But without going to such extremes,
we can live on the surface of our vows without ever really penetrating them. You see, we have
to exercise our own spirituality even in asking some permissions. Now, in this matter I just
mentioned, about asking alleviation from pain, we should not fall into the other excess of
thinking, Should I or shouldnt I? Should I or shouldnt I until we are limpor, depending on
how our personality operates, until we are so tense that we cant even think anymore! I
remember once, when I was a young sister, I was really sick when the Matins bell rang. Instead
of going simply and humbly to Dear Mistress and saying, Im sickIm awfully sick! I dont
think I can get down there! (I had the flu, I think.) But noI stayed in our cell and I thought,
Am I sick enough not to go down? Or should I try to go down? I thought and thought and
thought, until the Dear Mistress discovered me and said, Go to bed! But by that time, I had
thought so hard and so long that I couldnt get to sleep, of course, until morning. I was
exhausted from trying to resolve this terrible problem! Well, that is a lack of simplicity. The
thing to do on occasions like that (and any related case) is to come very simply to the superior
and say, Thus and so, and so and thus. Now, what should I do? I have had a headache for
three days, and I am so cross and so irritable from it that I am afraid I am going to fail in
charity. Humbly beg, do you think you should give me something, Dear Mistress?and thats
it! It is so simple! Then she decides either to give it to you for the preservation of the other
members of the community, or she decides, No! Let the little wretch suffer it another day!
And this is her business, see? And you dont have any problem anymore! Dont ever let yourself
be complicated about things. You know how often I have urged you to simplicity. Be simple
about everything. Be simple with God, be simple with superiors, and be very simple with
yourself.
The same thing with food or clothing or anything. It is an old monastic custom that we dont
ask to have new garments. The sister who has charge of that particular thing should see that
our tunics are worn out, or our apron is falling apart She should ask the superior. This is an old
monastic tradition of detachment and of holy poverty. However, if your tunic is falling off you,
and you dont think your nether-garments are going to hold through the day, well then, thats
just foolish not to go and ask for it! But you dont go and say, Dear Mistress, do you see what
our tunic looks like? Neither do you go and say, Dear Mistress, I am only too content to wear
these rags, but I thought I should mention it. No, you go very simply and say, Dear Mistress,
what do you think about this? Do you think maybe Sister was too busy to see that this is worn
out, or do you think its all right? Then she decides, and thats it! This is intelligent and this is
simple, very simple. This is an intelligent exercise of asking permission.
Neither should we ever ask the superior for things that we know we dont need. Often there is
not a problem, but we can like little things. Perhaps we get little gifts, and we know we dont
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need that. We know it is effeminate. We know that it is too dainty for us, too fancy; but we like
it! We shouldnt go and ask the superior for that, because we should realize that if the superior
grants a permission which our conscience has already warned us should not be asked, that we
are not therefore free in conscience. If we ask for a thing which we know we dont need, which
we know is just a little luxury, and the superior perhaps does not know that we dont need it,
then we are still wrong. We cant go off with our permission under our arm, and think, Alls
right with me and the world, and alls right with me and God, because I got the permission.
This is where you exercise responsibility all the time. Vows do not free us from responsibility.
They make us more responsible than we ever were before.
There is another way to consider permission, and that is the manner of the permission, the
manner in which it is given, and the manner in which it is asked. The first and the clearest is
the express permission. Dear Mistress says, You cant have that apron. You cant have that
pill. All right, you cant have it. There is no question about it. Or she says, You can have this
toothbrush. You should wear this apron. Thats it! She expressed what she wanted you to
have, or what you should not have, and there is no question about it. Then there is the tacit
permission. This is a thing we should be very, very careful ofespecially when we are young
religious and there is very little reason to use it. Tacit, of course, means silent. It derives from
the maxim that silence gives consent Of course, we know that is a specious piece of reasoning.
Silence does not always give consent Silence can sometimes imply just the opposite of consent.
It can imply disagreement. For instance, if you were to say, Dear Mistress, I think Ill go out
and plant those beans first thing after vegetables in the morning. Well, if you know clearly
that she heard you, and she doesnt say anything but gives you a beaming smile, that certainly
is a tacit permission: All right, unless I say something different after vegetables, you go out
and plant your beans. On the other hand, if you say to yourself, I think take that one cupboard
in the shed apart. I can see its no good. Ill use pieces of it to make that shelf that Dear
Mistress told me to make. So you say, Dear Mistress, remember that shelf you told me to
make? Yes? Well, can I make it tomorrow? Yes. All rightand I go out and wreck the
cupboard! She didnt say I couldnt; she didnt say anything about where to get the material
(and of course, I didnt ask her)! These are ridiculous examples, but sometimes a ridiculous
example will remain more clearly in your mind. She didnt say to me, Dont you dare wreck
that cupboard, and she didnt even say, You cant wreck that cupboard. So I have tacit
permission! That is no permission at all.
Even where this is allowable, it is a very dangerous thing; and in the cloistered life, there is
very little reason to use it, because it is never a bit hard to get a yes or a no out of a
superior. Can I wreck the cupboard? Yes! Can I wreck the cupboard? No!
Then there is the trickiest of allthe presumed permission. That is what I want you to be very
careful of, because women are much inclined toward the presumed permission. We like to finish
things. We like to do the thing at the time, in the way, and according to the manner that
Number One thinks is good. Remember that there are a number of ramifications on this; in
fact, there are five separate points. In order to presume a permission correctly, first you have to
be absolutely sure that the superior would give it to you. This can well happen. Secondly, you
have to be sure that she would want you to take the permission without your asking it. Now we
are in a different climate. Yes, Im sure she would want me to do thisam I just as sure that
she would want me to do it without asking? Thirdly, it must be done right here and now.
Presumed permission is not just a matter of convenience. Id like to finish this, Id like to do this
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right nowI havent any permission to do it, but here are all the thingshere is all this gold
and I would like to melt it down right now, and Im sure she would approve of what I want to
do. But there is really no need to do it now. So #3 is that it must be done now. And it must be
important. It must be urgent. And it must be reported to the superior afterwards. Now, thats
quite an array, isnt it? It has to be so urgent that I cant wait; I have to be so sure that Dear
Mistress would not only want me to do it, but she wouldnt even want me to take the time to
look her up and get permission. It is that urgent. I just wonder how often things like that
happen in cloisters. It is a different thing with our extern sisterssuppose they are shopping,
and they see this enormous bargain, and they know I would want the thing, but I didnt tell
them to get it. I didnt even give them any extra money when they went out. Should they try to
call me, when maybe some other woman will take the last one on the counter while they are
calling me? Should they spend a nickel to call me when they are sure that they really cant get
me through normal channels? They are sure I would want it, sure that I would want them to
do it without permissionthats a different thing. But for this to happen in a cloister is very
rare.
Never let yourself build up this little mental habit of presumed permissions. It is very easy for
women to do. We are tricky, you knowwe women. We can find many little devious ways of
getting around a thing. Oh, it would be so nice to do it nowDear Mistress will be so pleased.
Its just a matter of initiative, and she wants us to be responsible. Mother Abbess says so, too.
This is rightreligious initiative. I know she will be glad. It will be such a help to everybody.
What we really mean is, I want to do this, and I want to do it right now! This is no reason to
presume a permission! So always be very strict with yourselves about presumed permissions.
I have a lot more that I thought we would cover today, but I guess we had better stop for
today. There is a lot more to be said about permissions, but this is the big thought I want you
to remember. These are little legalistic things that you must know, but the big concept is this
idea of permission giving testimony, each time being a beautiful little (or big) opportunity to
say, I dont have anything. I am entirely Gods. When I want something or need something,
then I always ask. Each time I am saying again to God, I am yours. I dont have anything. I
belong to you, and you belong to me, and you are all I have, and you are all I want. You are all
I could ever desire.

POVERTY #3THE FOUR DEGREES OF


HOLY POVERTY
Permissions are general, or they are particular. A general permission is a permission that is
given to the entire community, or to the entire novitiate, or to a certain group of religious for a
certain time or a certain circumstance. Also, a general permission can be a permission given to
one or two sisters for a protracted time, or a series of circumstances.
Then there is the particular permission, which concerns one religious. Now this is the thing to
remember: we dont advertise particular permissions. We can cause great confusion to one
another, especially in the novitiate, by discussing particular permissions and giving the
impression that this is a general permission. There are permissions which superiors give to
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sisters all their lives, in the novitiate and in the community, which are for that sister only. They
are particular permissions for particular sisters for particular reasons that the superior has; and
these things are never good to discuss, as they cause confusion. It is not that we would ever be
so ridiculous or so petty as to resent one anothers particular permissions; this is beneath our
notice. But they just mix us up, thats all. What you are told by Dear Mistress that concerns
you is for you, and this is not one of those things about which our dear Lord says, What is told
in the ear should be shouted from the housetops. This is definitely not what he had in mind!
You just keep that for yourself. So permissions, according to object, are general or particular.
Now let us move on to the idea of the degrees of holy poverty. I told you in the beginning that
nothing in our life is static. Nothing in our vows is static. A vow is not made with a resounding
Amen in the interior, and no further progress is made in it. Either we are a little poorer every
day, or we are not really living our vow of poverty. We are not entering more deeply into the
mystery of the virtue of holy poverty.
There are degrees of exterior poverty which concern our vow, and there are degrees of interior
poverty which concern the virtue. Later on, we shall dwell at quite some length on these,
because this, after all, is what we want. We want to grow in understanding and love of the
virtue, and the vow itself is only a means for this, and an expression of this. If the vow is not an
expression of the virtue, then it has become merely externalized, and it has little value in the
sight of God. It has value only by way of the commitment that we had at the time we made it,
but for being a living, vital thing, it has very little value.
But now we want to consider the vow externally. The very lowest degree, which is absolutely
required, is that we renounce proprietorship. Here is where the difference between the simple
and the solemn vow of poverty comes in. When we make a simple vow of poverty, we have
renounced the act of proprietorship. However, we retain the right of proprietorship. We can
still inherit money. We can still administer estates at home. We still have the right to take care
of our herds, our granaries, our fathers gold bricks in the cellarwhatever it was that we left
at home. But we have given up the act of proprietorship. So also in the monastery, we keep the
right to inherit, the right to administer; but we dont have the act of proprietorship over
anything at all. However, when we make a solemn vow of poverty, we give up not only the act
of proprietorship (either for a period of years or for all your life), but we give up the very right
or proprietorship. We give the root as well as the flower. We simply dont have any right to
anything at all. When the community is left a sum of money by a benefactor, we may receive it
as an alms in the name of the Holy Father, and we have the proof that this is not simply a
pretty symbol (that we say this, but we have the same cash as if we didnt say that we received
it in the name of the Holy Father). No, this is a very real and legal thing, because if someone
contested it, then it is finished. We dont counter-contest it. We dont say, This was left to us.
This is our right. No, we may only accept it as a gift. If it is not given as a gift, that is, if
someone else wants to take it, if someone contests it or argues to out right, then we bow right
out of the picture because we dont have any right. So we give up the very right ever to own
anything, ever to be proprietor over anything. Then we would be the most idiotic people in the
world if we ever got involved with things, attached to things; if we ever got, instead of
footloose and fancy free, heavy-footed, sticky-handed, or petty-minded, or if we ever let our
little fancies put down their roots or curl their fingers around this, that or the other thing. We
would be quite irrational, really.

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That is the lowest degreeto renounce our proprietorshipand this is required. If we are not
willing to do this, then we cannot make a vow. If we would make the vow, determined in our
heart not to do it, then the vow would not be valid.
The second degree, which is not required (but which certainly the vow implies) is that we are
content with necessities alone. We do not seek for luxuries. We do not want any ruffles or
trimmings on our lifejust the necessities, just what we need; and superiors are to decide what
the material needs of the community are. Therefore, we would again be very untrue to the
spirit of the vow, even to the vow itself, if having given up proprietorship, we were forever
seeking ruffles on things. You know how disgusting it is to see all kinds of ruffles
everywhere. If we were always wanting little nice things, little superfluities, little pretty things,
this would certainly not be to have arrived at the second degree of the vow, to be content with
necessities.
The third degree goes beyond this, and is not only content with necessities, but really prefers
what is not so good. It prefers the lesser thing, the worse thing; and really prefers it from a
supernatural motive. You know, it is possible to be very proud of our patches. We must always
check ourselves on how genuine our holy poverty is; and if you want one handy check on
yourself to keep for all your life (and to take to community with you when you leave the
novitiate), it is in the matter of convenience. We may be really happy to have the poorest
garment of all the sisters garments; we may really be glad to have the coldest cell. We may
really be happy to have the smallest pencil, the pen that leaks, and the scissors with a broken
end, and really be glad that somebody else has the nicer thing. But how do we act when we are
inconvenienced? When we come to get our tools and the tools arent there? When we come
thinking we need something, and the thing has been left in disorder? When we need to get at
something and someone is impeding our progress? When we want to carry through a piece of
work or a design, and someone is slowing us down? How do we react to all these things, when
we are really put out?
Inconvenience belongs to the poor. The poor are always being inconvenienced. The poor are
seldom able to have things as they want them, when they want them. So just keep this handy
little check on yourself, and if you ever get so foolish as to rub your nails against your guimpe
and think, I am really getting ahead in this thing. I am really getting poorer all the time
there is no getting around that!get out this handy little check about convenience. You want
to use this little thing now, and somebody else is using it, and you know good and well that she
doesnt need to use it as much as you need to use it, and she doesnt need to do that right now,
and you dont know why she always thinks of using this thing just when you need it! One old
and senile sisterand this would not be at all amusing in a young sisterwould simply brush
a person away if she wanted to use a sewing machine and the other sister was there, saying,
Im sorry, but my work is very pressing! As I say, this was amusingas soon as you are
senile, it will be amusing in you, too, but we dont want any premature senility around here!
We can be very poor in our appearance, very poor (we think) in our tastes, and extremely
demanding about common things. Always keep this little check on yourself. So the third degree
is a real preference for the poorer, the worse objects or garments or whatever it may be that is
not so appealing, the food that is not so appealing.
The fourth degree, the highest degree (even of external poverty), is a joy even to be in want of
things. This does not happen to us very often; when we have an occasion really to be in want of
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something, we should rejoice. I am sure you all know that little incident in St. Therese of
Lisieuxs life, when someone had taken her little lamp away in the evening. Now, you have to be
a sister to know what a big thing that could be, and I wonder if lay people reading that
understand how extremely important that is. You have permission to read or write in your cell
at this time, and you have to have the lampand the lamp isnt there! This isnt a little thing
its a big thing! What did she do? You know what she didshe sat in the dark in her cell, in
this precious time that she had for reading or writing (and I imagine they had about as much as
we haveyou know what that means!), and it was just going, going. . . and she just sat there.
And she was happy. She said she was extremely happy. She didnt go around and knock at the
sisters doors and say, Have you got our lamp? And she didnt go around in the great silence
and push notes under their door and ask for her lamp. She didnt march around the house,
stomping her sandals, looking for the lamp, showing by her expression that somebody had
taken her lamp, and people around here ought to be a little more careful! Neither did she adopt
the martyrs air, which is more a temptation for us sometimes than irascibility. Neither did she
go to any sisters door, rap at it, and hand her a polite note in the great silence, with a martyrs
look, The lamp is missing. Had Sister been careless again? Had Sister taken the wrong one?
No, she sat there in the dark, and she rejoiced because she was really in want of something.
This is what we should do, and when we have the chance, be grateful. Surely she got more out
of that black half-hour in her cell than she could have got from any spiritual readings, from any
scribbling of notes, from any letter-writing, or from whatever they were permitted to do at that
time. The Lord speaks to the heart in his own way, and she would have been a fool to miss that
opportunity. So let us not be fools, either. Let us be greedy to use these opportunities to be
poor.
Another little check we can keep on ourselves as a community, as well as individuals, is how we
react to Gods abundance. The first interior check is how I react to inconvenience, to being put
out; secondly, how do I increasingly react to Gods bounty to the community? We have given
up (or we intend to give up) all right, as well as act, of proprietorship; we aspire to have only
necessities; we desire to prefer the worst; and we hope to arrive at the pinnacle where we shall
always be very happy when we are in want of something; and yet, God provides so much. This
is a great mysterythe mystery of his keeping his word. We say to him, We depend on you
for everything. We give up everything. So what does he do? He gives us everything. But you
see, he promised he would do this. This is the mystery of his word. He said, I will give you a
hundredfold in this life, and after that, .then I will give you eternal life. He keeps his word
magnificently. Sometimes people give us gifts that we almost hesitate to acceptgifts of food
that is much better than we would choose, certainly things that we would never buy. And yet,
they give these things in faith, because they believe in our kind of life, because it means a great
deal to them and they want to show their affection. So we accept these things, too; and this is
perfectly all tight. The only things we may not accept are things that are manifestly
incompatible with our life. This we may not haveeven if it be on a minor plane. For instance,
if a friend would say, Now, I insist on donating all the cabinets for your new bathrooms, and I
want a crystal mirror on each one. Well, no matter how much I appreciated his affection for
the community and his desire to be of service, this is manifestly incompatible with our life; so I
would have to say no. On the other hand, when he says, I will give you a beautiful stained
glass window for your novitiate, this is a thing I would never buy. It would be entirely beyond
our means, entirely beyond our mode of poverty, and a thing we do not at all need; but it is not
at all incompatible with our life. It is certainly a way of lifting our hearts to God, of recalling
the presence of God, and so we accept this.
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In general, the more God gives, the more we should be amazed at his giving. If instead of this
interior air and atmosphere of wonderment at Gods bounty, we become increasingly blas
about it, if we simply take it for granted that people bring us things: Well, of course people
send us alms. Yes, they always do thisif more and more we take it for granted, then we are
absolutely failing in all understanding of holy poverty. How we are keeping the vow I would
not venture to say; but we are certainly not observing the virtue. We should never cease being
amazed at God. We should never lose our sense of wonder at things. And if we do, then we are
senile in the worst kind of way. We have lost the youthfulness that is essential to real
spirituality. We should simply be astonished at God all the time. Each day that he provides for
us should be a new burst of wonderment. I dont mean in an emotional waywe cannot
summon up a great rush of emotion every day, at every hour. But we should be filled with this
beautiful interior wonder because, you see, people do not owe us a thing. And no one would
ever send us a dollar bill, no one would ever send us a cookie, if God didnt inspire them to do
it. So everything that we are ever given is by his will, or it could not be done. Therefore, we
live in this sense of wonderment and astonishment. If, on the other hand, we are taking things
more and more for granted, then let us be very careful, let us be afraid. This is when we should
be in fear and trembling, because we are in a very bad way.
Now, when our dear Lord says to the young man in the Gospel the words that we know so
well, Go and sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me, do you know what he
was doing? He was giving a complete theology of poverty. We are so familiar with this
statement that perhaps we dont understand it at all. Sometimes it is the things that we know
best that we understand least. Now, there are four degrees in what he said. Our dear Lord said
first, Go. This is the beginning of our vocation to holy poverty. First we have to go. Abraham
had to leave his own land and his people. Holy Mother Clare had to go from her castle home
and the bosom of her family. When our dear Lord first said to us, Come, then we had to come.
We had to go. We can never come to him without first going from something. In holy poverty,
according to the vow, we must go out of possessions. According to the virtue of holy poverty,
we must go out from attachment. So he said to the young man, Go.
After he had made this break (or was called to make this break), he said, Sell all that you have.
This was the second degree, the second lesson or the second chapter in this theology of
poverty. He should sell all his luxuries, all his conveniencesbut sell them, you see. He got
something in return! This is not wrong; God himself, as I just told you, said, I will give you a
hundredfold. St. Peter and the other apostles said, We have left everythingthis net, this
boateverything! So what will we have? They were much more honest than a lot of other
religiousthey came right out and put their cards on the table, as we say. Somebody else
might say, I wonder what Im going to get out of this. I wonder if Fm going to come out all
right on this divine deal with the Lord, but would be too sophisticated to say it. Whatever was
the apostles fault, it was not false sophistication! They were ingenuous; they were naive; they
were limpid. So John and James said, We have left our nets and as the Scripture so
humorously ends it: and we have also left our father! Possessions and attachmentsthe net
and the father, the things and the love. We have let go of these things, and whats in it for us?
Are we going to come out all right? Did our Lord say, The idea! Am I not enough? What do
you meancomparing me to a fishnet? No, not at all! He understand their simple hearts, and
he said, You will have a hundredfold. He said, You will sit on thrones. He made them all

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kinds of royal promises (which went over very well, Im sure). And yet, he was to ask much
more of them later on.
Our holy poverty is not trading one security for another. We dont give up the security of
education, the security of a position, and the intimacy of a family circle simply to convert it into
ready cash in the monastery. We dont go and sell all we have, and then make a new bank
account in the monastery. This is only the second step: Go and sell what you have. But we are
not to exchange the security of the world for the security of a religious house, and then to rest
content in this. No, then our Lord urged him on quite a bit further. Sell what you have; give up
all these thingsbut then also give up what you got for them. Give up also this new security.
Give up this deposit slip. And give, give everything to the poor. This is the magnanimity. We
cannot, as vowed religious (or those aspiring to make vows), give up material things within the
cloister; but in the matter of convenience, of which I just spoke, we can give up a great deal.
And the more delicate we become about holy poverty, then the more we will see the
opportunities to do this. You see, we are so infernally stupidall of us. Thats why God has to
be so patienthe knows we have hardly a grain of sense. We dont even see the opportunities.
Little by little, he tries to get a little spiritual sense into us; he tries to get a little
understanding so that at least we see the opportunity when it barks at us! And the more we
progress in the love and the understanding of holy poverty, then the more we can see the
opportunities. We dont just trip over them and go on our way anymorewe trip and fall
down, at least! Even if we dont use it, at least we fall down! If we get bruised often enough, we
begin to understand what we were tripping over.
This is the magnanimity: give it all to the poor, and be glad when there is an occasion. Then
what did he say? Come. You have to go, you have to sell everything, then you have to give
away what you got on the sale, and then come. Then you are really ready to understand
spiritual poverty, of which we shall speak later onpoverty of judgment, poverty of will,
poverty of the interior. Come, and follow me. He didnt say, Stand beside me, or Stand
behind me, or Remain in this place with me. But see the progression: Then, after this, then I
will really lead you into the mystery of your vocation. Then come and follow me. And follow
and follow and follow until the end of your life, until you have reached the peak of
understanding and the summit of love, and the absolute apex of fulfillment.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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POVERTY #4OUR LADYS POVERTY OF


SPIRIT (MARCH 24, 1965)
Dear Sisters, while we were having our little talks together on the vow of holy poverty, I had it
in mind to bring out the parallelism and complementariness between the virtue and the vow;
but Our Lady suggested to me that we should speak instead about her poverty of spirit.
I would not be the one to go against Our Ladys wishesthat would be a very ungracious
thing to doso that is what we will consider today.
You know, from all Dear Mistress has taught you, about the formal or legal aspects of your
vow of poverty. You have also examined the virtue of poverty. But there is a poverty of spirit
that goes on widening its horizons every year of our lives; and the more refined, the more
delicate we become in our poverty, so much the more does our material appreciation of poverty
carry over into our interior, so that it would be impossible, I should think, that a Franciscan
who really has grasped the meaning of Franciscan poverty should not practice, as the years go
by, a high degree of interior poverty: poverty of judgment, poverty of intellect (not in the sense
of impoverishing our intellectquite the oppositebut that we have sufficient control over our
judgments, our ideas), so that we can be truly poor interiorly. This is the height, this is the
crown of poverty: when we can be too poor to own our own judgments, to insist on ownership
of them, even though we believe in them with all our hearts. I never want you to surrender
your beliefs until you are overpowered by a stronger belief; but I want you always to be strong
enough that you can always bow your heads, you can always submit your judgment. The
religious who, humanly speaking, may have the soundest judgment in the community, may by
no means be the holiest one, by no means the poorest one in the highest sense of poverty.
Greatness is not so much to have a strong will as to have a strong willpower. Many people
have a strong will, but there are not so many people who have an equally strong or stronger
willpower. You can have a wonderful, high-powered motor; but if you dont have a good driver,
do you know what will happen? If you start out a high-powered car with somebody at the
wheel who has never driven before or doesnt understand the car, or who has no control over it,
he will kill everybody in sighthe will not even be able to pursue a straight path down the
street. So the important thing is to have power over yourself, and this is really a part of our
poverty as well as of our obedience.
Lets look together at a few of the really great moments in Our Ladys life, and see how her
spirit of interior poverty shapes itself. Now, interior poverty can never be untangled from holy
obedience. The two are always together. They are almost wedded, so that it would be
impossible to have a perfectly obedient religious who had not acquired a high degree of
poverty. We have already seen this even in the more formal aspects of the vow, with matters of
permission and so on. The two are always overlappingone might even say, becoming
integrated or correlated!
Lets look at Our Lady in her Annunciation, which is the beginning of our joy. You know, in
the Middle Ages, this was New Years Day. This was the event from which things were dated.
This was the beginning of things. This was the feast of beginnings. Our Lady showed her
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poverty of judgment beautifully when the angel came to her. She was a perfect woman; she was
a very young girl at the time, but as we know, a Jewish girl was physically mature beyond what
an American girl would be (far beyond it), and mentally, too. She had very strong ideas about
things. As a matter of fact, at her age she had already vowed her virginity to God. She was a
little person who had very strong opinions, very strong ideas. She knew exactly what she
wanted to do with her life, at an age when many girls would not. She was especially strong in
this judgment, this choice, because it was not the ordinary choice. Even now, a life of
consecrated virginity is the exception and not the rule in society; but it was almost unheard of
in those times. The one vocation for every Hebrew girl was marriage. But this little lady of
very strong opinion didnt intend to marry. She had made up her mind, under Gods inspiration,
what she was going to do. She was sure it was right; she was sure it was an inspiration.
Then the angel came and told her she was going to be the Mother of God. What would we
have done, I wonder? What would we have said? Our Lady must have had a great interior
struggle. We should never forget that she was a perfect woman, the perfect woman. We can
sometimes run down a blind alley with this idea and think that because she was a perfect
woman, she never got upset, she never was troubled by anything; her serenity was never
assaulted by anything at all; she was impervious to suffering, impervious to weariness. This
isnt to make her a paragon of womanhood. This is to take all her merit and her worth away
from her. Our Lady had no inclination to sin as we have; her tendencies werent always running
down the wrong road, as ours want to go. She always had perfect control of herself. But she
didnt feel things less than we do; she felt them much more, because she was so much more
perfect than we are. And when she suffered something, she suffered it more deeply, not less so,
than we do. When her plans were upset, she felt it more deeply than we do. When she didnt
understand something, she suffered even more than we would from not understanding, just
from the fact that her intellect was so much greater than ours, so completely unclouded. When
it couldnt grasp something, she suffered. The angel gave her this astounding message; and she
bowed her judgment to God. She was able to be so poor, so interiorly poor in spirit, that she
could even put aside one inspiration of God for another. She could put away a good thing for a
better. This is sometimes very difficult.
We can be sure that something we want to do, something we have devised, some little plan, is
very good and very pleasing to God; perhaps objectively there can be no doubt about it at all. It
really is. But then, superiors say no, or something else thwarts this. This is where we can show
how much poverty of spirit we have, because God often inspires things in usideas, or a love
for certain penances, perhapsjust to see if we are poor enough to bow our judgment to him.
Our Lady was this poor in her judgment. She had what was really a sublime indifference. Im
not too fond of that word indifference, because I dont think it expresses very well what it
means to express. Often we get wrong ideas about indifferencethat it is just like a piece of
wet spaghetti. It will go whichever way you push it! This is not indifferenceit may perhaps be
sloth! Sublime indifference, which she had, is great interior poverty; this is real grandeur of
soul. Whatever God asked, she was poor enough not to own her own ideas on the subject Her
indifference (we will have to keep calling it that, until one of us can think of a better term for it)
was sublime.
Then she had this other quality of interior poverty, which was personal responsibility. She
knew what she was doing. When she vowed her virginity to God, she wasnt a little girl who
really didnt understand how life operated, who didnt understand the natural avenues that her
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womanhood would want to take, the fulfillment that, in any normal woman, nature inclines her
to seek; she knew all this. And she had a great sense of her personal responsibility to God and
in her own life. So now, too, when the angel puts this plan of God before her, she doesnt just
say in sweet words what would amount to, What can I do? He is God, and Im just Mary. But
she actively rises to the occasion, and she uses Gods own words. She says, Fiat. This is a
mighty word. This was Gods first spoken word. This is the first word we have from the
Divinity in the Scriptures: God said, Fiat luxet lux erat. A magnificent simple sentence: Let
there be light, and there was light. Just like that! So our Lady takes his own word, and she
says, Fiat mihiBe it done to me. She doesnt give some kind of supine acceptance: Well,
this is the way it has to be. Whats going to happen will happen. Im just an instrument of fate.
No, she rose to it, and took Gods own words: Be it doneshowing that she knew she was
responsible for her actions, and that in this great act of interior poverty she was the active
agent. Be it done to me according to thy word. I say this. I want this. I am not just being acted
upon. I am passive, yes, to Gods will, but with an interior activityjust as later her Divine
Son would show himself passive throughout his Passion; he accepted everything, but he
actively willed to suffer. We can say in a paradoxical way (which is sometimes the very truest
way to express a thing) that he was actively passive all the time. He willed to suffer; he willed
to accept things; he willed to be passive.
Another facet of our Ladys interior poverty we see in the Annunciation was her perseverance
in her lowliness. She was calm outwardly, and yet she was troubled. The Scriptures say this
that she was troubled. She admitted, in a very poor and humble way, that she didnt quite catch
on. Later, as the Scriptures would tell us, she didnt understand things. But she didnt doubt
the angel. She didnt doubt Gods word, but she didnt understand how he was going to do this.
This was her wonderful kinship with us, and our kinship with her. But she didnt make the
mistake we are always makingwe think we have to figure it out right away! We think that we
have to understand just what God is doing in everything, just what superiors mean, how this
thing is going to turn out, why its being done, how its being done, and what the result is
going to be. No, Our Lady was troubled at this thing; she couldnt quite take it in. She was
unable to understand how she could be a mother and a virgin. So in her poverty and her
humility, she said very humbly, How is this going to be? She asked for informationjust as
much as she needed, and no more. When she got just what she needed, then she didnt pursue
this question, as we might have. She didnt say, Well, what is he going to look like? Am I
going to have a husband? Where are we going to live? How is this going to turn out? No, she
just needed to know what she needed to know, and she knew when to stop! She didnt want a
thousand details in a womanish way. She was great enough and poor enough to give up one of
the things that is dearest to the heart of a woman, and that is security. This is deep in a
womans naturemuch deeper than in a mans. A woman wants security. She wants to be taken
care of. She wants to be cared for. She wants to have this feeling of stability. Our Lady was poor
enough to give this up. She was poor enough to accept insecurity. The insecurity of faith in
God is the greatest security there is. This is the kind of security we have to have in our
povertyeven in our material poverty, and a thousand times more in our interior poverty. We
do not always understand things; we do not always know things; but God always does. That is
one of the wonderful things about Godthere are quite a few wonderful things about God, and
one of them is that he always knows just what he is doing.
She persevered in her lowliness after she had assimilated this message (as far as any human
being possibly could) that she, for no reason she could possibly understand, had been chosen by
23

God to be the only human agent in giving him a human body. Then she did not leave off the
knowledge, the sureness, the perseverance in her lowliness, because even as she said her fiat:
Be it done to me according to thy word she was able to understand that being the Mother of
God didnt change her other status as his little servant, his little handmaid She persevered in
her poverty, in her lowliness.
Then look at the next crisis that we know of in her life. There must have been many, many that
arent recorded, because a life such as she led, a life of faith, must have been full of little crises,
little recurring crises. There must have been many more times which arent recorded in the
Scriptures when she didnt understand, and when she wanted to, as a woman does. Look at the
flight into Egypt. Our Lady was a harassed woman. This was no small thing for Saint Joseph
to get her up in the middle of the night! Look at when our Lord was born. The journey to
Bethlehem is all caught up in our mind with the tenderness and joy of Christmas; but believe
me, there was a lot more than tenderness involved in that journey! Again, she did not ask to
know more than she needed to know. She asked reasonable questions, as a poor religious can;
but she was able to differentiate between what is really unreasonable and what is not. This is
another very important point for interior poverty.
Sometimes young religious (and older religious too) can get very confused on this point of what
is reasonable and unreasonable. You will find spiritual writers telling you that a subject is not
obliged to do what is unreasonable. Thats true; that is theologically sound. But remember, he
is saying, what is unreasonableand what is that? It is something that directly contradicts
reason. It is against reason. It cant be done. No spiritual writer (unless he is a heretic, of
course) means by You need not do what is unreasonable that I sort out, in my own little mind,
what seems reasonable or unreasonableand what I really mean by that is what is practical or
impractical, what I do understand or what I dont understand, what I think is a good idea and
what I dont think is a good idea. Unreasonable means that according to reason, this thing
cannot be. If Saint Joseph had said to our Lady, You will have to see that the Divine Child is
born before we go to Bethlehem, this would have been unreasonable. This is against reason;
her time had not yet come, and the Divine Child could not be born until her hour had come.
But when Saint Joseph said, We have to go to Bethlehem, this was not unreasonable. Perhaps
many a religious would have said it was. Perhaps many a religious would have said, Do you
expect me to travel in this condition? Do you know the road? Do you realize that Ive got
everything ready at home? Do you realize we havent got connections there?and probably
would have concluded this long list by saying, This is unreasonable! Saint Joseph was not
asking her to do anything against reason when he asked her, with him, to obey the command of
an earthly rulernot a direct command of God. It was not against reason, so she was poor
enough in her judgment to submit.
Then again, at the flight into Egypt, she didnt say, Its the middle of the nightthats
perfectly unreasonable! You know neither of us can speak a word of Egyptian. Of all places to
go! We havent a cousin in the entire land. Where are we going to stay? How do you know if
you can get work there? This is quite unreasonable! Noshe was poor. This was not anything
that was against reason, that could not be done. So she was poor enough again to submit her
judgment, and she went. Then when the angel told them to come home, there are many a
religious who would have thought that this was unreasonable, too. There was another Herod
ruling; if anything, he was worse than the first oneat least he was equal to him in malice, in
evil, in bloodthirstiness. Our Lady didnt say, We finally got a start here in Egypt, and the
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Holy Child is picking up the language. (Did you ever think of that, by the way, that our dear
Lord must have learned quite a bit of Egyptian? You know little children learn a language very
quickly. I like to think of him corning home and being with the other little children, and
speaking Egyptianperhaps delighting to see their surprised reactions! For he was a real child,
as our Lady was a real woman. Maybe she was a little proud of the Egyptian he picked up!) She
didnt say, We simply have to tell God that this is unreasonable! No, she had poverty of
judgment, as he did; and so she obeyed. She was poor enough all her life to obey.
Then, think of her poverty in his public life. If ever a mother was poor, certainly she was. She
was with him in his ignominy, but we never find her with him in his glory, until after the
Resurrection and her own death and assumption. We dont find her with him on Palm Sunday.
We dont find her riding beside him, over the cloaks spread out on the ground, or being drawn
in a chariot behind him. When they call out that they want to make him king, we dont find her
anywhere around. When people are stupefied with the miracles, we dont find her by his side.
We dont find her in any glamorous light when the mother of the sons of Zebedee comes
elbowing up and asks if her boys can have the best places. We dont find our Lady next to him,
but we find her, as the Scriptures say so pathetically, at the outskirts of the crowd, or as
Scripture says, Your mother and your brother are outside. This is what she was in her
poverty. She was outside, at the outskirts of the crowd, always poor, always accepting what
very often she couldnt understand. She persevered to the end in this interior poverty of hers.
She wasnt with him on Palm Sunday, but she was beneath the Cross. She was there on the way
of the Cross. When they werent applauding but jeering him, then she was very close to him.
Then she was always associated with himwherever there was ignominy, whenever he was
suffering, then she was there. Whenever he was being glorified and praised, then she was
outside, or on the outskirts of the crowd, or not mentioned at all.
This was the greatest of womenand there will never be a greaterand she was the poorest
of women. She should be an inspiration to us always to have interior poverty. It is this that was
intrinsically woven into her greatness. It was the very warp and woof of her greatness, from
her fiat, her active responsibility in entering into Gods will and making her promises, to this
wonderful persevering poverty of judgment, to this recognition of her limitations. She could
have been silent with the angel, you know; but she was humble enough and poor enough to say,
dont understand. How shall this be done? I dont follow you, really. This was great humility,
great poverty. The angel had gone down, as it were, on his knees before her. He had
acknowledged her superiority to him if she were to accept this mission from God. He told her
that she was full of grace, which is to say, You are perfect. Hail, perfect one, full of grace. And
he told her that the Lord was with her. Yet, she knew her limitations. She was not dazzled by
the praise even of an angel. We get dazzled even by a bit of praise from a little human being.
Our Lady was not dazzled even by the praise of an archangel of God, but persevered in her
lowliness and her poverty. She persevered in her poverty all throughout her domestic lifeshe
had material poverty, very much like a poor religious should have. Although she was not
subject to the ravages of illness, and certainly she was not subject to any of the struggles of
concupiscence that we are, she got weary. She got tired. She suffered. We know this. This was
not inappropriate to or incongruous with a perfect nature, because our dear Lord was God, and
yet the Scriptures say that he sat down because he was tired. He sat down on the well because
he was weary. He was thirsty, and he got hungry. She did, too. Hebrew women worked hard.
She had to go to the well every day and carry those heavy pots of water home. She did her own
cooking; she had no servants, and cooking was very primitive in those days. At night she must
25

often have been very tired. So she had even the outward poverty that we have. She is not apart
from us; she is so close to us; but we like to push her away with our devotedness. We try to
make her so great that we are really pushing her out of our little human orbit. She doesnt want
that kind of praise. She does not want to be thought of as a woman who was not really a woman
at all, who was just some kind of spirit who had just taken up residence in this perfect body. No,
she felt things. When her plans were upset, she felt this very much. Dont ever think it was easy
for her. It was harder for her than it would be for us. The only difference was that she had the
grace of interior poverty, and we are often very clumsy in rising to an occasion. Our Lady was a
queen in rising to an occasion.
Think of the poverty of her reputation. When they wondered at our Lord and said, Isnt he the
carpenters son? they couldnt think of anything to distinguish his Mother except her name!
Nobody said, Isnt he the son of the carpenter and of that woman with the magnificent voice,
or that one who wears the superb clothes, that one who is always so well-informed on every
subject? No, they said, Isnt his Mother called Mary? That was all that was said about her.
You see, she had obscured herself so perfectly, she was so poor in her greatness that she was
not even outstanding with the village folk for any particular thing. Just imagine thatthe
Mother of God, the greatest woman that ever lived, and they said, Isnt her name Mary? Her
greatness was so interior.
Let us think of these things in our poverty. We dont want to settle for making a vow of
poverty that means we cant own property, that we dont have proprietorship over our clothing,
that we cant order our own dinner, we cant order our own stationery, and we cant have a gold
pen. What is this? Just childs play! This is not what we want. We want a vow of poverty that
expresses the virtue of poverty, that leads us into interior poverty, so that the vow means not a
gift given once, but a thing that is growing all the time.
We can see this idea of giving something to another through a very homely example. Suppose
one of you owned one of the flowerbeds out there, and you said you wanted to give it to me.
You give up all ownership, all proprietorship. Then you never look at it again. Well, you really
gave it up, but then you never watered it for me, you never weeded it for me, you never cared a
thing about it again, because you gave it to Mother! This would be like a vow without the
virtue, without the interior. But if you really love to give something to someone, then you
would say, I want to give it to you. I will take care of it for the rest of my life. I will water it
every day. I will never let a weed grow in it. I will see that it has the most beautiful flowers that
the world has ever seen, because this is my gift to you, and I will keep on making it a gift every
day of my life. This is a very homely example, but perhaps a valid example of what the virtue
and the vow mean. This is what our Lady did.

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POVERTY #5LIVING THE VIRTUE OF


POVERTY IN COMMUNITY
Dear Sisters, this is the last of our sessions on the first of our vows, holy poverty. We can pull a
few little loose ends together that I have left hanging in the thoughts I have brought before you
for you to consider and think about. When I say for you to consider and think about, this is
throwing the spotlight again on what I tell you over and overthat your sanctity, your
understanding and your fulfillment is ultimately your own to decide. There are many degrees
of the holiness to which a soul is called. Holiness is not a static thing. God has very evidently
called everyone in this room to holiness and to the same state of life; and therefore, in one
sense, to the same holinessholiness as a contemplative nun, as a Poor Clare. However, within
this call of God is our own free will to determine the degree of that holinesswhether it shall
arrive at a fine apex of understanding and fulfillment, or whether it will be satisfied with a
plateau of holiness. We should love to think about that, and impress upon ourselves our own
responsibility.
Now, this holds for all our vows, for all our obligations; and in our vow of poverty, it should
become increasingly clear to us that we will be as poor as we desire to be. We shall be as poor
as we understand poverty, and then after that, we will be as poor as we will to be. As there are
many degrees of holiness to which a soul is called, so there are many degrees of Franciscan
poverty. If we are living our life in the dynamic way that we should, with an enthusiasm for
holiness, then our understanding of poverty and the virtue of poverty should grow every day. I
dont mean that we should step back from ourselves and be able to see clear indications in
ourselves that show clearly that we have a much better understanding this week than we did
last weekno, of course not! But imperceptibly, this should grow in us. How does it grow? In
very little waysnot that one week I get this great light on poverty: Now I understand it!
Now I grasp it as I never did before! No, it is the little occasions of every day that make it
grow imperceptibly within us, so that gradually, not dramatically, but gradually from day to
day, we become more refined in our poverty as we become more and more refined in every
virtue.
About the virtue of poverty, there are three little checks that we should keep upon ourselves.
The first of these is whether we have within our heart either regrets on the negative side or
desires on the positive side for anything that does not suit our profession. Now, this is what we
must always consider: that we are not called to poverty, but to Franciscan poverty. The
poverty of one Congregation is very different from that of another Order. The poverty of lay
institutes is very different from that of Congregations. We are called to a very particular kind
of poverty, a very comprehensive and searching kind. Therefore, keep this phrase always in
mind: neither desires nor regrets for anything that doesnt suit our way of life. Sometimes there
can be discussion upon this point, especially as regards things that none of you will have to
pronounce on at presentsuch as the furnishings of the chapel and choir, and so on. But you
should know these things. We can bring forth very good arguments and reduce them to the
fact that nothing is too good for God, and therefore if we can lay hold on enough funds to buy a
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Carrera marble altar, we should have it, because this is for God, this is not for us. Also, we
should crust the walls around the altar with mosaic, if we can lay hold on them, too, because it
is for God, and nothing is too good for him. But holy Mother Colette summed this up very
neatly in the original document of her Constitutions when she said in that cryptic way of hers,
The Lord is not well served by a service that does not suit the state of the one who serves
him. Thats quite a sentence. Its very simpleshe doesnt waste a word, a comma, or a
syllable. It covers the whole situationit says everything. She implies, very correctly, that in a
cathedral it is altogether fitting that there should be much mosaic, there should be leaf of gold,
and there should be marble altars. It is altogether fitting that in a new parish church, there
should be beautiful woodcarving, and there should be everything that can be provided on the
parish level for our Lord. She also gives us to understand that in a little Poor Clare choir, God
is not honored by any of these things, for the simple reason that though he is the same God, he
is served by a service that is according to the state of the one who serves him. Therefore, we
dont have these things. Although they are entirely suitable and most worthy in other places,
they are entirely out of place for us.
In our own lives, in the little things that we do have to decide upon, let us look into our own
hearts and see about our little regrets and desires. Now, remember that to fail against the
virtue of poverty, it has to be a real regret or desire, not an emotional thought. I will have a lot
to say about this when we consider the next vow, but even here, in holy poverty, it applies. For
instance, if you are out working on one of those August afternoons when the heat just curls you
up like a shaving, and you may have the thought of the old days in Egypt, when you could go to
the icebox and get yourself a bottle of 7-Up, go into your air-conditioned bedroom, or at least
go into the living room and turn the fan on while you drank your 7-Upthis doesnt mean you
are failing in the virtue of poverty. This means you are a perfectly normal teenager or a
perfectly normal old lady in her twenties! There is nothing else ailing you but that! However, if
you start mentally kicking your foot in the gravel of your thoughts and thinking, How do they
expect a person to work like this? This isnt what I knew I was in for when I came. This isnt
reasonable. Then this is a regret; then this is a desire for the cucumbers and the garlic. There
is a difference. It is perfectly normal for someone to have the thought of sitting down in a cool
place and having a cool drink and doing nothing for about two or three hours on an afternoon
like thatthis is a very normal person. But, you see, we are not leading a natural life. We are
leading a supernatural life. So we grow in the virtue of poverty by thinking of things like this,
or of other little comforts we may have had, big or small, and then immediately turning it to
Our Lord: What is this beside you? So we turn these little regrets and desires that come to us
into a practice of the virtue, not into a fault. Regrets and desires that dont suit our way of life:
this is to fail in the virtue of poverty.
The second way is to have irregular attachments to things. Now, this is where a woman can
just excel. We can leave our family, and our house and lands, as the Gospel saysand we can
get so involved and so entangled with some little thing. We like some particular little thing at
our work, or some particular little place to sit, perhapssome particular little bench, a
particular cell. Holy Mother Colette was so wiseshe talked about being attached to needles
and pins, and there are all kinds of needles and pins. Our lives are full of needles and pins. They
may not be objectively a needle or a pin, but things that are on such a level that we can
compare to something so small and insignificant as a needle or a pin. We can give up an ocean
and drown ourselves in a pitcher. This is the hazard for religious, and especially for enclosed
religious. We can just wrap ourselves around some little insignificant convenience, or some
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little superfluity, and that gets so important to us. If it isnt there, if somebody else takes it and
we want itooh! We are so attached to that, that we have to have it! Or we can have to have
things done in a certain way. So we can get attached to our ideas, in irregular attachments. We
can get attached to natural virtues. Now, this is the thing I want you to think over and take
apart in your minds. Suppose I am by nature a very orderly person. I just dearly love to
organize things, to set them in order. It gives me such a nice, purring feeling inside when I
come into a room or look into a cupboard, and I see everything at right angles, everything is
just where it should be. I just feel an interior glow! Now, this is a natural virtue to be orderly. It
is a very good thing (and much to be cultivated in monasteries!) however, we can get so
attached to this that heaven help anybody who disturbs our order. And if we dont have time to
make our order, if we have to survive in some disorder, we can be so irritable and so
impatientalso, if our little orderly plans are crossed. This is to become irregularly attached to
a natural virtue. Order is just one; there are many others that you can think of, and we can get
attached to this kind of mental needles and pins, too.
The third way is to like or to be attached to little superfluities. We must be careful of this, too.
We would be fools if we get involved with little superfluities after giving up our homes and our
earthly freedom, giving up the idea of having a home and a family of our own, and the right to
do whatever we want in every circumstance (insofar as people can dothey are often
hampered), giving up these liberties and these enjoyments, conveniences, and comforts. This is
so beneath us. We should not stoop to such imperfections. Even our natural common sense
ought to keep us from this, and our good old healthy sense of humor. If I gave up the ocean, Im
not going to hold my nostrils and dive into this fishbowl and drown myself. At least I would
prefer to drown myself in the oceantheres a little more grandeur and splendor to the act!
Watch these three little things, and see that they dont get to be big things. See that you dont
ever acquire little superfluities, especially if you have a more feminine type of personality,
where you like little nice thingsthis little nice thing, and that little nice thing, this pretty
little thing, and this little extra thing. Pretty soon we have all kinds of packs of needles and
pins! Watch yourself, and grow in the virtue of poverty. It would be a pathetic thinga tragic
thing, reallyto make a vow of poverty and give up all the right to possess, to be before God
and man a person who is really free, and yet be all knotted up with threads. I believe it is St.
John of the Cross who said that one silk thread is just as effective as a rope to keep a bird from
flying. If you tie its little foot with one silk thread, it cant fly any more than if you tie it down
with a rope. So, dont you tie any little silk threads around yourself when you have made (or
hope to make) a vow of poverty, because we dont want to do the least. We want to do the most.
One special thought I want to leave with you as we conclude our thoughts about holy poverty
is community life. This is where our vow and our virtue should show themselves, where they
grow or where they diminish, where we show our increasing understanding of the virtue of
poverty, or where we are exhibiting all the time how little thought we have for it. Community
life is the exercise of community poverty. We should really have a responsible attitudefirst
on the practical scale, on the material plateaua really deep sense of responsibility about
everything in the monastery. This really is my home, and I really have to take care of it. It is
Gods home, and it is my home. This is a tremendous thoughtthat the sacramental God and I
live in the same house, under the same roof. We share a home together. This deep sense of
responsibility should not beget in me in tenseness, where I am so afraid I will break something
that I drop everything I touch! But it should beget a spiritually relaxed sense of responsibility. I
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am taking care of this home. It is Gods home and my home, and I am going to see that things
are kept beautiful. If we look at things this way, then we take the very homeliest details of our
community life and we raise them to a beautiful sublime plane. If I am really conscious in my
soul all the time that this is Gods home and my home, then it is not a small thing to polish a
faucet. This is a beautiful thing to do. Everything in this home is given to me to take care of. I
dont own it; I have no rights over it; but I am a caretaker, and I really want to take care of it. It
is important to me. It is important to me that nothing is damaged. It is important to me to
clean thoroughly. It means a great deal to me to keep things lovely, because this is Gods home
and my home. This is the kind of attitude that you must have in the novitiate and that we must
build up all our lives. We can never afford to be too busy to take care of things. We can never
afford to be too driven to be poor. Poor people must take care of things; if they dont, they dont
have them. If they break, they cant replace them. If they are careless and waste things, they
havent replenishment for it, and so they have to watch all the time. There are thousands of
ways that we can show that we really understand that we are tiny poor people. Far from
making us little drudges, or far from begetting any spirit of servility in us, this is just what
makes us free. These are all wonderful things given into my charge, and I am personally
responsible to make everything last as long as it can, including my health and my time. I am
supposed to make the most of myself; I am supposed to use myself up and make myself last as
long as I can for the community. I am supposed to use my time as well as I can, and get the
most out of it for God and the community. A religious, a Poor Clare who has a deep, deep sense
of what community life really is, is always going to be a Poor Clare who excels in the virtue of
poverty. The two are inseparable. A Poor Clare who has not too deep a regard for community
life and her own personal responsibility in it will inevitably be the one who has a very shallow
understanding of the virtue of Franciscan poverty.
In this spirit, we live the community life; in this spirit, we grow in the virtue of poverty,
wanting to be less and less encumbered, wanting to be more and more free. The poorer we are,
the freer we are. Now, as part of this community life and as part of our poverty, as we have
discussed at quite some length before, we ask permissions. Each time we do this, we give
witness to God that we dont have anything, that we have to ask for everything, and that we
are not proprietors over anythingwhether it is goods, our time, or on the very highest plane,
our opinions and judgments. We are strong enough to be poor in our judgments, to be strong
enough to bow our head. This is one of the greatest feats of strength that there isto bow your
head. This is much more than any feats of physical strength. This is the feat of strength for a
religious, for a Poor Clareto be strong enough to be able to bow your head. To be strong
enough to say on occasion, Yes, Dear Mistress, is a flaming act of strength. This is really a
muscular act. This is to have spiritual biceps. To be able to bow your head is the supreme act of
strength, whether it is opinion or judgment, whatever it is. Because it is my opinion, I am
attached to it, in a sense (it wouldnt be my opinion, if I werent!) But I am strong enough that
to bow my head when it is not the opinion of superiors, when they say, This is wrong, or
This is wrong in this instance, or This is not what I feel should be done. As St. Paul says,
you have to train yourself and restrain yourself to be a great athlete; well, believe me, my dears,
you have to restrain yourself and train yourself every day to be a great enough athlete to
perform this spectacular feat of strength, which is bowing your head, always bowing your head
to God. Dont think Our Lady wasnt performing a great act of strength when she said, Fiat,
when she bowed her head and the whole direction of her life was changed. This was a great act
of strength. So, too, we show strength in living a community life, in asking permission, in
obeying laws, and in obeying customs.
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That is the last point I want to make a little dearer todayI touched on customs earlier, and I
told you I would come back to it, then I got off on another line of thought and I didnt. I want
you to understand very clearly how important a custom can be. I think I did give you a couple
of examples before. A custom can have the force of lawthat is, it can be just as binding as a
regulation of the Constitutions or the Holy Rule, a real legal binding force.
There are three points that make a custom a legally binding custom. The first is that it is
reasonable. Last time we talked about what is reasonable. If you recall (and you had just better!)
we said last time that a thing is unreasonable if it contradicts reason. We dont mean that I
dont think its a good idea. Its unreasonable. I dont think it will work. Its unreasonable. I
dont think its the right time to do it. Its unreasonable. No, this just means that I dont like it,
or I dont approve of it, or its not my idea! Unreasonable means it is against reasonanything
that would be against the Constitutions, against the Holy Rule, anything that would flatly
contradict out way of life, for instance, if some abbess thought it would be a nice idea if we
would have a little school in the back yard, the children would come in through the back gate,
and we would teach. The community would do this for forty years (we presume that this person
would live quite a long time, or else others who followed her would have the same mind). This
is not so funny. This has happened in other Orders. As one monk said, Great was the day
when the school burned down. Now, if something like that would be set up and done for forty
years and the community agreed to it, this could still never become a legally binding custom,
because it is unreasonable. It contradicts the way of life. For a custom to be legally binding, a
custom that is taken up by the community must first of all be reasonable.
Secondly, it must be a thing that has been done by the major part of the community. If four or
five sisters in the community think, We will take up this or that practice, or This is a lovely
ideasome book of private revelation said that our Lady genuflected twenty-seven times a day,
so we should do this, too. (There are revelations like this, you know!) We want to imitate our
Lady, so well take that up as a community custom. We will all genuflect twenty-seven times a
day. These four sisters may do this faithfully for forty or fifty years, but this isnt a legally
binding custom, because it isnt done by the whole or major part of the community under the
superiors leadership. She must want it, and the community must want it.
The third point is that it must have been done for forty years. I want you to remember that,
because you should know all these things. For a custom to be legally binding, first of all it must
be reasonable. There is the example of our not wearing sandals. The Holy Rule could be
interpreted either wayI think some Poor Clares interpret it the other waythey go barefoot
some of the time, not all of the time. The Colettines have traditionally accepted it the other
way, and they have freely chosen for centuries, under the leadership of the abbess and the whole
community wishing to do this, that we will interpret it this way. That is what a legally binding
custom does: it interprets the Rule or Constitutions, or it modifies it. Now, this is a point that
could be interpreted either way; for centuries, we have chosen to interpret it this way, so that
now it has a legally binding force of law. Thats a very clear example. When Holy Church gives
a new ruling, like a new rule in Canon Law, if she does not say, All things to the contrary
notwithstanding, the custom of a community or Order can still take precedence over that. I
mention that just to show you how important a thing a custom is, how great a thing it is. When
we say It isnt customary, we are really saying something.

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The last point I want you to be clear on here is that you do not confuse a custom with a usage.
We loosely use this term and call all manner of things customs. Thats all rightI dont
mean you have to change your manner of speaking and say, No, I didnt mean it wasnt
according to customit wasnt according to usage! Not at allthat is perfectly all right to
talk of small things as customs, but I want you to have it clear in your mind. We rinse our
spoons, our fork, and our cup, and we wipe them with brown paper. This is a usage, not only of
the house, but of the Order. This could be changed any time. If the abbess, or the abbess and
her council, think, We wont do this anymore; we havent got any brown paper, or We decide
this, or We dont like it anymore, thats all right. They can change usages. But that is not a
custom, and that does not have the binding force of law, even though we have done it for forty
years, and everyone has wanted to do it (I guess we have done it for hundreds of years). But
that is not a custom; it is just a little usage. It is a usage of the Order, which can be changed by
any community, at any time.
There are also usages of a house. It is a usage that we fold our serviettes a certain way. It
doesnt have the binding force of law, although if you fold your serviette in six creases, Dear
Mistress will say, That isnt customary! And that is the right way to express it! But we dont
mean that this is a legally binding custom. It is a usage, and we observe the usages of the house.
Just so that you have your ideas and your textual material in your own little heads all neatly
sorted out, so that you know just what is this and what is that. A custom is a great thing, and it
is a wonderful thing to think that what a community (even a community aside from the Order)
may take up on a major point, agree to observe, and observe faithfully and uninterruptedly for a
period of forty years (that isnt very long, you know!), then that can have the binding force of
law. This is a great thing. This should give us a great respect for monastic customs. I bring this
into our last discussion of holy poverty because customs and usages enter into holy poverty
more than any other vow, although they are concerned with obedience, too. We love our
usages, and these are the things the community sisters are going over together, as a
community. We say we are rethinking our customs, but they are usages that we are
rethinking, because the real customs of the house have the force of law. What we call our book
of customs is mostly a book of usages, and they are usages to be greatly respected; but usages
ate what change with the times and circumstances. For instance, in our printed customs book,
printed in Chicago, there are many things which do not hold down here just because of the
physical set-up of the house. The usages change from house to house, and they couldnt be done
down here. They wouldnt make sense down here.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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CHASTITY #1OUR VOW OF LOVE


Dear Sisters, now we come to our second vow, our vow of holy chastity. We began our remarks
on holy poverty by settling ourselves in the conviction that this is a positive thingwe are not
giving up ownership, money, this and that rightit is a positive thing, and the negative aspects
of it are only there to help us realize the positive end of it. So too is this essentially and
profoundly true of our love-vow, our vow of holy chastity.
There is the sense in which you can take any of our four vows and incorporate the others into
them; or I might say more correctly, see the other vows through them. I could have said that
holy poverty is the most distinctly Franciscanthis is the vow that most characterizes our way
of life. You could look at all the vows through this. A very lofty form of obedience can be
envisioned as an office of poverty. We are so exalted in our poverty of judgment and of will that
we are perfectly obedient We ate too poor to have a whole clutter of opinions that we own, sort
out, and count over like misers; we are just too poor to have self-opinionatedness that weighs
us down like bricks; we travel light, like Franciscans. We could go on working this out in our
mindsthat obedience could be a concomitant or even an outcome of holy poverty. This would
be true. We could do the same with our vow of holy chastity, and say that this is an offspring of
Franciscan holy poverty. We are just too poor to keep proprietorship of our bodies; we give
them absolutely to God. This is part of our sublime poverty. We live enclosed because we are
Gods little poor ones, and a very small space is enough for a little poor person, as long as God
is there with her.
We could take this same idea and turn it to holy obedience, and say, This is the mainspring,
and all the other vows operate through this one. If I am perfectly obedient, perfectly committed
to this way of life, then ipso facto I must be poor, I must be chaste, I must dwell enclosed. So
obedience is the thing. Then we could say, Enclosure is the vow. This is what completes the
cloistered oblation. This is the hub of the wheel. Because I am committing myself to dwell
enclosed with God, this is the way he has pointed out, because in this enclosure with God I
must necessarily be poor, perfectly obedient, and virginally chaste, We can turn it once more
and say that we can see them all through holy chastity.
All these things are true. You dont say, Which is really right? Which vow are we seeing all
the others through? Each is true, because they are all coordinated. They are all integrated. It is
all one love, one oblation, one giving. However, there is a special sense in which it is most
rewarding to envision all our vows through our vow of holy chastity, because this is essentially
the love vow, and love is what makes a woman a woman. Love is what makes a woman go.
Love is what makes a woman faithful, love is what makes a woman capable of tremendous
endurance, constancy, faithfulness, and a tremendous trust and faith that will not be overcome
by anything. It is all love.
In having this positive approach to holy chastity, we have to get in the beginning a very nice
balance about simplicity and openness and reserve. The old school of thought used to be that it
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was all reserve. When a retreat master or a superior gave instructions about chastity,
immediately everyone cast down her eyes and straightened her back, and it was an instruction,
she became twice as engrossed in her sewing because this was a Very Delicate Subject. This is
foolish. There is nothing shameful about our bodies; there is nothing delicate in that sense
about holy chastity. This is a wonderful thing. This is the core of our consecrationso much so
that in the ritual for solemn vows, Holy Church seems to give all her attention to this. In olden
times, the ceremony was called simply the consecration of virgins, this was it, and the other
vows fell into place with this. You might say, in a jesting way, it had slipped the mind of the
Church during this ceremony that there was anything else involved here except a religious
woman who was giving her love to God, who was giving her virginal heart, her virginal body,
everything that made her a woman, to God. It is a beautiful subject, and as Chesterton said,
there is nothing negative about holy chastity. He said, Let us never think of it as a matter of
sexual abstention. It is something glorious and flaming. Then he adds so characteristically,
. . . like Joan of Arc. Why did he say chastity is like Joan of Arc? When all of us think of her
name, we think of strength, of invincibility, this young girl who could not be overcome by
kings and princes and wicked prelates. Everything about her was strong. This is what
Chesterton means to bring out.
So we must never have narrow, warped ideas about it; it is far too great for that. The old school
was reserved about it. You not only bowed your head low over your sewing while the superior
gave the instructions (which the poor soul was obliged to give in virtue of her office!) and when
the priest mentioned this in a retreat, you knew he was going to give you a whole list of
cautionary measures about temptation. This is one of the first things I want to talk to about
temptation. Later on we are going to discuss this in quite some detail, but today is preliminary
and we are not. I dont want you to ever think that there is a connection between chastity and
temptation. This isnt the idea. You arent supposed to think of sin and temptation when we
think of our love vow. We are instructed about these things, because we need to have very clear
ideas, and because there are particular dangers in this vow, which we will discuss together later
onI mean dangers to ourselves, dangers to keeping it perfectly. But dont ever equate these
things. Chastity is beautiful and flaming and glorious, and there are temptations against it just
as we have temptations against other vows. There are peculiar difficulties with temptations
against this vow, because there is a pull of nature towards sin, which is not so strongly present
in the other vows; but this old school of instruction is happily disappearing from the earth. In
recent years, retreat masters have not talked to us like this, to my intense joy. Father Michael
Baca gave a brief statement which I want you to remember, and which we will touch upon in
every one of these conferences on our love vow. He said, Remember, Sisters, it is not a sin to
be normal. I want you to remember that, too. When a woman is attracted toward marriage,
when a woman finds the idea of motherhood very agreeable, when the sight of a little child
awakens a certain exaltation in her, this is a sign of something. It isnt a sign that a religious
woman who feels like this doesnt have a vocation. It isnt a sign that she should fly into a panic.
Its a sign that she is normal! And if she didnt react like this, she wouldnt be normal. She
wouldnt be a woman. Remember what Father said: Its not a sin to be normal. Its perfectly
all right. God doesnt mind it a bit if we are normal!
In recent years, though, in some quarters, this pendulum swing away from the wrong kind of
reserve, this warped vision of our love vow, has swung to an extreme opposite direction, which
is equally wrong, and perhaps more wrong. This is that we get very clinical about these things.
We start analyzing, pulling ourselves apart, studying this and that and the other thing, this
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emotion and that emotion, this reaction and that reaction, going into a lot of detail which I
think is wrong, because it lowers the beauty of our vow. We dont need to make clinical studies
of this vow any more than we do of our other vows. We need to have very clear ideas about all
four vows, and we need to know what is expected of us, we need to know to what we have
committed ourselves, what we voluntarily are denying ourselves, but we dont want to be
clinical. We dont want to be so busy examining thorns that after a while we wouldnt even
know a rose if we smelled one. Chastity is a matter of roses, and there are thorns connected
with it because it is a sacrifice for us. But the rose is the important thing, not the thorn. All we
have to know about thorns is that they scratch uskeep away from them! And if they are big
ones, they can cut us, so avoid them! But the rose is the thing.
I was looking through the ritual for solemn vows, and it is so rich. It is exuberant with
references to our vow of holy chastity. It is not only rich in poetry; it is not only exuberant with
the glory of this consecration of a womans gift of her inmost self to God, but it is very canny,
too. The Church always knows what she is talking about. The Church is a very wise mother,
and she knows all about her children. She knows all about weakness, all about depression, and
all about pitfalls. So too, even in this magnificent preface and the other parts of the ceremony
for the consecration in solemn vows, the Church shows she is a very canny mother and knows
what she is about. Thus she calls out to God, in the beginning of the preface, saying that he
should look upon his servant who is placing her celibacy in his hands, because the Church
knows that if it is not safe in his hands, it isnt safe at all. In this beautiful and wonderful
ceremony, the Church knows that this gift which this young religious wants to make of herself
still needs this strength of being held in his hands. So the Church is telling the young virgin in
the midst of this glorious ceremony, As great and glorious as this is, you are very weak; and
you will still be very weak after this tremendous marriage ceremony. The clever and wise thing
for you to do is to place this continency of yours in your Lovers hands, the hands that made
heaven and earth, the hands that balance all creation lightly in their palms. This is the place to
put itthen it will be safe.
Then the Church says, showing that she is a psychologist (without going to any workshop
about it!), Give to her thy support and guidance, lest the enemy (the devil and the flesh) who
lay craftier snares for more noble efforts., will seek to draw near her to darken the luster of her
perfect continency. I think these are marvelous words to be taken into a beautiful bridal
ceremony like this, where everything is poetry, everything is wine, everything is fragrance.
The Church says, And who is lurking around the edges? Who is wanting to nibble the petals
off the roses? Who is wanting to get the rhythm of the poetry all wrong? Who is wanting to
upset the whole thing? The old enemyhe is right here, crawling around! Because he knows
that this is a very great thing, because he knows with his archangelic intelligence that this
young religious is giving her whole self absolutely, everything that makes her a woman,
everything in her inmost self, she is giving to youwell, rally round now, Lord, because the
old enemy, seeing this, is going to lay craftier snares. He is going to get his best devils to help
.him. He doesnt have to use his expert workers around saloons or brothels or places of sin in
the world. He can get common laborers for that. But he gets his best men where there is
question of a religious consecration. The Church knows this, and she doesnt hesitate to bring
this right into her bridal ceremony.
In this same way, Holy Church is most outspoken about the glories of a womans body. She
says over and over again in the Hail Mary, Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. She never gets
35

tired of saying that God took his humanity from the organs of a woman, that he was formed in
a womans body. She glories in this; she never gets tired of saying it. In certain of her Offices,
she loves to tell us that he was nursed at the breasts of a woman. She doesnt see anything to
get all excited about this. She doesnt see any reason to be falsely modest about this.
Similarly, you will find this same simplicity in the most ancient of the hymns, such as that
charming ancient carol which we sing at Christmas, when the Church says that our Lady held
him between her breasts. This is beautiful; this is lovely. Now, the more sophisticated society
becomes, the more immodest and evil, then the more falsely modest is society. You will find
that this never fails. People in the world who are habitual sinners, who are cold-blooded
sinners, will often have a great reserve about the simplicities of lifewhereas very holy people,
who are virginally chaste in the most perfect sense, are very simple about natural human
things. This is what we should be, and this is the balance I want you to develop. There is a
reserve about this vow, a reserve that we have about our bodies, but not because there is
anything to be embarrassed about. God made our bodies, and just as he looked upon the sky
and the trees and saw that they were very good, so he looked upon us when he made us, and he
sees that we are very good. I personally think that of all his creations, a womans body is
certainly one of the most beautiful. It is utterly lovely. It is graceful and beautiful and
magnificently made. It is the only work of his creation which is capable with him of producing
another lifeno man can do this. Where does the right reserve come in, then? We are reserved
just because it is so beautiful, so lofty. When we go to cut down a tree, we take an axewe
dont take a gold knife. If we have a diamond, we dont carry it around. We put it in a velvet
bag, or usually in a safety deposit vault, because it is rare and precious. If we have a load of
rocks, we spread them on the ground. We can walk on them or kick them. If we are thinking,
we can dig our toe into them to help us in the process of concentrating. If we are irritable, we
can kick a few of them out of our path and feel better. However, if we have a sack of pearls, we
dont do this. We keep them in a velvet bag, or wear them on a string around our neck; and
after the party, we put them back in the safety deposit box (if we ever had a string of pearls!)
This is perfectly normal. If a thing is beautiful and rare, easily broken, chipped and ruined, we
are very reserved and careful about itnot because there is anything wrong with the thing
quite the opposite!because there is everything so right about the thing. Because it is so
beautiful, so noble and so exalted, we are more careful with it. Our bodies are beautiful, and we
should love them.
We should be at home in our bodies, because they are going to be with us for all eternityand
dont forget that. By hearing the term save our souls so often, we must never allow ourselves
to forget that this is really a very imperfect expression. We are saved body and soul, and our
body will be glorified in heaven for all eternity. It is not that our body is merely a thing that we
live in, that we have to put up with, and that is always at enmity with us. We might think that
after a while, we are going to save our soul, get rid of this thing, and then our soul is going to
flutter around for all eternity in endless bliss. By no means! We are going to be body and soul
in heaven, and we should think of this very often. This is the way to respect our bodies. This is
the way to have the right reserve toward our bodies and those of others, and also the right kind
of simplicity and at-homeness. If we are going to live with this body for all eternity, well, lets
be quite at home with it! Lets be comfortable in it. Sometimes we cant be, because this thing
gets quite tired; it gets sick; it gets aches and pains; but it is ours, and one day, it isnt going to
have any aches and pains. One day it isnt going to be at odds with us in anyway. It is going to
be glorified; it is going to be the partner of our soul for all eternity.
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Moreover, love to remember that already the body of a woman is in heaven. Love to think of
that. Immediately next to the triune God is the body of a womanabove all the angels, above
all the denizens of heaven, is the body of a womannot only her soul, but also her body, just
like ours. Her body, with the same functions as ours, the same cycles as ours, the same form as
ours is there, second only to God. This is the correct way to look on our vow, to look on our
bodies.
As we go into more individualized considerations about our vow, let us keep these things in the
back of our minds: that this is such a wonderful thing, that this is the dynamo that keeps our
religious life going. It is love. When we sing the Regnum Mundi at our solemn profession, we
are expressing this. We are saying, the kingdom of the world and all its ornaments, all its
trimmingsI always think that is so delightfully feminine. Maybe a man would simply say,
the kingdom of the world, but a woman adds immediately, and all its trimmings, all the
embellishments, all the decorationand what does she say? I despise them! I hold them in
contempt! Why would we hold a good thing in contempt? Only because there is something
else incomparably better. There is nothing contemptible about the world God made. When our
dear Lord speaks of not praying for this world, and says you are not of this world, he means
the evil that men have put into the world. But the world that he made is marvelous. It is
wonderful. It is a tremendous thing that we should have so much wonder, so much beauty in a
vale of tears, and that he could have devised all this. If we could be contemptuous of this
wonderful thing, it could only be because we have found something infinitely more worth our
while. We have found a universe, a different world, another world, with a different kind of
trimmings, which is so glorious that we can say about this one, Contempsi. It is always like a
snap of the fingersnot that I turn away from it, but it is beneath my notice compared to this
other thing. Then the Church gives us the reason. We dont say that we have despised the
kingdom of the world with all its ornaments . . . because I want to be perfect! Because I want
to be austere! Because I want to be a great saint! No, we say, propter amorem: because of the
love of my Lord Jesus Christ. This is why I am here. This is why I am leading this kind of life.
Simply, incomprehensibly, and profoundly: for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, whom I have
seenhow have I seen him? In faith, by this consecration.
Does it strike you, when we say the Regina Caeli, how the Church is calling our lack of faith to
our attention? He has risen as he said. He said that he was going to do thisremember? He
told you this many times. He has risennot He has risen, alleluia, but He has risen, as he
said he was going to do, if only you had believed him, you apostles, you people! The angel said
to the women, Why are you looking for him here? He is not herehe is risen as he said! Our
Lord called their attention to the fact that he had said this. But this is our difficulty. It is very
hard for us to believe him, to take God at his word, because what he tells us is so great that our
poor, puny, dull, little minds cant get it. We dont catch on to what he is sayingnot that we
disbelieve his word, but what he says seems too good to be true. We cant quite take it in.
So too about our consecration. He has said, through his Holy Church, You are my bride. You
are my spouse. I am your Bridegroom. If we believe this, then we see. So we say, For his sake,
I despise the kingdom of the world, for the love of him whom I have seen. This is a
tremendous act of faith. I have seen him in his Word. Whom I have seen, whom I have loved,
in whom I have believed, and dilexi: whom I have chosen above everybody else. Choosing
him, loving him above everyone else, does not mean that I live in some kind of chromium
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enclosure of my own, that I love him so much that I wouldnt get near anyone else. No, because
I have chosen him above all, then I am able to love him above everyone else, with a capacity
that no one except the consecrated virginal woman has. She has the greatest capacity for love
that there is. If she fails to exercise this capacity for love, then I should say she is the greatest
failure in womanhood that there is. The last word from the preface that I want to leave with
you is that the Church prays over the bride: . . . that she should preserve the purpose of her
virginity. This is to sum up all these preliminary remarks I have made. What is its purpose?
That we should live some kind of an antiseptic life? No! It is that we should love so much. This
is the purpose of virginity: that we should give ourselves absolutely, not through the medium of
this apostolate, this work, this career, the love of this man or this family, but absolutely, the
shortest and straightest line between two points (I am one point and He is the other point).
This total giving of myself, the full consecration of my virginal womanhood, the entire gift of
my love and my essence to Himthis is the purpose of virginity. Therefore, the Church prays
that God may preserve this purpose of virginity, that the bride may persevere in perpetual
chastity. The Church is warning us that we must be very humble. The vow of chastity is a
great thing, and the Church is saying that the devil is stalking around, pacing the floor behind
you all the time, trying to lay subtler snares because of this nobler giving. But she says, Place
your continency in the hands of your lover, and you will be safe. You have nothing to worry
about; you just have many things to be careful about. Then she says, He will preserve the
purpose of your virginity, and he will strengthen you to practice it perpetually.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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CHASTITY #2TOTAL WOMANLY


SURRENDER
I have said that it is possible to consider every vow in the light of any one vow; still, it is
particularly true of virginity, of our vow of chastity. Obedience can be considered as a chastity
of the will; poverty as a chastity of desire, of possession; and enclosure as the apex of the
chastity of love, which is always content to be with the Lover and needs nothing else.
The other point I tried to underscore was how important it is to have a right balance on this
matter. You know how fond I am of that word balanced, and how often I tell you I want you
to be very balanced young religious with clear ideas about things, and it is nowhere more
important than here. I remarked in passing that there is sometimes a very false kind of warped
reserve when dealing with our vow of holy chastity, which is quite wrongas if it is something
not quite nice, that we have to be instructed in its legal aspects and we have to be told about
temptation, and we have to told about our obligationsbut it is an uneasy subject, and it makes
us shift on our benches a little bit No, this is entirely wrong. This is an insult to God, who
made woman as his highest creation. We should remember that the highest creation of God
was a woman, not a man! It is a woman who is next to God, who is the highest, at the very apex
of Gods creation. On the other hand, the world tends more and more in the opposite direction.
The world tends to degrade these matters; so while it is entirely proper that while we should
have a balanced outlook on these things and not a warped reserve, we should on the other hand
have a deeply virginal reserve about such matters. Therefore, we should never allow our
curiosity to carry us off; we should never descend to speaking too loosely about these things,
even to our superiors. Even with them, we have a certain reserve. And so the thing to do is
strike a balance.
To go on from there today, the first thing I want to mention is that chastity is not essentially a
matter of the body. It is a matter of the will. Remember that always: chastity is essentially a
matter of the will. If we think this through, even though it may sound a little startling at first,
we will see how easily recognizable the truth of that is. For instance, a person can be corporally
virginal, corporally chaste, and yet not be chaste at all in mind. Our Lord says clearly in the
Scriptures that if a man looks upon a woman to desire her, he has already sinned with her. He
has committed adultery as much as if he had done the thing carnally. This alone shows us that
chastity is a matter of the will. For religious, it is essential to fasten on this, because this
thought alone helps us to get and preserve this balance of thought. Religious chastity is a
cleaving of the will to God. I want to give myself utterly to God and to no one else. Now, in
order to appreciate what it is for a woman to give herself body and soul to God at the expense
of certain normal instincts that God has out into her, we must recognize very clearly how good
these instincts are, and how good it is (if that would be her vocation) for her to give herself to
another creature. But we must remember that this is part of the great glory of our vocation.
While it is the instinct, the nature, of every woman to give herself in some way, it is only the
religious woman who can give herself body and soul. There is no one on earth to whom we can
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give our soul. A wife can give her affection; she can give her person; she can give her taste, her
personality (in a measure) to her husband; but not to him can she give her soul. Only the
religious woman can love with the full giving that a lover seeks for. It is only to such a lover as
God that we can really give ourselves utterly, with nothing that is reserved.
This is the idea I want you to remember: to aspire or even to understand the self-sacrifice
which is essential to religious life, it is first necessary to understand that sacrifice is the special
vocation of women in general. To give her love, her compassion and her service, and in the end
to give her very self is natural to a normal woman. It is in fact a compulsion of her nature. In
marriage, a woman has the beautiful opportunity to surrender her person to another creature,
and thus to exercise her basic feminine potential for giving in a particular way. If it is a true
Christian marriage, this surrender [that is, this physical surrender] will be only a reflection of
a much deeper surrender of thought, taste, choice, ambition, and all their company. But it is
only to the religious woman that there belongs the opportunity of a really total surrender. Only
the nun can surrender her very soul to her Lover. Thus the religious vocation, far from
warping or diminishing the feminine instinct for surrender and sacrifice, should be its highest
fulfillment.
The love that God has put into a human heart does not function the same in a man and a
woman. The man is the receiver; the woman is always the giver. This is essential to a womans
love in any vocation. She always wants to give herself; she always wants to surrender herself.
Therefore, the warped religious is always the one who does not give enough; and the greatest
religious, no matter what she does, even if nobody in the community (much less the world)
understands or appreciates her work, the greatest religious, the most fulfilled religious, the one
who loves the most materially, is the one who gives herself the most, gives herself to God and
thus gives herself to the community, gives herself to the sisters, gives herself to everything she
does with a wonderful enthusiasm.
If a girl in the world is enthusiastic about being in love, for heavens sake, what should a nun
be? Should she just be always talking about the will of GodMy vocation is the will of God?
It is something to be enthusiastic about! If all the world loves a loverthats an old saying,
because the world catches the enthusiasm of earthly love, and for that reason it loves the
loverwell, that should be the very palest reflection of our enthusiasm. After all, it is not
owing to us and it is no small thing that we have been singled out by God. We can never
penetrate this mystery of why he wanted us, these particular people in this community, in this
roomwhy he wanted us so much that he didnt want anyone to get between him and us, as it
were. He wanted us all for himself. This isnt something we can be apathetic about! This is
something to be quite wildly enthusiastic about. This is something to compel our giving, our
surrender, which is so essential to womanly nature. Thus, the more we reserve ourselves for
ourselves, the more we are absorbed in ourselves, the more we are in this (which I think is a
little confusion, a little malfunctioning in some quarters of religious life today) endless chasing
about of ourselves, chasing our psyches up and down, making graphs of ourselves and studying
our this and our that, our insecurity and so on. This is all self-absorption, and this is warping a
womans nature, because she is most balanced, she is most secure when she is pouring herself
out, giving herself, sacrificing herself, surrendering herself. We have this wonderful edge on all
other women in the world: we are giving ourselves to One who is utterly worthy of our giving,
to One who will never disappoint us, to One who will never be the least mite unfaithful, to One
who will always understand us perfectly. I dont think there is any wife in the world who can
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say that every moment of the day and the night, in every circumstance, her husband
understands her perfectly.
Earthly love does not function like this, even the very best, the highest strata of it. But we do
have this assurance, and we should not take this for granted. This is the glow that should be on
our virginity, on our chastity, on our approach to our second vow. Now, in order to appreciate
any of these things, we have to agree with the psychologists when they say that marriage is the
normal vocation of a woman. So far, so good. We will go this far with them, because they are
right. In the normal course of things, this is the vocation for which God made a woman. It was
for this that he fashioned her, not only in body, but in emotional set-up, in spiritual equipment,
in everything that makes her a woman. Now, to turn aside from this normal, ordinary vocation
for a lesser reason would be wrong. Therefore, if a girl would decide not to marry because she
doesnt want the burdens of married life; if she decides she would rather be free and
independent, not for the sense of any special call to serve, but just for the glamour of being a
career girl, not having any home ties, deliberately choosing this for no other reason but to
escape burdensthis would be (I agree with the psychologists!) warping her womanhood,
trying to defeat Gods designs on her womanhood. Marriage and married love is so beautiful
and so great a thing that a woman turns to another vocation rightly only if it is a distinct call
from God to a higher thing. Thus a girl who does not marry because she wants to take care of
her parents, who lets the other children in the family follow their vocations and remains to take
this responsibility on herself is not eschewing marriage for an unworthy reason, but for a
nobler reason. So, too, a girl who feels called to serve souls for God in some particular field
social service or some department like that, perhaps medical missionary work abroad, or some
really spiritual career where she can serve humanity in some way or another, and feels that this
can better be done (and God is asking her to do it) by leading a life of chaste singleness in the
world, this too is a great thing. She is not deserting marriage and the prospect of motherhood
because she doesnt want their burdens, but because God is asking her to forsake these for
something else he has in mind. And lastly, above all, the religious vocation is a turning aside
from marriage, not to escape its burdens, but because God desires this whole heart of this
particular girl for himself and only for himself. This is of course a much higher thing; and to
have a correct understanding of a religious vocation, I think it is very essential that a young
religious should have a very deep appreciation of marriage. If she isnt attracted to the idea of
marriage, a home of her own, a family of her own, a particular creature who would be occupied
in cherishing her, caring for her and loving herwell, I think there would be something very
wrong with her!
And this is what I just touched on, I believe, before we concluded last time. Young religious
sometimes get the weirdest notions about this and think they are getting temptations against
their vocation, because suddenly they get what they think are terrible, terrible thoughts about
how attractive it is to have particular person to love you, care for you, and serve you; how
attractive it is to have your own children and your own home. Oh, no, I guess I havent got a
vocationthis is terrible! That isnt terrible at all! I think I told you last time that it is a sign
of three things: first of all that you are alive; secondly, that you are feminine, you are a woman;
and that you are normal. It is a very strong indication of all three of these things. If you just
shudder at the thought of having children of your own, and a home of your own, and being
mistress of your own little domainwell, I wouldnt count you as very good material for
religious life, because this is what a woman is created to be.

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I said that chastity is essentially a matter of the will. It is a matter of choice. First of all, it is
Gods choice. He chose youyou didnt choose him. He says this very clearly: You have not
chosen me, but I have chosen you; I have called you out of the world. He chose, and we answer
his choice with our own choice. We say Yes, I choose to follow your choice. I choose to be
yours, as you have asked me to be. This is our freedom in our vow. It is a matter of the
cleaving of the will to God. Through this chastity of the will, chastity radiates into the intellect,
the imagination, the memory, and into the body. If we get that all confused and start with the
concept that chastity is essentially of the physical order, then we will never think straight about
our vow. We will never appreciate it in its full dimensions. We will always be walking around
in the basement, and we will never get up onto the roof, into the free air. Begin with the will.
Now, if the will chooses to answer Gods choice by cleaving utterly to him (I am his and he is
mineutterly, body and soul, I am his. I belong to him. I am his to dispose of, his to use, his to
love in whatever way he asks me, at each hour, with what joy it brings, with what suffering it
brings), then I have chastity of the will. If I am deliberately cleaving to God, and if as I grow
older I am cleaving more to him all the time, so that more and more, he means more and more,
and other things mean less and less, except in him; then this type of chastity, this virginal
choice, this singleness of purpose which is virginity, will radiate into my thinking, so that I will
have a chaste intellect A chaste intellect is much more easily enlightened than another. This
chastity will radiate into my imagination, so that I will not want to daydream on dangerous or
worldly subjects. I will not want to muse endlessly, because my imagination will have been
ennobled by the chastity of my will, and it too will want to remain chaste. It will want to clear
out the pictures and images that are in it. It will want to make the very imagination a virginal
sphere for God to operate in. This will affect out prayer as we get older. A certain type of idle
distraction will be normally easier to put down. The chastity of our will is radiating into our
imagination.
So too with our memory. As the chastity of our will enters the sphere of our memory, we will
less and less think about the past, as we say jokingly. We can use this as a subterfuge. There
is nothing so comforting when you are humiliated as to think about the past, when you were
appreciated! Not doing this is a chastity of the memory. We dont dwell on how we were
appreciated, on how we were praised, on all the agreeable things that happened, because our
memory is a sphere that we want to safeguard for God.
As chastity operates in all these different spheres of our soul, so then it emerges into the senses.
As we get older, we think not so much of mortifying our eyes as it becomes a quite natural
thing. It is a chastity of the eyes, a virginity of the eyes. Someone who is given utterly to a
great love, who has given herself entirely, body and soul, to God, will not want to let her eyes
wander over every curiosity that comes into her path, because this would be to say that her
Lover really isnt interesting enoughthat his conversation is too tedious, his presence isnt
inviting; so everything that comes into her path to distract her, every curiosity, every piece of
other peoples business, will be immediately inviting to her, and she will give her attention to
this. This is a malfunctioning of chastity. If we think of these things this way, we lift them to a
much higher planeso that they become, not disciplines, but operations of our virginity.
So too with our ears. The more we penetrate our vow of chastity, the less we desire to hear
everything that is going on, and the more occupied we are in listening to the Lover. Always
remember that our Lover has a very soft voice. He doesnt shout down other people, or outtalk
other occupations. I few prefer to listen to other things, to chatter with other people or in our
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own hearts at improper length or on improper subjects, he is not going to force us to listen to
him. If we make our ears chaste for his voice, he is rejoiced; but if we dont, we fail, we lose. Our
virginity is not operating; and when it is not operating, it is not rewarding. He will never
compete with others. He has chosen; he has asked us; and if we do not want him, he will not
argue. He will not outshout any other demand. His voice is soft, and we must be silent in our
heart, chaste with our eyes and ears in order to hear him.
There is a very virginal quality about the walk of a consecrated person, about her demeanor,
about her countenance. As we grow older in our vow, in our virginity, the more these things
should radiate from us. I do not mean at all in any sense of regimentation, that I think you will
all have reached the apex of consecrated virginity when you all walk the same way, pick up
things the same way, keep your eyelashes down on your cheeks the very same wayno, not at
all! But according to each ones individual personality., which is individually designed by God,
her virginity, her consecration, her surrender of her very self to God will radiate.
Just as chastity radiates into all these spheres of our soulintellect, imagination and
memoryso then does it take possession of our bodies. This is not the starting point, but that
is the mistake that some religious make. This is the point we arrive at from these other things.
We begin with the will, and finally we come to the body. We didnt start with itwe are
ending with it. In relation to the idea of balance, we have a sweet serenity about these things,
and yet a very lovely virginal reserve about them. This is the kind of attitude we must have
about our bodies. I have no patience at all with these things you read in dear old books: Oh,
that I could be free of this troublesome body! I am never comfortable in my body. Well, where
in the world are you going to be comfortable if not in the body God gave you? I dont mean
physically comfortableit has all kinds of departments that hurt and trouble us sometimes. We
dont enjoy having headaches, tummy aches, or stiff joints. But this idea that the body is not
very good, and, Speed the day that I can be rid of it!well, as I told you last time, we are
never going to be rid of it. God has redeemed us body and soul, and our body is going to be
taken up into heaven, where Our Ladys body already is. So if we are going to be together, this
body and soul, for all eternity, lets be on friendly terms now, hmm? Because this is not, until
death do us part. This is per omnia saecula saeculorum! It is going to be a glorified body, without
any aches in its head or toes or anywhere else, but it is going to be our bodya glorified body,
but our body. So let us be at home in our bodies, and let us have a tremendous respect and
reverence for our bodies.
That is the point which I want to leave with you today. I was so enthusiastic about this article
by Father Schleck, which we read during retreat; this is a point which he touches on very
delicately, just in passing, but which as women we should love to develop in our own thoughts.
I thought it was most beautiful when he said that all nature is a matter of rhythm and of cycles.
He said, How wonderful it is that a woman bears in her body this great mystery of nature in
the very cycles of her bodily activity. I thought that was so beautifully and delicately said by a
priesthow much greater this statement is than some of the clinical observations we read in
some periodicals. This is a thing I want you to think about. Have a great sense of wonder about
your womanly body. Everything that God has created is good, because he said so. He looked
upon it, and saw that it was very good. But has it ever occurred to you that God went to this
special trouble of making a little ceremony of creating a body? He said, Let there be light, and
there was light. He said, Let there be creeping things, and things crept. He said Let there be
this, and let there be that, and it was. He said Fiat, and it was. But when he came to his last
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creation, when he made a human body, then he had a little divine ritual. He didnt say, Let
there be a man, and let there be a woman. He took some of the earth that he had caused to be,
and he shaped it together, and he breathed into it. Then he had a human bodythe only piece
of his creation for which he himself had a ceremonial, a little ritual. This shows us that God
wanted us, it seems to me, to have a tremendous reverence for our body. He did not supply a
ceremonial for any other piece of creationonly for us. We should love to dwell on this. This
was the first human bodythe first manand then from him, the first woman. Now, whether
our modern exegetes tell us we must take this only by allegory or not, the sense is still the
same. God wanted to impress upon us the importance he attached to this human body, into
which he breathed a soul, which is his own image and likenessa thought which is simply too
great for us to assimilate, but which we should never, never tire of pondering. The image and
the likeness of God! Just think of it! And this body will endure forever and ever. It will fall into
decay for a short period, and then God will, as it were, recreate it, and it will endure forever and
ever, as no other part of his creation will. It will cease to be, but we will not cease to be.
The way God has created a womans body is, it seems to me, the greatest marvel of his creation.
There is nothing more wonderful than a womans body. While we should never be preoccupied
with our bodies, we should have a marvelous reverence for them. We should never feel a false
shame about ourselves. The point that Father made about the cycle of a womans body being a
reflection of the vast rhythm of nature is a beautiful thing to ponder. You know that in the way
God created a womans body, it comes to maturity in such a way that every month, over and
over and over again, that body is prepared for motherhood. This alone is a wonderful thing, I
think, even for a religious to meditate on. This isnt something that we arent supposed to think
about because we are Sisters. Thats nonsense, dear Sisters. Its beautiful! Its wonderful! But
God didnt call us to physical motherhood, so why didnt he change this? Why dont all these
things stop? They didnt, for his own hidden reasons. My own conjecture is that one of these
reasons is that we should be always conscious of what we are. We should be always conscious
of our spiritual motherhood by the way we are constantly reminded physically that we are quite
capable of physical motherhood. God has permitted us to be reminded over and over again of
this beautiful thing we have sacrificed for a greater love. This is a beautiful thing that he
reminds us, as he reminds every other woman, that we are women; that we are capable of
motherhood; and that we have turned aside from this beautiful and sacred privilege in order to
be utterly his. So we should have a great reverence for the functions of our body. There are
some physical functions of our body that are, in a certain sense, a humiliation to us; but we
should not overly dwell on this thought, because all our functionsnot only those specific to
womanhoodare great and marvelous, and no scientific instituteJohns Hopkins, with all its
research, its plastic hearts, and aluminum kidneys, or whatever they make them ofthey cant
compare to what God has done. I have often thought of thatI read that it takes something
like half a mile of material to supply the functioning of awhat was it? A kidney or liver,
something that is removedI thought, Its wonderful that man can do this, but look what God
did! We have to have half a mile of something to try to approach the functioning of something
he created! So we should have this marvelous reverence.
Above all, we should have reverence for our bodily activities which are peculiar to a woman.
We should realize, too, that with the monthly cycle that is specific to a womans body, there is
an emotional cycle. We shall talk about this later on, in a different perspective on the vow, but I
want to mention now that we should be aware of this. Our emotions go through as definite a
cycle as our bodies do. Sometimes when young religious get into a great flutter about
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temptation and upset about things, it is nothing but the emotional cycle that a womans body
and emotions pass through. If you think of these things, you calm yourselves immediately.
Why sometimes do you feel like everything is right with the world, and why at other times do
you feel that everything is wrong with the world? Why on some days do your sisters seem like
the dearest people on earth and the loveliest to live with, and other days they get on your
nerves? Why have all the saints discovered this? Why did St Teresa say that one day she could
do great things for God, and the next day she couldnt step on an ant for him? This is perfectly
normal! There is a certain humiliation in this, yes; but every month, just as a womans body
passes through a certain cycle, so do her emotions pass through a certain cycle. Her emotions
are built up, her passions are aroused to a certain pitch; and then they recede again.
When I was a professed novice, we had a dear old priest who gave the best retreatI dont
recall his name, but I believe he had been a war chaplain. I remember he saidhe was trying to
be very delicateSisters, watch out for your bad days! Watch out for the bad days! It was so
dear! Thats just exactly what we should dowatch out for the bad days. There are days when
ones passions are aroused, ones emotions are aroused, ones sensibilities are aroused; and these
are days when you may be troubled by something you read, a figment of memory from your
past life. Why do you suddenly think of things you read, films you saw, or remember things
that were said? Other times you dont think of them. This is because your emotions and your
passions pass through a certain cycle, so be very calm about it. Dont ring the emergency alarm
right away. Dont push the panic button, because these things are very normal, and the calmer
and more serene you are about them, the more quickly they pass. There is so much sound
theology in the little boy who was tempted to steal the dime. He kept saying, Go to hell, go to
hell, go to hell! His mother told him, What kind of language are you using? and he said, Im
tempted, and Im speaking to the devil! He was a very sound theologian, that little fellowthe
devil was telling him to steal the dime, and he was telling the devil to go home where he
belonged. Go to hell, go to hell! We should be very calm little theologians about our troubles.
On days when your womanly passions are aroused, your memory is troubling you, your
imagination is presenting phantasms that are difficult and troublesome to deal with, the worst
thing you can do is get excited about them. So be very calm about them, and think, Just as my
body passes through a regular cycle which reflects the rhythm of nature, which God permits to
continue in my religious life to remind me of who I am, what I am intended to be, and what I
have sacrificed for him, and what I am giving him, so too do my emotions, passions and
personality pass through this same cycle. And now I am going up to the apex, and it will recede
again. And if the apex at this particular time seems to be particularly troublesomewell, ride
the waves! They will be down. The tide will come in after awhile. Just dont go out with it and
get lost.
We will develop these thoughts as we go on, but these are the two big points I want to leave
with you today. First, that a womans love is essentially surrender, and the more utterly we
give ourselves to God, then the more we are loving in the way a woman was made to love. So
we do not give ourselves less fully than a woman gives herself in marriage, but much more
fully, because we are the only ones who have this privilege of giving not only our body, our
company, our thoughts, tastes, and choices, but our very soul. Only religious can do this. And
then secondly, this idea of serenity and reverence about your body, and this calm and womanly
understanding of your bodyalways with the ennobling thought that, We are together
forever and ever! My body is not something to be embarrassed about, not some dead weight I
am going to shake off someday, but it is my partner. And when it suffers, when it aches, when it
45

causes me pain, it is cooperating in my spiritual life. It is giving me an occasion to merit for


God, to do good for souls, to draw closer to him. And when it forcibly sometimes reminds me
that normally I was created for a different vocation (except that God lifted me up to this one)
then it also gives me an occasion to glorify him more, to keep reminding him, You see, God,
how much I am willing to forsake for you, because I love you? You see how much I really mean
what I saidthat I think you are more than all these desirable things? So have this very calm
and reverent attitude toward your person, and you will avoid much difficulty for yourselfbut
much more important than that, you will prepare yourself to enter more and more deeply into
the very great mystery of consecrated virginity.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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CHASTITY #3EXPRESSING THE


QUALITIES OF WOMANHOOD
The world has a perverted idea of love. For instance, in the minds of many unenlightened,
unspiritual people outside, love is only expressed on a purely biological levelthere is only one
type of love, which is carnal love. Of course, this is foolish, narrow and preposterous. This is
only one aspect of love. What I want to do today is try to arrive at a larger concept of our
second vow by clarifying some terms.
What we do in making our vow of virginal chastity is renounce something for a greater good.
Renunciation is a very good thing, a healthy thing. Renunciation can be of an evil thing; in that
case, we are obliged to the renunciation; or it can be renunciation of a good thing for a higher
motive, in which case a soul may or may not be invited by God to do it For instance, with our
baptismal vows, our sponsors (in our name) renounced Satan and his works and pomps. When
we renew our baptismal vows, we say that we again renounce the devil and his works and his
show. Well, this is a thing we are bound to do. There isnt a choice left to uswhether we are
going to love the devil or renounce him, whether we are going to put the works of the devil
away from us, or clasp them to our hearts. No, we are obliged to do this. If we propose to love
God at allin fact, if we want to save our soulswe have to renounce all that is opposed to
God. This is one type of renunciation.
Then there is the other kind, which we are not obliged to do, but which God invites certain
souls to do for a greater love. There is no obligation at all. There is a perfectly free choice.
First, there is Gods free choice. He may ask one and not ask another. He invites some souls to
be virginally his, and therefore to renounce all carnal love, even its most beautiful aspects; this
is his choice. He is not bound by anything. He doesnt have to call this one or that one to
religious life. Often in our saner and humbler moments, we wonder how in the world he
happened to think about us! This is Gods choice. Then we answer that choice with a choice of
our own: that we will do this, or we will not do it. The Church teaches us that we may not say
that it is sinful or wrong to refuse to answer this choice of God with our own choice. It would
certainly be a very strange thing, looked at even from a logical or rational viewpoint, if
someone would offer us so great an invitation, so great a gift, and we would refuse it; however,
we are perfectly free to do so. We have a choice. We have a choice to make ourselves virginally
consecrated to God, or not to answer this invitation of his. In this renunciation, we are
perfectly free. We should also be perfectly clear in our minds that this has no relation at all to
the type of renunciation we make in baptism. Then we are renouncing evil, the devil, his works,
his deceits. In making a vow of virginal chastity, we are renouncing something that is very
good, and very compelling, and which can remain (even after we have made the vow) very
compelling. If we have these things very straight in our minds, from our novitiate days on, we
will be much better able to deal with ourselves and with problems that may arise in our lives at
times. Even later in life, when we feel a certain compulsion toward what we have willingly
renounced, this is a very normal thing and nothing to get excited about. This is a very good
thing that I gave up, and it is always going to be good. Sometimes it may remind me of how
good it is, and that I did give up this very good and compelling thing for Gods sake. It may
remind me quite vehemently. This is a thing to consider quite calmly and reasonably.
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Renunciation is a good thing. Renunciation is never a thing that warps us. What we renounce
for God always enriches us, because he is always a thousand million miles ahead of us. We
think we have given him something, renounced something, and he gives us infinite rewards in
return.
However, there is something we should never confuse with renunciation, and that is
suppressionand that is what I want to talk about today. This is a misunderstanding
sometimes in young religious and perhaps in older ones, toothat we must not only renounce
certain things in religious life, but that we must continually suppress ourselves, suppress every
natural movement in ourselves. This is not true, dear Sisters, and this is very bad. When we try
simply to suppress nature instead of making free renunciations, our nature takes revenge on us.
For instance, if a person inclined to anger never really tries to get at the source of her anger,
never tries to arrive at a supernatural calm with the help of Gods grace, but is always simply
putting a lid on this anger, one day or the other, the lid is going to fly offand a few other
things are going to fly out, too, when the lid flies offbecause we cant deal with ourselves this
way. We cant just press the lid down with our thumb. It is like pressing our thumbs against
our throatsyou cant do that. We have to treat ourselves as reasonable beings! God is very
patient with us, and sometimes we need to be exceedingly patient with ourselves! While it is
true that we try one another, we all know that we can be extremely trying to ourselves, and
more so, because the other people who try us arent going to live with us twenty-four hours a
day! At least they get to lay off for a nights sleep! But we are always there with ourselves. I am
always with this person all day long, night and day shift. I have to be patient, and I cannot just
suppress in a negative way the nature God gave me, because he doesnt want me to.
Now, neither in this sense of virginal chastity can I suppress my sexuality. That is a term I
want us to be very clear about. When we talk about sexuality, we dont mean just the
anatomical difference of men and womenwhat makes a woman physically a woman, and a
man physically a man. No, there is much, much more to it than this. We give up the use of our
physical powers of motherhood, our physical powers of reproduction, but we dont give up our
sexuality; and anyone who tries to do this, who tries to stop being a woman because she wants
to be Gods spouse, is running in the wrong direction as fast as she can runand shes going to
run into a stone wall of natures resistance. This is a lot of the reason, I think, for these mental
upsets in religious life (I dont mean only in the line of virginal chastityI mean every way): a
false suppression. While one extreme is to put all my attention on the burgeoning of my
personality (this is false and artificial, too), the other extreme is equally wrong: that whatever
Im going to be, I certainly cant be myself. Ive got to stop being this all the time. I have to
have myself by the throat with one hand all the time in my religious life. We cant live like this!
Neither does God want us to renounce our sexuality. What do we really mean by that word?
We mean everything in the psychological makeup, the emotional setup, the sensitivity field that
makes a woman a woman. Her physical powers of motherhood are only one department of this.
This is the one part that we renounce: surrendering ourselves to a particular creature, we
renounce the right to motherhood, the right to a family life in the world. But we must never,
never try to stop being women, try to renounce our real sexuality.
What would be some points in that? I would say especially and radically the idea of surrender, I
mentioned before that this is so radical to a womans nature. A woman wishes to give herself.
As a man wishes to possess, to care for, to dominate in the good sense of the word, so does a
woman wish to surrender herself to another person. This psychological need of a woman, this
48

attribute of a womans sexuality, is something that is to be developed in religious life, not


renounced. We renounce the particular physical surrender of womanhood in marriage, but we
must not renounce this call of our nature to give ourselves to others. How would we do that in
religious life? Obviously, first by surrendering our self to Gods will. Through all these
qualities that I will be speaking to you about, there runs a very clear analogy between married
love and consecrated virginal love. But let us always remember, dear Sisters, that when we read
about the nuptial union of Christ with his Church, it is not that marriage is the thing, the
image, and religious life reflects this. No, religious life is the true image of the nuptial union of
Christ and his Church, and marriage is only symbolic of religious espousalsnot the other way
around. It is not that married love is the great, understandable, beautiful, noble thing of which
we try to make some pale image in religious life. By no means. It is the other way around. For
those who are not called to religious life, marital union is the image and the symbol of religious
love, which is the true and perfect image of Christs union with his Church. Remember that.
Dont get that backwards or upside down.
Surrender to Gods will is a functioning of virginal love, just as a married woman gives herself
to her husband, not only physically but in very practical details of everyday living. She
surrenders her tastes to him. She surrenders her plans to him. She surrenders, very often, her
opinions to him. All this she does, not with a set jaw (if she is a woman who really loves), but
wanting to do this, wanting to surrender in this deep way, on a psychological, emotional, and
sensitive level to give herself to the one she loves. Well, we simply cant allow ourselves to be
outpaced by a woman loving her husband, so that we would refuse to surrender ourselves to
Gods will. There will come, for any normal married woman in the world, areas of depression,
areas of frustration. I should think that any normal woman would wonder, at some odd
moments, whether she should ever have married at all! This is perfectly normal. Five minutes
later, she would probably want to kill anyone who would question her choice! But this is the
weakness of our human nature, and there is nothing spectacular, nothing to be frightened green
about, if you feel in moments of depression, weariness and frustration and aridity in prayer, I
wonder if I ever will make a go of it? I wonder if I didnt make a mistake in the first place? No,
this is perfectly normal. These moments come to everyone. They are the most normal things in
the world. You yourself, then, a day later (or maybe an hour later) would be astonished at
anyone who would dare to question your vocation or question your choice. Dont be frightened
by yourselfbe amused at yourself! Know that God understands very well our vacillating little
human hearts. We make a commitment of ourselves, and then when anything comes along (big
things, and especially an accumulation of little things) to try us and frustrate us, then we arent
so sure, and we lose this sense of commitment and everything. Well, face it! This is very
normal! Whats the matter with me? I am a normal human being, and I am showing how fickle
human nature is, and how vacillating it is. So I make an act of humility! You know, today, I
dont even feel like staying here, but that hasnt got a thing to do with it, because I love You,
and Im going to stay here, and thats it! That is a contemplative prayer, by the way. It may
not be glamorous; it may not be graceful; it may not be quoted as great work of literature, but it
is a real contemplative prayer. I dont even feel like staying here, much less doing what Im
told; but I love You and I am going to do it. Do you suppose that every woman in the world is
just ecstatic over washing the dishes every day? That she is simply carried away with the
glamour of doing the babys wash? That she doesnt feel it when she has planned something to
delight her husband and the brute doesnt even seem to notice it? That when he is insensitive to
what means a great deal to her, she doesnt even feel this great womanly bitterness rising in her
heart? Of course she does! Thats the trouble we make for ourselves. That is part of the point I
49

want to make. We dont treat ourselves like human beings. We get alarmed at these things. If
we would look at it and say, Whats the matter with me? Oh, I am acting like a human being
what do you think of that! That is all it is! We want to preserve our sexuality, our
womanhood, in surrenderingnot only to Gods will, but whether he wants us to be delighted
in prayer or miserable in prayer; whether he wants us to feel exuberant or whether he wants us
to feel like a sick lizard sliding along; whether he wants us to be buoyed up with immense
enthusiasm about what Dear Mistress tells us to do, or whether the most heroic thing we can
do is to put the left foot in front of the right foot, and then the right foot in front of the left foot,
and go and do itand this is about all we can manage! This is surrender.
Also, we want to surrender ourselves to one anotherto surrender our energies to the
community and to one another; above all, to surrender our understanding and our delicacy
toward one another, There is no use at all in talking about the love of the monastery streaming
out into the world and infiltrating the Council halls and so on, if it isnt very operative right
here, right in this room. If we are not really surrendering our powers of loving to our sisters,
then we are just a hoax, and there is no use in talking about love for souls (or love for God,
either). We must surrender ourselves and our energies and above all our love to our
community, to our sisters.
There is a difference always in the way virginal love and non-virginal love are expressed.
Therefore, we can rightly say that there should be no love in the world that is more tender than
virginal lovebetween sisters, between subject and superiorsand yet, our instinct after we
have spent just a few years in religious life leads us to understand that the expression of this
love is not the way it would be in the world. Therefore, it would not be a sign that we love each
other very dearly if we went around holding one anothers hand tenderly, or gazing into one
anothers eyes to show sisterly love, because virginal love operates on a different level
Similarly, in religious life, where we live virginally consecrated lives, we do not embrace one
another, fondle one anothernot because there is anything wrong with these things. Of course
there isnt! There isnt anything nasty about these things. In the world, they are wonderful; but
we have taken our love to a different plane. It is more tender, not less tender. It is even more
exuberant, not less so. But it expresses itself always with a virginal love. You dont even have
to be told these things after you have been in the monastery a few years. You begin to feel
themso that sometimes when a new postulant comes and takes hold of your hand or
something, you dont know what to do! You just feel kind of embarrassed, because we just begin
to feel these things. As I said, there is nothing wrong with it in the world, but this is not the
way our love expresses itself. Therefore, when we have customs and traditions which prohibit
our doing these things, it is not because they are wrong, but because virginal love operates on a
different plane, a higher level. We have other ways of expressing our love, and we must be
careful in this type of thing that we do not cheapen our sisterly love. What would be right in
the world would not be consonant or appropriate in the monastery. When a sister is ill and
goes to the hospital, we all embrace her. When she comes home, we embrace her again. If the
operation hasnt been too radical, we embrace her hard enough to break her bones, because she
is our sister, shes been away, and we are so glad that she is home. This is right. This is for
occasion. Similarly, when we have a ceremony, we give one another a ceremonial embrace. Also,
a superior has much more freedom in these thingsfor a sister who is suffering or in a
particular need, this is perfectly right and perfectly good if a superior would embrace her or
show her some outward sign of tenderness or affection. But among ourselves, we only do these
things on occasion. We never cheapen them, because our love operates on a different level.
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Now, another quality of the sexuality of a woman is her endurance. This is radical to a womans
nature: putting up with things, enduring things, being doggedly patient about things. This is
by no means anything that should be suppressed in the monastery! It is not anything that
should be renounced in virginal love. It should be cultivated. This is essential to womanhood.
The more we deepen our powers of endurance, the more strong does our love become, the more
fruitful is our virginal union with our dear Lord.
First, surrender, I would say. Then, endurance: the ability to cling doggedly to things, whether
it is an ideal or an operation of religious life, to obedience, whatever it isto cling to it, to keep
on enduring patiently, and thus making our love much more fecund, much more rich in
blossoms and fruit.
Then there is the sensitivity of a woman. The more womanly a woman is, the more sensitive
she is to the needs of others. This is part of the psychological and emotional apparatus of
motherhood, which we by no means renounce. We renounce the physical aspects of
motherhood, but never, never renounce what is radical to motherhood: the instinct for others
needs. This, of course, goes with motherhooda woman is called to help tiny, helpless beings
who depend on her for everything. We dont have tiny, helpless beings in religious life, but we
do have people who depend on usand I think sometimes we dont think of that enough. It
isnt a question of us all depending on God (which of course is primary); nor is it a question of
subjects depending on superiors. We all depend on one another. We should think of that more
often than we do. We need one another, and others need us. This is not a proud thought This is
a very humble thought. We should grow in, not suppress, a sensitiveness for others. After a few
years in religious life, we should have shed a worldly callousness, so that we are aware
immediately of a sisters being hurt, so that we react instinctively when teasing has got up to
the line and here is where it stops. We can never be taught these things. No superior can say,
Now about this business of teasingyou can say A, but dont say B to Sister So-and-so, you
can say this, but dont say it to Sister So-and-so. We cant make lists. This must be the
refinement of a virginal heart that reacts to others. We should grow and grow and grow in this
sensitiveness for others. This is an operation of virginal love which must be cultivated.
Also closely related to that is a womans tenderness. The longer we are in religious life, the
longer we are vowed to our Lord in virginal consecration, the more tender we should grow
toward othersnot the less. If we are growing more careless of others, more callous toward
others needs, then it is the second vow we need to examine. This may seem a new thought, but
this is right. It is not obedience we are failing in; it is not poverty. It is a lack of functioning
virginal love, a lack of really exercising our sexuality in the right sense of the word. We are
used to the worlds cheap use of the words sex and sexualityto think of it only in a carnal
connection is ridiculous. Sexuality is, as I have said, is all that makes a woman a woman. And
these are the things that make a woman a woman: her ability for surrender, her power of
endurance, the depth of her sensitivity, and the scope of her tenderness.
Also, there is the creativity of a woman. A woman is designed and equipped by God in her body
to work with him in creating other human beings. This is very tremendous. But this physical
aspect, again, is only one aspect of her sexuality, her womanliness. She has a creativity in other
ways, too. How are we creative in the community? How are we creative toward God? By using
our initiative. It is not creativity in the sense of the arts, or departmentalized things like that.
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Any initiative is creative: the initiative to sacrifice ourselves, to see the needs of others and to
be the first to fulfill them, to see a want, to see a work to be donethis is being really creative
as a woman should be. As a woman in her body is destined by God normally to be productive of
life, so in religious life this should not be suppressed or renounced, but it should be turned in a
spiritual direction and in a very practical direction. Each sister should be very productive for
the community, not only productive in her work but very productive in her love, very
productive of understanding. A community that is made up of religious women who excel in the
art of surrendering themselves to Gods will and surrendering themselves to one another, of
young and old religious women who are practiced in endurance, who are increasingly sensitive
every day toward the needs, feelings and opinions of others, whose tenderness grows and
grows (not in an emotional waywe may not feel tender, but what is necessary is that we
should be tender), and religious women who are very creative in the community in using
initiative, very creative in finding ways to sacrifice themselves, very creative in finding ways to
be more mortified, more humble, more self-effacing, more loving, and religious women who are
extremely productive for the community, who are always productive in love as well as in
workthese are really religious women whose virginal chastity is functioning in a practical
way in their lives.
Now, I see that it is getting late, and that isnt half of what I wanted to say today! But
remember those points now: that we renounce carnal love in our vow of virginal chastity. We
do not suppress our nature, because the expression of love in marital relationships, in carnal
expressions of love, is only one aspect of a very large thing. We lift our love to a different plane.
We sublimate our love. What does that sublimation do? Does it bring some warped product out
of the sublimation? Those of you who had physics in high school would remember the process
of sublimation. In very common expression, we could say that you put something into
something else, and something else comes out! Well, we sublimate our love, and it comes out
love, but a different kind of love through our virginal chastity. But it has all the womanly
qualities, all the sexuality of womanhood there, functioning in a much richer sense even than if
it wete concentrated on one aspect, so that it is more full of surrender to God and to one
another, that it is more enduring, more sensitive, more tender, more creative, and more
productive. We will talk some more about these things the next time.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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CHASTITY #4THE GRANDEUR OF


VIRGINITY
We were examining together certain qualities of womanhood that should be developed and
certainly not suppressed in religious life. Today I would like to continue that a little further,
with the idea of virginity for what it really isthat is, consecrated virginitywhich is charity,
love.
I believe I mentioned when we first began discussing our second vow that we should never
think of it (as we should never think of any of our vows) in a negative way. But there is a
particular tendency in some schools of thought and in some writing, to consider our second
vow in that way. And yet it is never a greater mistake to have a negative approach than with
the matter of our consecrated virginity. And while it is a renunciation of a sort, this is not the
idea. The idea is a choice of ours which responds to a choice of Gods. We had to be chosen by
God before we could choose God. He himself said this when he said, You have not chosen me,
but I have chosen you and called you out of the world. Our choice was whether we chose to
step out of the world or not, whether we wished to consecrate ourselves to him or not. But the
first choice was Gods choice. We could only respond or fail to respond to that.
We must always have in mind the grandeur of our virginity. It is not at all a renunciation in
any way comparable to that which someone might have to make in the world; for instance,
there are relatively many girls who are the oldest in the family who forgo marriage. Not that
they do not desire the vocation of marriage, not that they do not feel called to it; but they will
take upon themselves the care of aged or infirm parents, or the care of a family of younger
children when the parents have died. This is a wonderful renunciation, but it is not comparable
to the grandeur of consecrated virginity. This can be extremely effective for such a persons
holiness, but they have not really chosen this in an elementary and fundamental way. They
have resigned themselves to Gods will. Then, if they have been able to go a further step, they
have entered into Gods will, and thus this renunciation has become a means of sanctification.
However, with us, this is entirely different. We are not foregoing the married vocation to
perform some other kind of service, but we are answering Gods choice with our choice. It is
not a matter for us at all of resignation, but of the tremendous desire to be entirely Godsof
burning, flaming desire. It is all a matter of love, the choice of lovethat we want to be
entirely Gods, wholly Gods. We want God only for our lover. This is a unique virginity. This
is why the Church calls it consecrated virginity. This is why she accepts it in a magnificent
ceremony, as I mentioned before, in such a way that one unaccustomed to such a ceremonial
and who came for the first time upon a solemn vow ceremony, or who came upon the ritual for
the first time, would see that this was the whole point. All these beautiful prayers are centered
upon the virginal consecration, the keeping of love, the giving of a womans heart and love
directly to God. Such a consecration and such a giving could not possibly be a matter of tying
my womanhood hand and foot. Im going to make a holocaust of it and tie its ankles and hands
together and lay it on a pyre and burn it up for God. By no means! Consecrated virginity is not
a tying up of ones womanhood or a suppressing of it. As I tried to develop and explain last
time, it is a true fulfillment in the deepest, profoundest sense of fulfillment I hope you
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remember some of the points we touched on last time as particularly significant of a womans
nature, of a womans true, great personality. I told you these qualities must develop, not wizen
and wither in religious life. We spoke of the endurance, the patience which is typical of a great
woman, her sensitiveness to the needs of others, her tenderness to others, her creativity and
productivity, and above all, her needher real womans need to surrender herself to another
person and love. This is the essence of our virginal consecration. We are surrendering
ourselves, giving ourselves to God. Far from being anything negative, Chesterton described it
as being something flaming and positivehe said, As positive as Joan of Arc, which I thought
was a very charming choice of figure. Not that virginity was peculiar to this particular saint,
but everything about her was flaming and ardent. He said this is what consecrated virginity is,
too.
Now, all these qualities of consecrated virginity which we have discussed together and
investigated together must really flower in our monastic life and from the beginning of our
formative life in the monastery. Thus, everything in the monastery, everything in a sisters
charge should in some way show forth that sisters womanliness, her virginal love. If we are
really living our second vow in a very realistic way, if we are deeply aware of the fact that we
are loved and that we are loving in return, then certainly we are not less solicitous for the
details of our life than a married woman is for the details and the government of her home.
Thus, any charge you have in the monastery should so how forth your imaginativeness, in the
right way of course! It should show forth your womanliness, your creativeness. If you have a
garden charge, this is your little sphere of showing forth your love, your creativeness, your
desire to beautify the house of God. It is the same with any household charge, any domestic
chargeanything that is entrusted to you. This is a little area set aside for you in Gods house
in which you are to show forth your love for a Lover. There is nothing about her husbands life
that is small to a woman who really loves her husband. Certainly, there should be nothing
small in the government and maintenance of the house of ones Lover for a religious woman.
The more these qualities of womanliness are developed in this very realistic and practical way,
then the more true femininity asserts itself and keeps its balance.
We know what the connotation of a word can do to spoil a word. Perfectly good and orthodox
words can take on shades of meaning which they dont have by nature, because of the way they
are used. Femininity is one of these words. If we have heard it misused, we may have a
connotation in the back of our minds that it means weak, helpless females who dont know how
to do anything but cling to others. This is not what femininity is. Femininity should be another
word for womanliness. In every nature that is seeking its true fulfillment (to love God as
perfectly as possible), there must be a balance. Therefore, it would be a perversion of femininity
to drive the tenderness of womanhood, the sensitiveness of womanhood, to an extreme where it
becomes self-centered. This is the kind of femininity which begets little jealousies, little
envies, little conceits, things like talkativeness, murmurings and criticisms. All these things are
the marks of a malformed religious womanbecause you see, if our vow of virginity is practical
in our lives (that is, if it is really a matter of loving, giving ourselves, surrendering ourselves to
our Lover all the time, in all the details of our life) how could we possibly fall into these little
things? A religious who is jealous, envious, who does not rejoice in her sisters achievements, is
a religious who is failing in her second vow. Maybe you have never thought of it that way, but I
would like you to think of it that way, because this is very true. When we allow ourselves to
succumb to these ugly little things, then we are obviously not a young religious woman who is
very much in love with a spiritual Lover, and whose one aim (despite all her mistakes, failings
54

and imperfections) is to give and give and give more of herself to him. Why in the world would
she be umbraged at what others give to him, at how others succeed, at how others may seem to
arrive at the perfection of their own gifts, personalities, and womanhood? She would be glad,
because her whole interest is centered in her Lover. Let this be a thought that remains with you
always. Never think that obedience and poverty are matters that concern the practical details of
lifeI do what Im told, and I do it reasonably, and I try to do it cheerfully. This is practical,
and so is poverty practicalI dont want to waste things. I want to conserve things. But
virginityof course, this is beautiful and lofty, but its not really practical. Its not something
that enters into the realistic details of everyday life. Indeed it is! It is just as practical and just as
realistic as any of our four vows is, and in a sense, it is the most realistic of them all, because it
is the motoring power. This is what touches at the surrender of womanhood to God. The more
we succeed in giving of ourselves to him and being more and more given to him., more
surrendered to him, the less danger do we run of ever succumbing to these little subnormalities
of femininity. What should animate every practical detail of our lives is our love. If it isnt, then
we are the most malfunctioning people in the world. There is no point at all in anything if it is
not an outpouring of love to our Lover.
The other excess of femininity would be to press to the other extreme these qualities of
womanhood: being able to undertake a situation, to be responsible, to see it through to a finish.
As it says of the valiant woman in Scripture, she looks over a field and buys it. She is
responsible; she makes decisions. Now, to drive that to an extreme would produce the so-called
masculine type that all normal people abominatethe domineering woman, the one who
seeks to keep others dependent on her own will. True femininity, which is beautiful, keeps the
perfect balance between these two extremes.
Virginity is love; virginity is charity; virginity is spiritual marriage. This term is not something
we should relegate to some high point of mysticism. By spiritual marriage, we do not mean
our Lord placing a wedding ring on the finger of St. Catherine of Siena. I dont expect that this
is going to happen to me, so my virginity operates or functions on a much lower plane. No, not
at all! Spiritual marriage is what consecrated, religious virginity is. The mystical placing of a
mystical wedding ring on ones finger is (if I may say it without meaning anything at all fresh)
is neither here nor there. We are, by our vows, spiritually espoused to God, and it is a true
spiritual marriage. Now, the adjective shouldnt get in the way of the noun. The noun is the
thing. It is a marriage. Because it is a spiritual marriage, we are not to conclude that this is
some high, charismatic gift, and it would be horribly proud of me to aspire to it; neither are we
to think that this is simply a beautiful, metaphorical phrasethat it is a beautiful figure of
speech that the soul is betrothed and espoused to God, but it doesnt have any real or practical
meaning. No, thats not what is meant by a spiritual marriage. Neither should we think that it
is spiritual in the sense of the ancient Greeks, who wished to arrive at a perfection of soul which
despised the body. Those who followed the school of Plato thought that we become united with
God by abolishing this body as much as possible, shuttling it out of the way as best we can. We
try to rise above it, we despise it. The spirit is the thing; the soul is the thing; so the spiritual
union with God is arrived at by despising this armor that the soul has to lug along with it
somehow. We have to ship this off as best we can, and the sooner the better. All these things
are the false meaning of spirituality, of spiritual marriage. But when we understand our
consecrated virginity as spiritual marriage, we mean very realistically and in the way
spirituality is meant to be understood. What does spiritual mean? It means of the spirit, and
this is just the right conclusion to draw. It is a work of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit
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inflames a soul with desire to be entirely united to God, and then he gives her the grace to
respond, to this inflammation of herself with desire. This is the spiritual marriage which takes
place in the vows of that soul to God. This is not a metaphor. This is not a figure of speech.
This is not an elusive high point of mysticism. This is a practical Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday
affair. And when we make solemn vows, it is an affair for all our lives. When we make our
simple vows, it is already, by our desire, an affair of our whole lives. When you hear, read or
mull over in your soul the term spiritual marriage, never pick it up with two fingers as
something that is a little too spiritually fastidious for us to get too familiar with. No, this is the
very core of it. This is the point. This is it. This is realism, this is practicality, this is the way we
are to make our virginity, our virginal love, function in every detail of our lives.
Now, spiritual marriage is a real marriage; therefore, it implies (as even in earthly marriage) an
eagerness to do the will of the Spouse, an eagerness to suffer his sufferings, an eagerness to be
identified with him. And there is nothing that can be a spur to us in holiness in the practical
details of our life than to keep reminding ourselves of thisthat we are espoused (or hope to be
espoused) to a Lover who suffered to redeem the world. To be identified with him in his
continuing work for souls, it is (as the child would say) as plain as plain can be that the soul,
too, must suffer with the Spouse who redeemed by suffering; that the soul must accept
everything that belongs to the Bridegroom. She accepts his lot, whatever it is. She accepts his
will. She enters into it; she clasps it to herself. And since the one Christ the Lord to whom we
are (or hope to be) espoused is the head of the human race, virginal love must, simply must
embrace all the sorrows of humanity. And this is where the vocation of the contemplative is
understoodor misunderstood. If we think that it is only what we can do for thirty or forty
souls within our visual orbit, as it were, then I must say that we would look at the spiritual life
in a very worldly sense. If we are not able to understand that by giving oneself entirely to God
by being his without any intermediary, by a perfect (as perfect as we can make it) identification
of ourselves with our Lover, that this avails for all humanitythen we have missed the point,
the very point that people who do not understand the contemplative life miss rather beautifully.
I say beautifully in the sense that they miss it so completely, and that there is no explaining it
to them. This is a blind spot which only Gods grace can endow with vision.
We want to identify ourselves with the Bridegroom, and not in a philosophical or allegorical
wayin a very Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday sort of way, identifying ourselves with him in
the little unglamorous sufferings of everyday life, identifying ourselves with him by a
tremendous zeal for souls. Dear Sisters, it is unfailing that the less zeal we have for souls, the
more zeal we have for our own selves, in the line of indulgence and preoccupation with
ourselves. The less we are wrapped up in ourselves, the more zeal do we have for the concerns
of the Lover. Gerard Manley Hopkins beautiful line is so apt for the soul of the virginal spouse
of God: The Holy Ghost broods over the bent world with warm breast and with ah! bright
wings. We have only to modify this by substituting spouse of God or the contemplative
soul for Holy Spirit to have a very perfect exposition, to my mind, of what our life should be.
We too should brood over the bent world with the warm breast of compassion and the bright
wings of love. I cannot think of a more apt picture of the true contemplative soul than this
image. She is, as it were, taking the whole world, not satisfied to work for some section of the
world or some souls in the world, but taking this whole world into the bright wings of her love,
her arms, and holding it to her heart; brooding over the bent world with warm breast and
bright wings.

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I would like you to keep that image in your mind of your own service, of your own virginal
love, because I very much dislike these stereotyped little pictures that are perennially
popularthe virgin who always has tight folded hands and downcast eyes, as if she might
possibly see the miseries of other people and get involved with them! No, I love the pictures of
Our Lady where she has her arms outthe old, old pictures of our Blessed Mother. In the
paintings by the old masters, so often her arms are outstretched as though she were taking the
whole world to herself. This is what virginal love should be. It is not, I mind my own business
and I take care of my own perfection, and dont you bother me, because Im too busy being
perfect! No, she is someone who is busy gathering this whole, poor, suffering world that
belongs to God, and she has to gather it to her heart and brood over it with her sacrifices, her
penances, her love, and her prayers, because she has identified herself by her second vow with
her Lover.
I cannot tell you too often: remember that virginal love is practical. It must express itself in
tenderness and patience and sensitiveness, and when it is considered as spiritual marriage,
which is the only right way to consider it, this is to consider it in its realistic, practical sense, so
that we must remember always that earthly marriage is only a symbol of the reality of the
union between God and his Church. It is virginal commitment that really embodies this reality.
Let us remember that; and above all, dear Sisters, remember that it is a giving. When we love,
we always want to give. It is true that love of its very nature seeks a return of love. When we
love someone dearly, naturally we desire that love in return. But you see, we are assured of
that. We have been called; we have been chosen; we should be the most poised, secure women
on all the earth, because we know we are lovedand that is really all a woman needs, or should
need, to give her spiritual balance and poise in everything. Therefore, the sufferings that come
to her are means of identification with her lover; the joys that come to her are the joys of the
Lover. She really belongs to him, and her love is always absorbed in giving. A true virginal
spouse of Christ should always be engrossed with the idea, What can I do? What can I give?
How can I serve? This is true lovenot What can I avoid? What can I make easier? What
can I evade or get out of? Once the drive of giving has weakened in love, then love itself is
repining. To give and give and give is the whole mystery of our virginal consecrationto give
ourselves by vow, and to perfect the vow day after day by more and more giving, more and
more surrendering of ourselves, until there is nothing, just nothing, left to give. You know
when that is, of coursethat is when we die. And until we die, there will always be something
left to give.
I found just this morning this very lovely little excerpt from an ancient poem that was called
The Symposium on Chastity by Bishop Methodius. I had never read it before. I thought it was
so lovely, and it brings out so clearly this idea that I want you to keep above all about your
second vowthis giving, giving, giving, and surrendering all the time. It is a little refrain
which was to be acted out by the virgins; one virgin read little verses between, and then they
all came in on the chorus. This is the chorus: For thee I keep myself chaste, and with a lighted
torch in hand, my Spouse, I come to meet thee. There is the essential idea: for thee I keep
myself chastenot to avoid the difficulties of the world, not to avoid the tribulations that
come to people in the world, but for theea free giving. Then the leader of the virgins says,
From above, O virgins, there came the sound of a voice that raises the dead. It says, Hasten to
meet the Bridegroom, with white robes and lamp in hand. Turn to the East, arise, lest the King
should precede you at the gates. There is the idea I mean of always giving, giving, giving.
What can I do? What can I surrender? What can I suffer more for him, lest the Kong should
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precede me at the gates? I am always running to meet himI dont want to keep him waiting.
So the virgins all reply again, For thee I keep myself. The leader says, For thee, O King,
spurning a rich home and the embrace of mortals, I come in spotless robes to enter with thee
into the bridal chamber. Then the chorus says together, For thee I keep myself. Then the
leader says alone, In my eagerness for thee, O Lord, I forget my country, I forget my own
people, I forget the dances of my companions, the desire of even my mother and kindred, for
thou, O Christ, art all to me. The virgins all together repeat, For thee I keep myself, for thee I
keep myself, and with a lighted torch in hand, my Spouse, I come to meet thee. This is the idea,
dear Sisters. The leader says, For thee I spurn my home, for thee I spurn the embrace of
mortals. I am not renouncing anything for the sake of renunciation, but only for thee. For thee
I keep myself, and in eagerness I forget my country, I forget my companions, in my eagerness
for thy grace, O Lord. This is how I want you to feel about your second vowa great
eagerness always to give more and more and more, and always this idea: For thee I keep
myself.
You see, a virginal life is, above all, a life of faith. It is living already in eternity. Father Gleason
says with wonderful insight, Consecrated virginity is the intrusion of eternity on time. I think
that is a very tremendous thought, and very practically true: the intrusion of eternity on time.
We are already living by faith the life of the resurrection in heaven. Thus it is in this spirit that
the bride says at the ceremony of vows, What I covet, I see already; what I desire, I already
hold. This is a marvelous outpouring of faith, a marvelous avowing of faith. Thus, in the same
way at simple vows does the bride indicate that she is the one chosen, that she has a Lover. She
says, He has placed a sealas we saw in Latin, not really on my face. but into my face, as
though he has branded it in, so that I should have no other lover but him. And He has
adorned me with jewels, he has put a gold-encrusted embroidered robe upon me; he has covered
me like this; he has adorned me. He has chosen me with such predilection that he has branded
me, as it were, with his eternal lovethat I shouldnt admit anyone else but him, that I should
be identified with him.
The more we seek identification with him, the more do we realize the glory of the seemingly
drab little details of daily life, the more do we lift them to an exalted plane. And the more we do
that, then the more is our second vow really having a practical, operative function in our
livesthe more it is permeating every detail of our lives, as it should do, so that the more
tender we are, the more willing we are to suffer, the more eager we are to give and give and
give, the more have we sounded the depths of virginity. The less willing we are to do these
things, the less do we understand our second vow.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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CHASTITY #5THE FRUITFULNESS OF


VIRGINITY
What I would like you to think about today is the fruitfulness of virginity. You know how
words get connotations that can almost change their meaning to people in a district, from being
used in this way for so long. Now, all of us, when we hear the word virgin, we think of
something lovely, something exalted. When we hear the word spinster, we usually think of a
cat and a clock, something thats warped, something thats lonely, something that is turned in
upon itself. We dont want to be dedicated spinsters. We want to be flowering virgins. When
the Scriptures say that God says of his consecrated souls, My spouse is a garden enclosed, we
must love to think of the enclosed, the being set apart for him; but we mustnt forget that it is
a garden that he is talking about, too. It isnt a stretch of desert sand. He doesnt want his
spouse to be a plot of cacti. He doesnt say, My spouse is a chunk of desert enclosed. He wants,
and he has a right to expect of his spouses, a virginal flowering, a blooming garden. This
should be our concept of our own virginity, a reminder to ourselves of what we should be.
Virginity cannot be barren. It cannot be sterile. Otherwise, it is not a functioning consecrated
virginity. Virginal love must be fruitful for souls. This is essential to it, essential to its meaning,
essential to its vitality. We must love to dwell on thisthat we are called to be fruitful spouses
of God.
I remember once reading a little article by a mother of thirteen children. She had been reading
so many articles urging planned parenthood and birth control and limitation of the family.
She said that sometimes when she was very weary, this sounded very goodwhen she had
thirteen little people to take care of. But, she said, then I would look around at them and I
would ask myself, which one of the thirteen do I wish not to be? Which one do I wish had not
been born? She said that then the arguments didnt sound quite as convincing as before,
because she could never really find the child that she preferred would not have been. This has a
very proximate, a very vital comparison for ourselves. When we are tempted not to be
sacrificial, not to surrender ourselves entirely to God, not to give the sacrifices he asks of us, it
would be very good to ask ourselves, Which soul, of those depending on me at this moment,
do I not care about? Which soul does it not matter whether I impetrate grace for it? Which
dying sinner at this moment do I really not care about? This is not a fanciful figure of speech.
This is really an operative, functional sense of our consecrated virginity. Souls are really
depending on us, and virginal love is meant to bring forth souls. St. Gregory of Nyssa,
somewhere in his inspired writings, says, The power of virginity is so great that it dwells in
heaven near the Father of Spirits, and it brings forth the salvation of souls. That is a
tremendous and inspired statement; and it is true. That is the wonderful thing about these
glorious, inspired statementsnot that they are beautiful, but that they are true.
Now, we are really called to bring forth souls; to bring forth grace to souls. This is the whole
meaning of being espoused to God. This is what virginal fecundity is. When people marry in
the world, if they are ordinary, good Christians, then it is a great sorrow to them if the
marriage is barrenif no children come of it. Well, there can be many reasons for thisit may
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be that God has just permitted this as a trial of their love; it may be a physical incapacity on the
part of one of the partners in marriage. But none of these things are true of virginal love. There
is only one reason, one defect that can account for barrenness in virginal love, and that is
narrowness of heartthe selfishness of the virgin, the espoused virgin. This is a tremendous
thought, and one I want you to think about very often. Your marriage to God, your virginal
nuptials are meant to be fruitful; they are meant to bring forth souls, to bring forth grace into
souls. If they do not, the fault has to be in your own heart. The fault cannot be with the Spouse.
The fault can only be in a narrowed, hardened, selfish heart of His spouseand this would be
the tragedy of tragedies.
The older we grow in religion, the longer we are wedded to God, the larger our hearts should
become. This is perfectly natural; this is to be expected. If we are betrothed, wedded to an
infinite God, then the longer we love him, the more we surrender ourselves to him, the more
identified we become with his interests, then so does the capacity of our love grow and expand.
Our love for one another becomes richer and deeper and more womanly.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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OBEDIENCE #1FREEDOM IN
SURRENDER (FEBRUARY 4, 1966)
Dear Sisters, it has been a long time since we have spoken about the vows. It was a good thing,
I think, that I was interrupted, because meanwhile the Council had time to produce its Decree
on Adaptation in Religious Life. I have been reading very carefully every section of the Decree,
and what is given here on obedience, which is the third vow that we have arrived at now in our
cycle of considering the vows. Obedience is given about one page in the Decree. Every sentence
on that one page is so meaningful and so significant that today I think we will do well if we
consider together just the first sentence. Every word means so much.
The Decree begins by speaking about obedience as a surrender. Now, surrender is a very
beautiful word, and it has different levels of meaning; but what is basic to its concept is
freedom. Along with a few other words like dialogue, encounter, commitment, person, and a
few others, freedom is a darling of the hour. It is one of the pet words, and it is a great pity
that this wonderful word and concept of freedom should be understood only in a superficial
way. I think many of the present crises about obedience, authority and freedom come from this
superficial understanding of what freedom is. Today, in looking at a few general concepts of
obedience, the first thing I would like to stress is this idea of freedom, which the Decree on
Religious Life stresses. What a vow of obedience essentially is, you know, is a manifesto of
freedom. That is what it is. This is what I want you to understand, dear Sisters. This is how I
want you to understand your vow, if you already have it and are aspiring to solemn vows, or if
you are preparing to make a vow. You have to understand that a vow is a free giving, and in
fact, the Church is extremely sensitive about the freedom of the vows. She goes to quite some
length to make sure that they are perfectly free. She requires that superiors instruct subjects in
the obligations that they will freely take upon themselves. She insists that there be an
examination by the Ordinary of the place (or his delegate) before a sister is admitted to vows,
so that it is made absolutely clear that she is doing this freely, that there is no force. Then to
make absolutely sure, the Church points out that if it should be revealed later that, despite all
these precautions, there was any force involved, the vow is simply invalid. The Church says
there never was a vow, because a vow is a matter that devolves upon freedom.
The Decree begins by saying, in professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their
own will. Now, surrender is a beautiful word. I would like you to think about that word a great
deal. Surrender, of course, is deeply involved with the idea of freedom, because a surrender is a
free giving; however, there are different levels of freedom in surrender. For instance, if a man is
held up by a robber, he may surrender his wallet, because if he doesnt, he may get shot through
the head. Well, he is giving it, all right; he prefers to give the wallet than to be shot through
the head! But this is obviously a very different surrendering of his wallet and the contents
thereof than if he saw a poor man, and his heart was so moved within him that he wanted to
give him the whole contents of his wallet. Both are surrender, but one is indicated by
circumstance; the other is suggested by love. There is all the difference in the world.

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The surrender that we make in our vows, and particularly in the vow of obedience, which
concerns itself with our dearest possession, our will, the very core of our being, the sovereign
point of our sovereign being, must be a full surrender, a glad surrender. Remember all your life,
dear Sisters, that when the surrender is not full, there is never complete happiness. This reverts
again to what Father Pachomius said, which I love to quote to you, and which I want you to
engrave upon your heart: The less we give to God, the less attractive does God become. This
is part of that same idea. The less willingly do we obey, then the less rewarding is obedience. It
is in the same sense that nature takes revenge. In natural things, we say that if we abuse our
body, its nature takes revenge. If we dont give our bodies the sleep and the food they need,
they take revenge upon us. So in the spiritual life does our spiritual nature take revenge, you
might say. It is something very analogous to the physical order. The more niggardly we are
with God, the more unhappy do we become, and the less attractive does God become. The more
grudgingly we obey, the more does obedience weigh upon us. The more we exercise this idea of
a full surrender all the time, the more light is the burden of obedience, the more rewarding is
obedience, and the more do we understand what obedience is all about.
In this idea of freedom, the subject (the one who is making the vowthe religious) makes what
I call this manifesto of freedom in the making of the vow; but you must never think that this
is it. I make this manifesto, and then, Amen!thats the end of it, and after that, you have no
free choice anymore. You make this one grand free act, I will submit; I do give my life into the
keeping of God through his representative, and then after that, I am led by the hand through
my religious life. I never have to make a decision. All I have to do is when Mother says, Jump,
I jump. When Dear Mistress says to do something, I do it, and I never think. I just do. I just do
what Im told. Well, this is ridiculous! A manifesto is something we live by. A manifesto is
something we believe with all our hearts. It is a burning declaration. We dont make a burning
declaration and never think about it again! You have to exercise this freedom all your life.
That brings in this very sensitive point upon which impassioned articles are being written at
the rate of about fifty a week: blind obedience, this dreadful, dreadful thing. Well, I think it is
a dreadful misnomer. Blind obedience, in the old way of understanding this concept, was that a
person obeyed when the reason was not clear to her. Well, there is nothing blind about that.
That is the best old spiritual vision you could ever have! This is very intelligent to presume
that there may be occasions when I dont understand the reasons the superior has for doing
something, and I trust her, and I trust God, and I think that my vow to obey and to submit my
will really has some meaning, and therefore I do it, even though it is not at all clear to me.
There is nothing blind about that! That is wonderful, penetrating spiritual vision. The blind
obedience that is being inveighed against is no obedience at allit is just servility. I just do
what I am told to do because, well, maybe I like it here; the diet is good; I like the climate; and if
I dont do what Im told, I may be shown to the exit! This is just servility! Or I simply do what
Im told because if I dont, I will displease the superior, and she will have ways to show this, and
it will be very disagreeable to me, so I obey. This isnt obedience, eitherthis is just more
servility. Neither is it the real meaning of blind obedience (which is actually seeing obedience)
to follow orders, commands or instructions with a kind of martyred interior sigh: Shes the
superiorwhat can I do! This is only another way of saying, If only she werent, and if only I
were, I wouldnt do this! If I didnt have to do this, I certainly wouldnt, but she is the superior,
so I have to do this. This is another form of servility, dear Sisters, and God does not want
servility. God wants full surrender, as the Decree begins by talking aboutglad surrender.

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Even on a human plane, you know how disagreeable it is to have someone do something for you
or give you something grudgingly. When you want something done, when you have something
to do that is difficult and you need help, who is the sister that you ask? Isnt it the one who you
know will do it gladly? It is not the sister who will say, Oh, all right, or, Well, really, you
could have come on another day, or, I have a tremendous amount of work to do, but all right.
You know how we just love to ask a person like that for a favor! Thats the last person you go
to. Well, lets think of God in this way. Do you think God wants that kind of obedience where
we come with our mental feet dragging, or a martyred interior sigh, or a peevish countenance,
saying, Oh, all right. I have to do it This isnt what he wants! This isnt fit to offer to God.
This is just another way of handing over the wallet because if I dont, I will get shot through
the head, and I would like to live a while longer! This is entirely unworthy of us. We never
want to descend to this in any way.
We want to make a full surrender, a full, free giving; and we want to make it every day of our
lives. Every day of your life that you live with your vow must be a new exercise of your
freedom. This is the real understanding of freedom. I choose to do this. I choose to obey. I want
to obey. Maybe it is very difficult to obey in this particular thing; maybe I dont like at all what
I am being told to do. Maybe I dont care for the charge I am being given. Maybe I dont think
this is an efficient or expeditious way to do this thing at allmaybe it even seems wrong to me.
But I freely choose to obey. This requires, first of all, intelligence. Even to understand what
freedom is requires quite a bit of intelligence, you know. It requires the ability to think
logically, to realize that my will (which is at the core of me, which is my personal sovereignty)
does not wish to submit. I am a daughter of EveI am not the one woman who doesnt
descend from Eve and who doesnt have any difficulty in submitting my will! Obedience is
something painful, sometimes very painful.
Dear Sisters, do you think it was not painful for Our Lady to obey? I spoke to you in Advent
about the way she felt about things, and how so often we do her such an indignity, such an
injustice, by separating her from reality. Now, she was not subject to the pull of original sin, as
we are. She didnt have this little donkey in her that we havejust because it is told to do
something, by reflex it doesnt want to do it! She had none of this burden to bear; however, she
was a very real woman; and because she was a real woman, she had a great capacity for
suffering. When her plans were changed, and when obedience came to her (whether from civil
authority, an angel, her husband, conditions, or circumstance) we pay Our Lady no compliment
by thinking that this was very easy for her. I think it would require an extreme coarseness of
soul not to realize that Our Lady must really have felt the sting of tears when she had to leave
all her little pretties and go to Bethlehem. It was hard for her to obey. Do you think that she
was just delighted to go into Egypt, into a strange land? She was probably afraid to death of
snakes, as most women are; and probably just as we do, she associated Egypt first of all with
snakes and such things! She didnt know the language; she must have wondered how in the
world St. Joseph was going to make a living there among strangers. It must have been very
difficult for her to obey. When it came to our dear Lords leaving their company for a time and
them finding him in the temple, she told him plainly that it was hard. She asked him why he did
that, and said, Didnt you know that we were sufferingthat we sought you, sorrowing? This
is the one time her voice breaks through the Scriptures to tell of her suffering in accepting
Gods willand yet, this was not the only time she suffered. Let us think of that a great deal.
There is nothing unusual about the fact that submitting our will should be painful sometimes.

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This touches again on what I mentioned to you at the beginning about superficial thinking. We
dont want any superficial thinkers in this house. There is no place for them in cloisters. They
dont belong anywhere in religious life, and the last place they belong is in a cloister, because
you have to think very deeply, even to find your way through the kind of virtue that you need
to practice in the cloistered life. So you need all the brains you have, and you need to keep them
in very good condition! It is quite the opposite of what some people thinkthat you check your
brains at the door when you come in, and you pick them up when you die, because you wont
need them in here, of courseyou just do what youre told! You need to use your head all the
time in obedience. To submit our will, we need to use our head as well as to act in faith. Faith
and intelligence are never at odds. Faith often transcends reason and intelligence, but it never,
never contradicts it. So the term blind obedience understood as not exercising any freedom of
choice at all is a misnomer. Let us call it seeing obedience in the highest sense of the term:
that I have the faith and intelligence to accept what I sometimes do not understand.
It would also be a great indignity to religious if superiors went around explaining everything
they did all the time. For one thing, you havent got the time, I havent got the time, and Dear
Mistress hasnt got the time! Furthermore, this is an insult to youto think that you have so
little faith, so little trust in superiors, so little loyalty to them, so little trust and faith in God
that you have to have everything explained to you in detail. This is an insult. I think a superior
should not insult her subjects. So let us never have any superficial ideas of freedom. If I say to
you that I want you to go out and do a certain piece of work outdoors, why should I take fifteen
minutes explaining to you why I think this is the right day to do it, why I think this is more
important than your other work, and why I think it will be beneficial? In the end, dear Sisters,
some of this present preoccupation and anxiety to explain everything to the subject simply
backtracks on itself. It destroys the real idea of freedom and surrender, and in the end, it is even
a blight on intelligence. It even becomes insulting to subjectsto think that you have so little
virtue, so little intelligence, and so little trust and faith that you simply have to have a complete
diagram of everything that is done. It is a full and glad surrender.
The sentence goes on to say, In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their
own will as the sacrifice of themselves to God. What is a sacrifice? A sacrifice is a gift, and it is
a gift which by its very nature implies some kind of suffering. It is a gift which costs; otherwise,
it is not a sacrifice. The real idea of a gift is something that is part of myself. That is what is
wrong with the commercialism of Christmas. There is nothing wrong with having a season for
gift giving. There is nothing wrong with that; there is something very Christian in the fact that
everyone is so delighted that the Incarnate Word is having a birthday that you want to give
presents to everybody. This is beautiful; this is spontaneous. But where the wrong kind of
commercialism has come in, in one aspect, is giving gifts which really mean nothing, which
convey nothing of myself. I simply give a lot of things which have no particular connection
with me, which cost me nothing, which are not part of me in any particular way. This is what is
superficial. This is very akin to the idea of sacrifice in giving a gift to God. We value a gift
which we know has come out of sacrifice. We know how, in the community, we are touched to
tears by the gifts of the poor; we dont try to return them, because we know this would be an
indignity to the poor, who have risen to the nobility of sacrifice, the truest gift there is. They
give what costs them to give; they give what is difficult for them to give, which means
something to themso it means a great deal to us. So it is with God. We offer ourselves as a
sacrifice, and this is something that costs us something.

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Remember this, too: that there is nothing malfunctioning about your obedience if you feel the
giving sometimes. Do you think that when Abraham was bundling up Isaac on that pile he was
whistling to himself? He became the father of nations by his faith, by his obedience; but dont
you think he felt it? And when Isaac said, My father, here is the wood and here is the fire; but
where is the sacrifice? What do you think was in Abrahams heart? Dont you think there was
a boulder in his throat when he tried to swallow? Dont you think he must have felt something
like ground glass in his chest? And yet he was perfectly obedient. He made a full sacrifice of
what was dearest to him. The fact that God intervened at the last minute was something that
Abraham in no way foresaw or prayed for or asked for. And yet this cost him deeply. He must
already have died before he raised his hand over Isaac. This is why he is the model of obedience.
Never be troubled if obedience is difficult sometimes; but when obedience is difficult, it should
and must also be particularly rewarding.
A full surrender of their own willtheir own will, mind you. If it were Latin, it would not be
the tuis form, but the suis. His own. And what is so much my own as my will? And I give
this gladly, in full surrender. This is my freedom. Every day, I give it again. I dont renew my
vow of obedience before every action and sit down and think, Am I going to do this, or am I
not going to do this? Do I freely choose to do this, or do I not? Nobut it is this atmosphere
of freedom in our souls all the time. I do this because I choose to do it. I choose to be obedient. I
wish to obey. I am a free and intelligent person who freely surrenders herself to God every day,
who offers this sacrifice to God every day again. I want to do this. It is my businessand it is
still my business after I make a vow. I do not make this burning manifesto and after that my life
is my superiors business. Indeed not! Your life is your own business, every day of your life. It is
your business to be great or to get bogged down into mediocrity. It is your business how
obedient you are going to be. It is your business how holy you are going to be. This is what
freedom means. This is the point. This is itnot this treading the water affair of never
getting down into the depths of freedom. It isnt freedom at all. It is just nonsense; I do what I
want to do. I do what I think is right. I do what I think is efficient
You cant do this even in society. Society will reject you. If you say, Im not going to stop my
car because there is a red light, okay, go ahead and get killed! Society will reject youeven to
the full rejection that ends in the cemetery! People in the world are obeying all the time, and
often it is a servility which they cannot escape. You obey when the theater says to be there if
you want to see the play. The curtain goes up at 8:00, and nobody in the world with sense
prances around and says, I wont be subject to their laws! What nerve they have to tell me I
have to get there at 8:00! 9:00 is what I consider the right time for a play to begin. All right,
then go at 9:00, and miss half the play! People dont live this illogically in the world, but they
can give tremendously illogical directions to religious. Think about that.
The sentence ends, ...sacrifice of themselves to God, and so...now, here is the conclusion.
What comes out of these things? Offer a full surrender of your own will, a sacrifice of yourself
to Godand so are united permanently and securely to Gods salvific will. What is this
salvific will? It is his salvation-giving will, and this is what is at the heart of the mystery of a
religious vocation, and most particularly at the heart of the enclosed contemplative vocation.
We do for souls, for others, in the measure that we are united to this salvation-giving will of
God.

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St. Therese of Lisieux said something to the effect that one thing she discovered in fairly short
order after she became mistress or assistant mistress was that you can do absolutely nothing
for a human soul. Nobody can. It is all grace. This was great discovery to her, and it should be a
great discovery to each of you. This too is part of this present obedience crisis, which is rising
out of a superficial understanding of freedomto think that we can do something. If I see a
better way to do it, if I think there is something wrong with what the superior is saying, if I
think the superior is hedging me in, that she doesnt see this as I do, and that I could do so
much for souls, I could get engaged in this apostolate that she is closing to me: I could go out
with the poor and do this; I could go out with this group and do that. I...I...I...! This is the
great heresy of thinking that I can do something for a soul. This is the most tremendous
conceit! What can a human being do for a soul created in the image of God? It is only God who
can work in a soul, and human beings help one another in the measure that they are united to
Godno more, no less. And as much as we are at odds with obedience (and therefore at odds
with God), then in that measure we do nothing for souls. If, by one act of submission to
obedience, we unite ourselves to this salvific will of God, then in this one obscure act of ours,
we do a tremendous amount for souls.
There is an excellent article in the Review for Religious that just came, by Father Dubay. He
brings out this idea very stronglywhat nonsense it is to prance around talking about what we
are going to do. It all depends on God. It is how much we are united to God. He said something
to this effect: Dont you think that ten minutes of prayer with God, of pure loving union with
him can do more than twenty hoursor did he say twenty years? I dont know whichof
our getting out and hustling for him? Now, hustling for souls can be wonderful if we are
united with God; if we are odds with Gods will, it is nothing, nothing at all, because we cant
do anything. As St. Therese said, we must realize that we can do nothing for a soul. We can
only be Gods instrument. And when his grace is able to operate through us, when some of the
rubbish and clutter of self-will is out of us, so that his grace can flow through us, then perhaps
we can do a great deal for souls, because his grace can get through us and out again. It is not
being caught in this traffic jam inside us all the time.
So there is one sentence from the Decree, dear Sisters, which is enough for you to think about
and meditate on for a long, long time. In professing obedience, religious offer the full
surrender of their own will. If it is not full, it will not bring a happy life. If it is a grudging
surrender, if it is a surrender that is picked at after the vow is made, and little crumbs stolen off
from it on many occasions, then it will not result in happiness, it will not be rewarding, and it
will not do good for the Church and for souls, ...The full surrender of their own will, as a
sacrifice of themselves to Goda free, suffering gift of oneself, a gift that really costs, a gift
that really counts. .. .and soonly in this way; it is a result of these two things, the full
surrender and the willing sacrifice of yourself to Godthey are united permanently and
securely to Gods salvific willhis salvation-giving will.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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OBEDIENCE #2LEARNING
OBEDIENCE IN THE SCHOOL OF
SUFFERING (MARCH 3, 1966)
Dear Sisters, last time we saw how very meaningful just the first two sentences of the part of
the Decree of Renewal and Adaptation devoted to obedience is; we were talking about that full
surrender of our will, how it goes on all throughout our lives, and the matter of choosing to be
obedient goes on every day. It is not finished when we make the vow, but it is renewed and
revitalized every day. Now we move on to the second paragraph. There are some things that
might sound a little surprising, in view of things we read in other places these days. The
Decree goes on to say, After the example of Jesus Christ, who came to do the will of the
Father, and assuming the nature of a slavethat isnt so good at all, according to modern
terminology. That is very bad! But past that is what I think is the great mystery to be plumbed:
...assuming the nature of a slave, he learned obedience. That is a wonderful thing, and I think
that we dont think about that enough. We learn how to be obedient. And how do we learn how
to be obedient? By obeying, of course. It is a wonderful thing that the Church has reminded us,
quoting Scripture, that our dear Lord, the perfect man, perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, learned
obedience. He learned how to obey. Therefore, we learn obedience; and if the process of our
education in obedience stops, then we have all kinds of difficulties with obedience. We have
stopped our education, and we have become more childish, more incapable of understanding
obedience, because we arent learning it by doing it. We see this reverts back to the idea of this
full surrender, which goes on all the time.
If we think about learning anything else, we immediately recognize the old truth that the more
we know, the more do we realize how little we know. Anyone who is really scholarly, who is
really learned, is profoundly aware of how little he knows; whereas we have all met the
obnoxious type of person who knows just a very little bit about something, and is extremely
puffed up with his little bit of learning. That is why Alexander Pope said long ago, A little
knowledge is a dangerous thing. Much knowledge is not a dangerous thing, because great
knowledge, great learning in anything, always humbles a person. It was a very realistic
statement that St. Thomas made when he said, It seems to me that all I have written is as a
little straw. He was so brilliant (entirely aside from his supernatural illuminations) that he
could see that what he knew was such a little bit, because the more he learned, the more did the
frontiers of knowledge push out They dont close in; they push out. As we learn and learn, they
go further and further out, because we become capable of realizing how little we know!
So it is above all in this matter of learning obedience. A person who is not schooled in
obedience, who has not even begun to plumb the mystery of obedience in its real meaning, is
not able to obey very well. A person who is consistently learning to obey by obeying, then
obeys more and more with grace and with understanding. A graceless obedience always
indicates a lack of understanding. A delicate, blessed, beautiful, free obedience is always the
product of much obeying.
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If Christ the Lord had to learn obedience, then obviously we have to learn obedience; and
obviously, too, it is going to be a little harder on us. We arent going to be as bright as the Son
of God and Man was about learning obedience. We could even say, if we pursue that thought,
that humanly speaking, our Lord obeyed so perfectly (in a human sense now) in his Passion
because of the quality of his obedience at Nazareth. Think about that. If you learn obedience by
obeying in the novitiate, your obedience as an older professed sister will be more meaningful,
more blessed, and more full of unction for you.
He learned obedience; how did he learn it? Heres the thingthe sentence continues, He
learned obedience in the school of suffering. You see, that is the only place you ever learn it.
This is where some of the confusion is coming in at presentthis idea that if obedience is
difficult, then we must do something about it. We must change something. But what does the
Church say? He learned obedience in the school of sufferingand this is from Holy Scripture!
That is the only place we are ever going to learn it, and that is the only place you ever do learn
anything, dear Sisters. Now, that does not mean that obedience is always tragically hard. God
forbid that it should be! I dont think that the common run of superiors are ogres. (You might
have different thoughts on the subject, but I hope not!) Superiors, as a general thing, dont try
to make life as difficult as possible for their subjects. Even if the superior were an evil person,
and even if she didnt desire the good and happiness of her subjects, just for sheer practicality
she wouldnt try to make their lives so miserable, because the community doesnt function well
with a houseful of miserable, thwarted, frustrated women! I think part of this confusion at
present is the old wild swing of the pendulum because there has been a movement in the past,
and there has been an old fusty school of spirituality (which should never have been dignified
with the name) which held that the superior should find out what her subjects like to do, so that
she could be sure they didnt get a chance to do it; and that she should, for the good of the
persons soul, never use that persons natural capabilities, because this might make her
complacent or give her ideas! This was very bad. I think now the pendulum, in trying to adjust
itself, has made a wild swing the other way, so that it is thought that the subject shouldnt be
asked to do anything except what she wants to do, except to follow her own propensities,
capabilities, and wishes.
This too is a great mistake. As I say, aside from even good will, for just sheer practicality, a
superior should want her sisters to be happy. For one thing, grace functions better among
happy people. The Holy Spirit has a much better chance in a happy community than in an
unhappy community. So even if she wants to have a normal life, if she wants to get the work
done, if she wants to get things accomplished, a superior (if she has a grain of sense) will
normally want to use her subjects capabilities. She wont put in charge of the laundry the one
who has the least understanding of machinery, if only for the very lowly reason that she wants
to get the wash done! And so with all other fields of work, just on the low level of practicality.
Butstill obedience is learned in the school of suffering, and even in a normal situation, where
a superior wants her sisters to be happy and is eager to help them use the talents God has given
them (and perhaps can ferret out a few they didnt even know they had), there is still going to
be suffering in obediencepartly because we have this nasty little strain of perversity in
ourselves. This is part of what we inherited from our mother Eve, and what we helped to grow
in us by all our own little failures and infidelities to grace, in pursuit of our own selfopinionatedness, self-will, and self-determination. We can witness this in ourselves. It is very
humiliating. When someone tells us to do something, we dont feel the glow at all that would
come to us when we think of doing this thing! We just have to face those thingsthat is part of
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our poor human condition. I remember when I was a postulant, I had read how Sister Benigna
Consolata always tried to keep her feet off the floor at the Divine Office, and so I thought I
would try this. I dont know if you have ever tried this particular spiritual sport, but it is very
hard! If you are leaning back, its all right; but if you are a Poor Clare and are supposed to lean
forward, and you hold your feet up, its very trying! Well, I did this, and it was hard! And I
thought I was simply the last word in penance. I didnt say this in so many words, but I felt I
was really doing something. This was very hard, nobody knew about it, and I thought this was
very wonderful. I felt this kind of a glowuntil I had sense enough to stop it! But when Dear
Mistress would remind us to sit forward, keep a dignified position, hold our book up, and keep
our heads in a dignified and respectful positionsurely I accepted these things and did these
things, but I cant say I felt any glow when she told us to do it! This is in us all, you see. What
we want to do gives us a satisfaction that we dont find in being told what to do. We have to
face this! This is part of learning obedience, too. This is part of our education. In these things,
we must work with grace to educate ourselves. So too it can happen that when we have these
bad days that come to all human beings, that just because we are told to do a thing, we dont
want to do it! This too is very humiliating to admit. Just because it is time to go to work, we
are full of zeal for prayer and want to remain in choir; just because it is time of meditation, we
dont feel like meditating. This is in us all. This is that little seed of perversity which we must
recognize, humbly accept, and determine to do something about. These are our little inglorious,
unglamorous ways of learning obedience. If we learn it in these ways, then we will be able to
pursue this wonderful high learning in greater things.
The paragraph goes on to say, Religious under the motion of the Holy Spirit submit
themselves in faith to their superiors. This too is a principle that we must recognize and work
deeply into our own interior. We are able to submit to another, to the will of God through
another, only by the motion of the Holy Spirit. If there is one gesture, one movement that a
human being cannot make without the Holy Spirit, it is to bow ones head. Under the motion of
the Holy Spirit, we subject ourselves in faith to our superiors, who hold the place of God, the
Decree says. This seems so self-evident. We have heard this all our religious life, whether that
is a matter of months or of years. Superiors hold the place of God. I wonder sometimes if we
have heard it so often or know it so well that we dont understand it at all. If someone really
holds the place of God, then we cannot go wrong by obeying that person. We simply cannot.
The person may go wrong, but that is not our affair. This is our wonderful assurance. A
superior may do the wrong thing; she may be trying very hard to do the right thing, but she
too is a human being, and she can make mistakes (and often doesat least, the one I know best
does!). But if she makes a mistake in good will, God rectifies the mistake, both for her and for
the subject. If she makes a mistake in bad will (that is, because she is simply determined to do a
thing because she wants it, and is conscious that it may not be what God wants), then God still
rectifies the mistake for the subject (although perhaps not for the superiorshe will answer to
him for that kind of mistake). In neither of these cases does the subject need have any concern.
That may sound very simple and beautiful, and it isit is very simple and beautiful. Then why
is it so hard to carry out? Why are some religious having terrible crises in obedience? Why are
we reading on every side about the crisis with authority, the crisis with obedience? That is very
simple, tooit goes back to the first sentence there: because they are not learning obedience in
the school of suffering, because religious have a particular situation which is a great suffering,
and God means them to learn very much about the mystery of obedience, about faith, and they
are not learning. They have stopped their educational process. They are not learning obedience
in the only way it can be learnedin the school of suffering, as the Church has told us.
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I have pointed out the disorderliness of our will in these little unglamorous ways; part of the
disorderliness of our faith (that is, our deficiency in faith) is to think that accomplishment, for
God, depends only on what I do. Now, God has made me as I am, and therefore he wants me to
serve him as I am. He has given me certain abilities, certain talents, certain gifts; this is an
indication of his will. This is a clue to the particular way in which he wants to be served. But to
think that I can only do something for God and for souls by using myself in the way I think I
should be used is nothing but a lack of faith. It is as simple as that. It is not believing that my
superior holds the place of God. It is being able to say this, even perhaps to make grandiloquent
statements about it, but it isnt to believe it. If I really believe that someone holds the place of
God, then I will suffer, as the Church quite casually points out to us. There is the school of
suffering, and yes, of course, that is where we learn obedience. I may still suffer; and on
occasion, I may suffer a great deal, because obedience is not meant to be easy. It is meant to be
our greatest oblation of our self to God. But I will understand what I am doing. I will
understand the meaning of submitting myself to my superior in faith. And if I dont, as I say, it
is a deficiency in faith. It is a sign that I am no longer being educated, as God wishes me to be
educated, by circumstance and by situation and by people.
We have a disorderly will. We want to do what we want, to follow our own inclinations, our
own ideas (which may be objectively very excellent, and perhaps a lot better than the
superiorsmore efficient, more practical perhaps). But to want to follow these things is to
exhibit the disorderliness of our will; and dear Sisters, that isnt something we need to
investigate, appraise, and write books about. This is so simple! We are all made this way. We
all have this little perversity in ourselves. This is obvious! What we have to do is face it, not
worrying about appraising and discussing it, and much less being proud of it. We try to
discipline it. How do we discipline it? By sufferingthe only way any kind of disorder is
disciplined. When we try to teach small children to obey, how do they react before they reach
the age of reason? We say, No, you cant have that. You cant have that. You cant play with
mothers crystal earrings. You cant chew them like that. What does the child do? It tends to
cry for all it is worth. It waves its fists. Perhaps it stomps its little foot. Then what do you say
to the child? Now sit down, dear. Do you realize that mother holds the place of God, and I am
going to explain to you what will happen to your teeth that are coming in if you chew my
crystal earrings, and I want to explain to you how much Daddy paid for the books that you
want to pull the pages out of. You arent going to speak to the child that wayno! You know
what you do to a child in a situation like thatyou put it in a certain position, and you apply
the flat of the hand! This is the way you make the child understand! But then, when we get to
be adults, we are supposedly able to be reached on the level of intelligence and of faith. To
understand that when something is denied to us by God through our superiors (remember
thatnot denied by our superiors, but denied by God through our superiors) then this is part
of our learning holiness and obedience in the school of suffering. This is a disciplining, and the
disciplining of adults is done on a different level than the disciplining of children (as I am sure
you would agree). So when we get involved in these terrible crises of obedience, we are
refusing our true development by just kicking against the goad.
We subject ourselves in faith to our superiors; dont ever subject yourselves in servility. This
may seem far from you and your ideals, but human nature tends to slip down into this kind of
obedience, which isnt obedience at all. I do the thing because I have to do the thing. There is
nothing to glorify God in this. But part of this learning of obedience is learning to identify
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ourselves with God. This is the thing. This is the aim: to want what he wants, and often for no
other reason than because he wants it.
We can take examples on a very homely, practical scale. For instance, in summer when you go
out to work in the garden, sometimes it is very unpleasant; it is beastly hot. You feel miserable.
It isnt very enjoyable from any angle. Well, are you going to say, I prefer to be doing this
rather than anything else in the world? You can say this in honesty in only one way. You cant
say honestly, Because it feels so good, and because naturally speaking, I would much, much
rather pull up weeds in this heat than sit inside and listen to a concerto! No, this is nonsense!
But you can say, I would rather feel like this than any other way in the world, and I would
rather do this right now than anything else in the world, just because it is what You want me
to do right now, because it is the way You want me to feel, God, right now. This is identifying
yourself with Gods will. This is a very small thing; you apply it to the bigger things. But dont
wait around for the big things! Keep on learning it in the school of little sufferings; then, if a big
suffering comes, you are learned and scholarly in obedience. Then you dont have to make a
wild flight back to your primer or your ABCs to start trying to figure this thing out. To do
what God asks just because he asks it; to prefer what God wants for no other reason than
because he prefers it: this is at the heart of obedience, dear Sisters; this is at the heart of your
vocation. And this is maturity in religious life. We may not like at all what we are doing; we
may see no sense in what we are doing, from a purely natural, human angle; but we are never
asked to obey for human reasons. We are asked to obey in faith. Obedience is not always
difficult, no; but sometimes it is, and often it is. It is meant to be. It is our greatest oblation, the
greatest gift we can give to God. It is not a handing over of the will; no, it is a conscious, willed
identification of will, and it goes on all the time. When a suffering comes to uswhether it is a
suffering in our spiritual life, a social suffering, a suffering from our work or our charges, or
those other deeply interior things that come to all contemplatives at times, a kind of loss of the
sense of directionin all these things, enter into them and accept them and identify yourself
with them. This is what is at the heart of obedience. This is the kind of obedience you want to
practice all your life, every day.
The paragraph continues, Under their guidancethat is, the guidance of superiorssubjects
are led to serve all their brothers in Christ. Under their guidancesee, that is where a little
trouble is coming in, in active religious life now. There is a great zeal to serve, to give, to do for
others; but we have to remember this little phrase, under the guidance of superiors. And if it
isnt under the guidance of superiors who hold the place of God, then it doesnt mean a thing.
St. Paul had quite a bit to say about this years ago. We all know his famous dialogue about
charity by heart; so with obedience, too. If I give my body to be burned and I am a religious,
outside of obedience it profits me nothing. If I give my energies away in a way the superior has
not indicated I may do, it profits me nothing. And so on.
Under the guidance of superiors they serve others, just as Christ himself in obedience to the
Father served his brethren and laid down his life, and so they are closely bound to the service of
the Church. Now, if a religious does not realize that to submit to God, to identify herself with
the will of God through the superior, avails a thousand times more for souls than kicking
against the goad and accomplishing a great external work which is outside the sphere and
scope of obediencethen that religious has not gotten out of first grade in this school of
learning in obedience. We must get rid of this worldly idea that what we do is what is effectual
for souls. It is what we are. This is what is effectual for souls. It is God and God alone who is
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able to accomplish anything for any soul. And if he is able to accomplish anything through us,
it is because of what we are, and what we do is merely incidental.
A sister may be confined to the infirmary from her youth. We all accept, in theory, that she is
probably doing much more for souls than all the rest of us together. But we are not so clever
about applying this to ourselves in practical situations. We can be quite dull about this. Our
theory may be excellent, but we are not too good when it comes to practical situations. So be
very practical about obedience.
It was in obedience to his Father that Christ served his brethren. You know, from a worldly
point of view, our Lords gifts were terribly wasted. Did you ever think about that? He used his
splendid oratory very little. Considering the number of miracles he could have worked, he
worked very few, and admitted that he was hampered in the working of them by mens lack of
faith. His life was terribly unbalanced: thirty years back there doing nothing, just filling in time,
and then three years of preaching mainly to people who didnt seem to get what he was talking
about at alleven his chosen ones, his closest ones, his graduate students, werent doing too
well at all in his school of perfectionthen three hours spent redeeming. It was a tremendous
imbalance, as the world would balance things. Yet his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts
are not our thoughts. It was in obedience to the Father, which he admitted he found hard.
Remember this, dear Sisters, that he admitted in the Garden that he found obedience hard, and
did not hesitate to say, If this could be some other way, then I wish it could be; but if it cant
then I identify myself with your will. This too is so familiar to us. How many meditations we
have made; how many books we have read about it. But how much have we taken this into the
fiber of our own beingthat Christ found obedience difficult? I said to you last time, always
remember that Our Lady found obedience difficult. Why? Because she was a perfect woman,
and so it was difficult for her to change her plans, to submit her ideas, to accept what was not
reasonable.
Dom Marmion has a splendid statement somewhere. He says, Human reasoning can produce
only human results. I would like you to think about that very often. When obedience is
difficult, when a thing seems impractical, when a thing seems wrong, when a thing seems
wastefulwell, we can reason about this: What good is it going to do me? What good is it
going to do the community? What good is it doing for souls? This is human reasoning. I want
to see the results; I want to weigh it on the scale, I want to line up the souls it is going to save
and count the noses. But human reasoning produces only human results. Those in the active
apostolate may have great difficulty in this way, and their human reasoning may be quite
flawless, but it can never produce anything above itself. Human reasoning produces only
human results. And faith, obedience in faith, produces divine results. One act of submission, one
acceptance of the motion of the Holy Spirit (as I said, the bowing of the headthe one gesture
that only he can empower us to perform), can do more for souls than a hundred years of the
greatest activity for souls under our own spiritual horsepower outside obedience. Think about
these things. These are such simple ideas. You see, dear Sisters, how solid, how blessed, how
beautiful the language of the Church is. These are the Fathers of the Church speaking to us,
and what are they saying? Are they wringing their hands about the crisis in obedience? Are
they saying, We have to get a new image of authority now? No, they are saying, Christ
assumed the nature of a slave, and he learned obedience. Where? In the school of suffering.
And then they say that religious subject themselves in faith to superiors, and they can do this

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only under the motion of the Holy Spirit, because the human head does not incline to bow. It
tends to go the other way.
Praised be Jesus Christ.

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OBEDIENCE #3ACTIVE AND


RESPONSIBLE OBEDIENCE
We were going over together the words on obedience in the Decree on Adaptation, and we
found how much was contained in just a few words. If you can remember back that far, last time
I was examining the very careful and meaningful wording of it about the full surrender of
ourselves. It isnt a piecemeal obedience. It is a lifelong surrender. This isnt something that we
do, and then it is done; it is done every day. As our Lord said, if we want to be his disciples, we
have to take up his cross every day. Each day we start all over and follow him. Then, too, the
very matter-of-fact statement of the Decree: we learn obedience as Christ learned obedience, in
the school of suffering. The Church, and the really great men in the Church, are really quite
matter-of-fact about these things. Far from seeking for ways to make our religious obligations
pleasanter to human nature, they come out and say, No, this is always going to be a source of
suffering on occasion or to some extent, because our wills dont like to bend to God. God left
them free, so we learn to obey in a school of suffering. It is their way of saying, Tutanyone
knows this! This is the right kind of thinkingthis is the Churchs thought. We saw how the
Decree says that this is when we shall really be doing something for souls. Now, in the
concluding paragraph about obedience, we have again a wealth of material for thought and for
meditation. The Decree goes on to say, The religious, therefore, in the spirit of faith and love
for the divine will should humbly obey their superiors, according to the rule and constitutions.
What do we mean by obey humbly? It doesnt mean like a shaggy pup that holds its head
down and just goes forward, or is taken along on a leash. To obey humbly is to obey graciously.
What do you think of when you hear the word pride? Well, the first thing I think of is
hardness. I dont know what it connotes to you, but when you talk of a proud person,
immediately my mental reflexes say to me, hard. I think of the head held high, an imperious
attitude, an angular personemotionally and psychologically; whereas with humility, we think
of graciousness, a yielding. Humility has a beauty about it. We know that even on a purely
human level, a purely social level, that there is nothing more engaging than humility. This is
one of the reasons why we would really like to be humble ourselves! We do at least realize that
it is a desirable state to be in! Humble people are very delightful people; they are nice to be
with. Proud people arent. They are angular, repellent. So the Decree urges us to obey humbly,
but to obey humbly is not to obey graciouslyit is to obey graciously because we are aware of
what we are doing. We are aware that we are not soldiers, with the superior who says, Turn
right! And everybody turns right. It is just the thing to dothe command is called, and we do
it without ever thinking about it. A gracious, humble, mature obedience is very conscious of
what it is doing. If on occasion its human nature doesnt want to do it, it is all the more
gracious because it is aware of its dignity of choice.
We spoke about this the last time, about identifying ourselves with obedience, and doing this
all our life long. I am constantly making a choice. I dont only make a choice when I agreed to
answer Gods invitation to my religious vocation and to make my vows, but this is the
beginning of a lifetime of choosing. I choose to identify myself with my vow of obediencethe
vow that I have, or the vow I hope to makeand I choose every day of my life. I choose how
holy I will be. I decide. I do this, really. I am helped and guided by superiors; I am much helped
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and enlightened by the grace of God; but nobody, even God himself, is going to make us holy.
This is our terrible free choice. To make a vow of obedience only spotlights this wonderful
freedom that we have. It gives it a new dimension before God. Far from hampering us, far from
making us regimented, far from cramping our personality, it takes every bit of personal
development, personal self-realization, to obey graciously and maturely and with dignity all the
time. Sometimes we may see no other reason for obeying except that this is what God wants
well, I think that is a very wonderful reason. Something may seem even ridiculous sometimes,
from a human point of view; or, more often, it may seem unpleasant. It may seem definitely
undesirable at this or that time. But we are able to say to God, I have absolutely no reason for
doing this except that I love You. You are indicating through my superiors, through the Rule,
that this is what You want right now; and for this reason alone, for no other reason under the
sun, I would rather do this than anything else in the world, no matter what it is. This is to be
very realistic about obedience; this is to be mature about obedience.
The Decree goes on to say, Realizing that they are contributing to building up the body of
Christ according to Gods plan, religious should use both the forces of their intellect and will
and the gifts of nature and grace to execute the commands and fulfill the duties entrusted to
them. Now, this isnt talking about some specialized activity. This isnt saying that if your
superior gives you a grant to do research on atomic energy, then you have to bring all the
forces of your intellect and your will and every gift of your nature and all the gifts of grace to
carry this out. No, it says, to execute any commands, to fulfill any duties entrusted to them.
This, dear Sisters, is where we see a great person. It is not a sign of a great person or of a great
gift that a person can do one thing very artistically or very scientifically, but other things she
does are always fourth rate. A real artist will bring her artistry to everything she does. She will
sweep a floor artistically. She will clip the threads off a seam because it would offend her
refined, artistic nature to sew a seam and leave the threads hanging at the end. This is where
we can tell a real refinement of soul and the spiritthe real refinement of the gifts and talents
that God has given us. It would not be a sign of a great scientist, a great scientific mind, that
she could bring forth marvelous theories about the germ content on Mars with great
arguments to uphold her thesis, but she would be very careless about the laundry machinery
because this is beneath her notice. This would not be the mark of a great scientist, just as the
other would not be the marks of a great artist.
Dear Sisters, if you want to be mature religious, as you do want to be and as I want you to be,
then do just what the Decree says and bring all the gifts of nature, of intellect, of every grace
God has given you, to fulfill every duty that you do. It is in our fallen human nature to bring
the full force of our energies, whatever they may be, whatever gifts we have received, to
something that is spectacular, sensational. We dont have too many sensational things to do in
the cloister, but in our own sphere, what shows, what the world would call more important
than other things. Then, for things that are not particularly to our taste, or which dont have
much of an aura of glamour about them, we dont bother to bring our talents and our energies
to these things. This is the mark of an immature person, a small person, a person who is not
realizing her religious and human dignity, who is not fulfilling herself. That is the kind of lack
of self-fulfillment that we should be concerned about, both religious and superiors. If we are
maturing in our obedience, then we will bring the full powers that God has given us to any
charge we have. There is no reason why steps cant be brushed beautifully, graciously,
perfectly. There is no reason why a table cant be wiped with care and interest If we allow
ourselves to degenerate into what I might call a perverted specialistthere are a few things
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that we do well and other things dont matter too muchthey arent worth bringing our
energies and talents tothen we are just abysmal failures, and we are not mature at all. We are
not fulfilling ourselves in religious life, and we are not growing into the dignity of our religious
womanhood at all. Never wait for special occasions, dear Sisters, to use your energies and your
talents.
We read a charming expression last nightAelred was the lord of the pots and pans. There
is wonderful theology in that! Not just everybody can be the lord of the pots and pans. This is
the kind of aristocrat that Holy Mother Clare was. She was a lady, she was a queenno matter
what she did. Whether she was playing with that cat of hers, or whether she was helping in the
kitchen, or whether she was instructing her sisters, or whether she was scattering the
barbarians with the Blessed Sacrament held in her handsshe was always herself. This is what
you must be, dear SistersI want you always to be yourself, that is, your full self, your full
womanly self in whatever you do. I dont want you to be yourself on occasion, and a mediocre
half-cooked person on other occasions. I want you to be your full self, everything that God has
given you, all the time, no matter what you are doing. This is especially to be exercised in
whatever obedience calls us to do, whatever obedience puts upon us. This is how we heighten
our dignity. This is how we really realize our potential. Theres so much talk now about
developing ourselves and without realizing our potential and filling our capacitiesbut people
do not do this for us. We have to do this ourselves.
This is what I think is amusing in some of the things that are written; Why dont superiors
develop their subjects? Why dont they realize their potential? I would say mostly because
superiors cant do this. This is what each person does. We can be helped, counseled, exhorted,
remindedbut each of you has the potential for the full realization of your religious
womanliness, for the measure of your holiness. I cant realize it for you, and neither can Dear
Mistress. Each one has to realize it herself. If you are as holy as I would like you to be, you
would be paragons of holiness (and I would be too!)but you have to decide this. Whatever is
deficient in my holiness is my fault. Whatever is deficient in yours is your fault. Whatever of
your potential is not realized, it is because of your slothfulness. This is part of the
responsibility. This is part of the mystery of obedience. This is part of your free will, your
choice. I will be great, or I prefer to be mediocre because it is so much more comfortableyou
know, greatness takes a toll on a person! Realizing our potential isnt something that we sit
down and read about and say, This is marvelous! All this is probably in me, and nobody is
tapping it! They dont realize what I have here! Nobody is mining this gold, nobody is refining
these gems, nobody is separating the alloy. When we come to realize that we have to do this, it
runs us down a bit! It isnt something that doesnt require any energy. It takes a tremendous
amount of mental huffing and puffing to realize our potential. You get extremely tired realizing
your potential! That is why it is sometimes much pleasanter to take what Chesterton calls the
wider road to Godhead and sit around and think, They arent developing me. They havent
given me a chancewhat I could do if my resources were tapped! We need to tap them
ourselves. As I say, it takes a lot out of a person!
Obedience is not childs play. It is womans work. This is adult business, and it takes a great
deal of energy, a great deal of constant labor. There is a great deal of potential in each of you,
but whether or not you are willing to shed the mental sweat to realize it, this is your business,
your decisionwhether you want to mine just part of this gold and then rest, or whether you
want to mine it all for God. This is what you have to decide. How hard are you willing to
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work? That is part of what is involved and how great I choose to be, how holy I want to be.
How hard do I want to work about it? The Decree goes on to tell usand this is very good
about superiors fulfilling their office in a spirit of service. I dont really recall if I spoke to
about this last timethis idea of service. If I did, it bears repeating; if I didnt, then it definitely
should be thought about. Theres so much written now about authority being a service, and this
is wonderfulthis is just exactly what it is. Any superior who thinks it is anything else has a
perverted idea of authority.
Holy Mother St. Clare was very clear about this very modern notion years ago, when she says
very clearly that the abbess should be the handmaid of all the sisters, the servant of all the
sisters. Then she goes right on to the next point, as if to say, Anybody would know this! And
yet there are pages and pages written about this in a very impassioned way. Maybe it is good
maybe we need to be awakened to this more. But I think what needs to be developed is the idea
that service works two ways. You cant be a servant with no one to serve. What is the use of a
maid or a cook preparing exquisite meals if a guest wont eat them? What is the use of doing
the laundry if nobody will wear the clothes? What is the use of cleaning the house beautifully if
they wont come in anyhow? So service is a thing that works two ways. It requires a servant,
and it requires people who wish to be served. If we do not wish to be served, then we might as
well dismiss the servant, because service requires this duality. One of the ways, of course, that
we are best served spiritually is by correction, by counseling, by having our faults (if anyone
should have one) called to our attention. This is perhaps the highest service the superior can
give, but you have to have people who are willing to be served. There is no point in a doctor
saying, You have cancerI will operate, if the patient says, I do not have cancersomebody
else had cancer. Im not going to be operated on. Theres no point in that. Well, the doctor
might as well pass on to the next patient. He may be willing to perform this operation free of
charge, and he may be willing to sit up nights with the patient afterward, but if she insists, I
dont have cancer, then there is nothing he can do. I want you think about this a great deal
this is the participation of subjects in the office of the superior. They too are a part of the
service. They must wish to be served. They must allow themselves to be served.
Then the Decree goes on to say, after bringing out this spirit of service, that they should
respect human dignity. This, too, is a very beautiful thing, and very important. However, it is
equally important that subjects be aware of their dignity, too. This redounds in great measure
on these thoughts that we have just gone over together, about bringing our full energies and
powers to whatever we do. This is realizing our dignity, being aware of our dignity, realizing
that it is beneath our dignity to do anything in Gods service second rate, much less fourth rate.
Mediocrity is not something that belongs to the service of God, and certainly not to the service
of God in the cloister. Love is always seeking to find new ways to give, new ways to serve. We
know this in our human affection for one another. If you love someone very much, you are
always thinking, What can I do for her? To love it is a relief to be able to do things. This is
the way that all human love functions. Love puts a certain pressure on us, as it were; and when
we are able to do something for people, this pressure is released a little bit. Well, God wants us
to serve him not as disembodied spirits, but as human beings. He wants to relate our lives to
the humanity of Christ, the perfect life that he taught us to lead. So we are to love him in a
human way. Why? Because it is the only way that we can love him. We are human, and he
wants our human, womanly love. So we should try to sublimate all this normalcy of relations
with one another to him. The way that a wife loves her husband is exactly the way we should
love our Spouse.
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Lingering on this point of a beautiful service in everythinghow would we judge human love
if we said a young wife simply worships her husband; Oh, how she loves himshe would do
everything for him! and then the person to whom you were telling this said, Well, lets go
over to see them. I would like to see this perfect couple, this beautiful home. But then you go
in to see that the covers on the chairs are soiled, and you see that the curtains are hanging
askew on the windows, and you see that she is slovenly about her person. Then you sit down to
dinner with the couple, and food is burned, and it is not attractively served. You begin to
wonder, She loves him? She just worships him? She is simply wild about him? This is a queer
way of showing it! We would make our own human judgment and say, She doesnt care about
him! Well, we can carry this over into our spiritual life. Can we really say that we worship our
Spousethat he is the core of our lives? Or do we have the equivalent of curtains askew,
spotted furniture, and a slovenly appearancebut we just love him? We would never make
human judgments in this way; well, we shouldnt make judgments in our spiritual life this way,
either.
When we love, then we are trying to express this love in everything we do, in everything we
can do for our Beloved. It is not just saying, I love you, I love you, I love you, and never
expressing this in service. None of us would believe in a human love like that. If a wife sat with
her feet up on a hassock after the husband went to work and said, I love him, I love him, I love
that man! and she didnt turn a hand that day, and when he came home at night, the dishes
were still there where she hadnt cleared the table, and she would say, Darling, youre home!
How I love you! And she hadnt moved all day! This would be a strange kind of love, wouldnt
it? Well, lets not have anomalies of love in our spiritual life, either. Our Lord says in the
Scriptures, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven.
Well, not everyone who says to him, My darling, my darling, either, will be considered the
perfect spouse of God.
Then the Decree continuesnow, heed me well!Subjects should be brought to the point
and this is the point to which I hope you have been brought!where they will cooperate with
an active and responsible obedience in taking on new tasks and carrying out those already
given. There is so much in the simple little sentence. They should be brought to the point
that is, by encouragement, the enthusiasm of the superior to which their own enthusiasm
should respond, by the counsel and advice and love of the superior, to which their own love
should respond. Brought to the point where they will cooperate with an active and responsible
obedience. Oh, how I love those words! Responsible is my darling, darling word; and this is
what I want you to be. Cooperate means that you work withyou work with the superior,
work with God, in the work of your sanctification. This is your cooperation with God. You are
a co-worker with your Spouse. In all the duties of the monastery, it is a work of cooperation of
service, of awareness of your responsibility in the community in a very active waywhether it
is a level of household maintenance, on a level of spiritual progress, or on a level of prayer. You
must express this concern, this active and responsible obedienceexpress it all the time.
Now, there are many ways to express it. Just on the level of maintenance, you are concerned
about everything in the house. I may have charge of sweeping a floor; while I am sweeping, I
see that wood is falling out of the windowbut I say, I dont have charge of that window. I
just sweep this floor. The hair is falling out of the broom, but I say, I just obeyI just work
here! No! This isnt any active and responsible obedience! I am concerned about everything. I
am not a busybody, nobut if we go to this extreme, superiors have a way of calling this to our
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attention! But I am concerned about everything; this is my home; this is Gods house, and
everything in it is important to me. On the spiritual level, this is a very important point: that I
am conscious of my responsibility in the community.
You show your responsibility in the very way you confess your faults at chapter. Dont ever
give a recital of faults, any more than you should do this at novitiate culpa. At the chapter of
faults, I would prefer that you do not confess more than three faults, and confess them with
discrimination. Now, this may seem very few, when there are such terribly big sinners in here
that you have to count them by the dozens, hmm? But you see, this is a very important part of
your responsibility. Dont use the confession of faults (now, you would never do this
consciously, but this is very important) as a kind of escapism, as a kind of amelioration of my
real spiritual ailments. There can be a false self-comfort in going down a whole listwe check,
check, check down the list: I came late, I was unmortified, I was impatient, I was
uncharitable. Then we feel pretty good afterward: They have the complete story! They have a
complete account since the last chapter! And you can do this without giving any particular
thought to it. I dont mean that you are superficial about itGod forbid. But we can get very
routine about a thing like this, and go off feeling pretty good about the whole thing. All
cleaned up! Everythings said! They know the whole story! Ill start overwithout any real
looking into ourselves to see how we are failing the community in the responsibility we have
for the communitys holiness, for the communitys good.
For instance, if I am a person who is given to being extremely garrulousI think of something
funny, and I cant wait; Ive got to say it then. Its awfully good, and Ive got to share it with
somebody. Or Ive just got to make a remark here and there, and I do this regularlythis is
one of my major deficiencies, even with my battalions of faults, this one rather stands out. Now,
this is important, because I do this so much that I really have no regard for the recollection of
others. I think about this, and I realize how selfish this isthat I do this so often that I am an
impediment to others recollection. I really think about this, if Im looking deeply into myself
and I think, Id better watch this. This is not a good thing. Im not helping to build up the
spirit of monastic silence in the house. On the other hand, another person is very rarely ever
late for anything; in fact, I love to be on time. This makes me feel awfully good. It isnt
particularly a discipline for me. Im like an old hound dog; the bell rings, and I start to pant. My
ears lay back, and I go. This is the way Im made, and I feel pretty good that Im always there.
Now, should a person like that come to chapter, and say, I broke silence several times, and I
came late to the choir once, and I was unmortified with my eyes a few times, and then list
seven other faults, all on an equal plane? You know very well if you are this type of
temperament that this very occasional fault against punctuality is not a hindrance to the
community. I rarely ever do this, and Im not inclined that way. I dont see any point in
confessing that, when you know that this is not a failing of yours. On the other hand, you may
be the type of person who always has to finish just one more thing after the bell rings, who
always has to finish saying this or finish doing this, or who always thinks, Let me seethe bell
is going to ring in seconds, and I can do five more things before that, and who is rather
regularly checking in late, who comes in regularly when the tower bell is ringingmaybe
sometimes even later than that. Maybe I am the last somnambulist to walk in at Matins. Then,
if that is the case, this is important. This is where I am really failing in the example I should
give. By example I dont mean in the sense that we do these things for this reason. God forbid
that we should ever think, What an example I am to the community! But we do owe spiritual

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hope to one another. We owe enthusiasm to one another. This is part of enthusiasmthat
when it is time to be in a certain place, I am there. We communicate enthusiasm to one another.
Now, lets say I am the type of person who cannot seem to get a-going when the bell rings and
when it is time to be somewhere. On the other hand, I would no more say a word out of time
than a clam. Im not built that waythis is not a temptation for me. (And maybe it would be a
good thing for me, if once in a while I did say something, just so I didnt feel so good about
what wonderful silence I keep!) Maybe its hard for me to communicate. Maybe I am a little too
proficient in the art of listening. I overdo this. Well then, this is the thing that should be
brought forth at chapter. I came late to the choir many times through my negligence, through
my attachments to my work. Is that giving an interior motive? Yes, but everybody knows it
anyway! So its not revealing your interior, you see!
Now, I dont mean that you should never confess any faults except your main one; but what I
do mean, dear Sisters, is that I want you to have great spiritual discernment about yourself. I
dont want you to keep everything on a level, because what is the failing of the talkative person
is not the failing of the Johnny-come-lately. I want you to look into yourself and discover,
What are the things that I do repeatedly that are a drag on the community? Is it my
unpunctuality? Is it my talkativeness? Is it that my eyes can take in an acre at a time? I know
everythingask me if you want any information about whats happening. I can have
information here like they have in hotels and airports, written across me. I know where
everybody is, everything that is happening, everything that is going on. Im a very interested
person! Then I would say, by all means, you should say at chapter, I was unmortified with my
eyes many times. I failed in mortification of the eyes again and again. This is really to make
the chapter meaningful.
Chapter is not, any more than culpa, a recitation of what you did. As a child would recite all the
good things it did in school, so is there no point in reciting all your peccadilloes. Look into
yourself and discover with prayer and great humility, What are my basic failings? What are
my big fish? Catch them, and bring them to show to the community. Modern writers are so
fond of the word witness. This can be our witness to the community: Look, Mother and dear
Sisters, I am really conscious of my responsibility in the community. These are the things that I
know that I fail most often in. This is where I am a drag on the community. This is where I am
not being the inspiration to my sisters that I should be. This is where I am not fulfilling my
personal responsibility to community, and Im sorry for these things. I mean to do something
about them.
This is why chapter should be a real revitalization. Everyone should leave chapter so happy,
because we should be aware that the sisters have come not to recite faults and then to sit it out
while the superior makes her remarks on them, but she testifies to the community, Look what
I found out about myself! You knew this a long time ago; but now I have found it out, and
arent you glad? And they will be glad. We do see one anothers deficienciesof course we do.
We see it more than any other people in the world, because we live so closely. But the superior
is so rewarded when she realizes she must correct a fault, but the subject gets there first. Look,
Dear Mistress, I see what I did and Im sorry. Wasnt that awful? This is rewarding. This is
very good. And this is the kind of reward that we should give the whole community at chapter,
to let the whole community be aware. This kind of testifying is lost in a long stereotyped
recital. I want you to think about that a great deal, because that is a way of showing your sense
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of responsibility. This is a way of fulfilling what the Decree says about expressing concern.
This is at the very end of the section on obedience: Each in her own way should express that
concern for the good of the entire community, which all its members share. Each of you has a
contribution to bring to the holiness of the community, to the energy of the community, to the
worth of the community. Everything in our life should be done very realistically. Chapter is not
something that we have on Friday, where I tell my faults and Mother makes some remarks and
then gives an exhortation. Chapter must be something very important to me, a golden
opportunity to show the community that I am aware of these things, and Im sorry for them,
and I intend to do something about them. They will have to be patient, because I will fall into
these things again and again, but at least I am showing them by the discerning way I confess
my faults that I know myself a little better, and that they had better watch outpretty soon I
will know myself as well as they know me!
This is just one example, but it is something particularly close to my heart. There is quite a bit
being written now about chapters being stereotyped and unavailing. This is true; they often
are. But whose fault is itthe chapters? No, the operators! The people at chapter! The superior
cant make the chapter vital without the help of the subjects. They are the ones. We should all
leave with a sense of rewardthat we are people who are full of faults, miserably deficient, but
we are people who want to do better. We are people who are growing in self-knowledge. We
are people who realize our responsibility in the community. We are people who, despite all our
failings, are very concerned about doing something about them, about making it a more vital
and holy and good and enthusiastic community. This is a special way of expressing concern
that I want you to think about. So, too, in every department of our livespart of our obedience
is the expressing of concern for God and for the community.
Praised be Jesus Christ!

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Poor Clare Monastery


of Our Lady of Guadalupe
809 East Nineteenth Street
Roswell, New Mexico 88201 U. S. A.
Conferences on the Vows
by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
2011
by
Community of Poor Clares of New Mexico, Inc.
All rights reserved

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