Moral Briefs – Chapter XXXIX – The Professional Vows

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThe professional vow is a triple one, and embraces the three great evangelical counsels of perfect chastity, poverty and obedience. The cloister is necessary for the observance of such engagements as these, and it were easier for a lily to flourish on the banks of the Dead Sea, or amid the fiery blasts of the Sahara, than for these delicate flowers of spirituality to thrive in the midst of the temptations, seductions and passions of the every day world of this life. Necessity makes a practice of these virtues a profession.

It is good to be chaste, good to be obedient, good to be voluntarily poor. What folly, then, to say that it is unlawful to bind oneself by promises of this kind, since it is lawful to be good – the only thing that is lawful! It is not unlawful, if you will, to possess riches, to enjoy one’s independence, to wed; but there is virtue in foregoing these pleasures, and virtue is better than its defect, and it is no more unlawful to do better than to do good.

If it is lawful to contract a solemn engagement with man, why not with God? If it is lawful for a short time, why not for a long time? If it is lawful for two years, why not for ten, and a lifetime! The engagement is no more unlawful itself than that to which we engage ourselves.

The zealous guardians of the rights of man protest that, nevertheless, vows destroy man’s liberty, and should therefore be forbidden, and the profession suppressed. It is along this line that the governmental machine is being run in France at present. If the vow destroys liberty, these fanatics are doing what appears dangerously near being the same thing.

There is a decided advantage in being your own slave-master over having another perform that service for you. If I do something which before God and my conscience I have a perfect right to do, if I do it with deliberate choice and affection, it is difficult to see wherein my liberty suffers. Again, if I decide not to marry – a right that every man certainly has – and in this situation engage myself by vow to observe perfect chastity – which I must do to retain the friendship of God – I do not see how I forfeit my liberty by swearing away a right I never had.

In all cases, the more difficult an enterprise a man enters upon and pursues to a final issue, the more fully he exercises his faculty of free will. And since the triple vow supposes nothing short of heroism in those who take it, it follows that they must use the very plenitude of their liberty to make the thing possible.

The “cui bono” is the next formidable opponent the vow has to contend with. What’s the good of it? Where is the advantage in leading such an impossible existence when a person can save his soul without it? All are not damned who refuse to take vows. Is it not sufficient to be honest men and women?

That depends upon what you mean by an honest man. A great saint once said that an honest man would certainly not be hanged, but that it was by no means equally certain that he would not be damned. A man may do sundry wicked and crooked things and not forfeit his title to be called honest. The majority of Satan’s subjects were probably honest people in their day.

The quality of being: an honest man, according to many people, consists in having the privilege of doing a certain amount of wickedness without prejudice to his eternal salvation. The philosophy of this class of people is summed up in these words: “Do little and get much; make a success of life from the standpoint of your own selfishness, and then sneak into heaven almost by stealth and fraud.” That is one way of doing business with the Lord. But, there are greater things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

Human natures differ as much as pebbles on the sea shore. One man’s meat has often proven poison to another. In the religion of Jesus Christ there is something more than the Commandments given to Moses. Love of God has degrees of intensity and perfection. Such words as sacrifice, mortification, self-denial have a meaning as they have always had. God gives more to some, less to others; He demands corresponding returns. These are things Horatio ignores. Yet they are real, real as his own empty and conceited wisdom.