The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 46. The Different
Vocations in the Church
The virtues of the Christian life being very numerous, a good Christian does not necessarily give himself to all with the same ardor. Some prefer to cultivate the virtues which have God for their direct object, and therefore embrace a contemplative life. Others prefer the virtues which enable them to be most useful to their neighbor, and consequently choose an active life. Others, in fine, prefer the virtues which more directly benefit their own souls, and therefore enter the monastic life. Again, as all virtues are means of acquiring grace, different persons adopt different means, Many seek to obtain it by fasting and like austerities; others by almsgiving and works of mercy, and others by prayer and meditation. Of this latter exercise there are also different methods, which vary according to the character of souls or the subjects chosen. The best kind of meditation is always that from which one derives most profit and devotion.
In this matter beware of a grave error into which pious persons sometimes fall. Deriving much profit from certain means, many imagine that there are no others which lead to God. Consequently they would enforce the same methods upon everyone, and think all in error who follow a different path. Thus, one who gives himself wholly to prayer thinks it the only means of salvation. Another, given to fasting and corporal mortification, sees no merit in any other practices of piety. Those who lead contemplative lives imagine that all who are engaged in an active life are in great danger, and even go so far as to hold exterior virtues in contempt.
The followers of the active life, having no experience of all that passes between God and the soul in the sweet calm of contemplation, do not sufficiently appreciate its value, and approve it only as far as it includes the practice of exterior works. One who gives himself exclusively to mental prayer is very apt to think any other form of prayer unprofitable; and, on the contrary, he who has devoted himself to vocal prayer will often argue that it is more meritorious because it is more laborious.
Thus each one, impelled by ignorance or unconscious pride, extols himself by commending the practices to which he is most given. Just as a savant will praise the science which is the object of his study, and depreciate the merit of all others, so many extol one virtue at the expense of all the rest. The orator will tell you that there is nothing comparable to eloquence; the astronomer, that there is nothing superior to the study of the heavenly bodies. In fact, the theologian, the linguist, the philosopher, the commentator, will each in his turn offer good reasons to prove the preeminence and incontestable superiority of the science he professes.
Similar, though less open, is the struggle between the advocates of the different virtues; each one would have his method prevail over that of others, believing that as it has proved profitable to him, it must prove so to all. Hence arise unfavorable judgments upon the lives of others, divisions and disputes among brethren. Such was the error of the Corinthians in the early ages of the Church. They had been favored with different graces, and each one extolled his own above the rest. The gifts of prophecy, of tongues, of interpreting the Scripture, of working miracles, were each preferred by those who had received them. (Cf. 1 Cor. 12).
There is no more efficacious argument against this illusion than that of the Apostle, who declares that all graces and gifts are equal as to their source, for they proceed from the same Holy Spirit, though they differ in their object. "In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13), says the Apostle. Belonging thus to the same Head, we all partake of His dignity and glory, and in this we are equally His members, though there is a diversity of gifts and duties among us.
This diversity should not cause us to look with disfavor on those who seem less gifted, for each has his value as a member of Christ. Thus the members of the human body have not the same duties, but yet each has its own peculiar power that another does not possess. All are important, because all are necessary for the general good. "If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?" (1 Cor. 12:15-16). In this manner the Apostle speaks to the Corinthians, and continues his comparison to prove that we must not be misled by our preferences to judge that whoever differs from us is not right, or that gifts differing from ours have not an important place in the designs of God.
This diversity is due partly to nature and partly to grace. We say that it is due partly to nature; for though grace is the principle of every spiritual being, yet it is shaped according to the condition of the soul in which it dwells, just as water takes the form of the vessel into which it is poured. Thus, calm, peaceful temperaments are more naturally suited to a contemplative life; those of an ardent, energetic nature are better fitted for an active life; while persons of strong, robust health find more profit in a laborious life of penance, Thus is the marvelous goodness of God made manifest, Desiring to communicate Himself to all, He has willed that the ways which lead to Him should be proportioned to the diversities in the characters and conditions of men.
Grace is the second cause of this variety which the Holy Spirit, the Author of all grace, has created for the greater beauty and perfection of His Church. As the different senses and members are requisite for the beauty and perfection of the human body, so a diversity of graces is necessary for the complete harmony and beauty of the Church. If the faithful all practiced the same virtues, how could they be called a body, which necessarily consists of different members'? "If the whole body," says the Apostle, "were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? And if they all were one member, where would be the body." (1 Cor. 12:17, 19).
We find the same beautiful variety in the works of nature, where the Sovereign Creator wisely apportions all gifts or qualities so that the lack of one perfection is compensated by the possession of another. The peacock, which has a most discordant note, possesses a beautiful plumage; the nightingale delights the ear, but has no charms for the eye; the horse bears us where we will and is valuable in camp and field, but is rarely used for food; the ox is useful for farm and table, but has scarcely any other qualities to recommend him; fruit trees give us food, but have little value for building; forest trees yield no fruit, but afford us the necessary material for erecting our dwellings. Thus we do not find all qualities or all perfections united in one creature, but that variety among them which constitutes the beauty of nature and binds them to one another by a mutual and necessary dependence.
God has willed that the order and beauty which we admire in nature should exist in the works of grace. For this reason He has endowed His Church with that variety of virtues which form a most symmetrical body, a most beautiful world, the most perfect harmony. Hence some of the members of this great body give themselves to a life of contemplation; others to an active life, to obedience or penance, to religious studies, to the service of the sick and the poor, or to other works of mercy.
We find the same variety in the religious orders of the Church; all aspire to the same end but pursue different paths. Some follow the way of penance; others that of poverty. Some choose a contemplative life; others an active life. Some labor in the midst of the world; others seek obscurity and solitude. The rules of one prescribe a certain revenue; those of another the strictest poverty. Nevertheless they are all animated by the same spirit, all pursue the same end. This variety extends even to the members of the same order; for while certain religious are engaged in the choir, others study in their cells; others devote themselves to manual labor; others hear confessions; while others are engaged in the temporal affairs of the community.
What, then, are al1 these but the several members of one body, the different notes of one grand harmony, the various elements which contribute to the beauty and perfection of the Church? Why has the lute several chords, the organ numerous pipes, but to produce greater variety and harmony? For this reason the patriarch Jacob gave his son Joseph the coat of many colors (Cf. Gen. 37:3), and God commanded that the curtains of the tabernacle should be of violet, purple, and scarlet twice dyed, diversified with embroidery. (Cf. Ex. 26:1 ). In both of these objects we behold an image of that beautiful variety which prevails in the Church.
Let us, then, beware of judging others because their virtues are not ours, or of expecting all to follow the same path. This would be destroying the body of the Church, rending the coat of Joseph. It would be exacting the duty of the eyes, or the hands, or the feet, from all the members of the body. In the words of the Apostle, if the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing; or if it were the ear, where would be the eyes? Can the eyes reproach the feet for being blind, or the feet reproach the eyes for not bearing the burden of the body? No; it is necessary that the feet toil on the ground, and that the eyes be above them, protected from all that could fatigue or sully them. Nor is the duty of the eyes, notwithstanding their repose, less important than that of the feet.
The work of the pilot who stands at the helm is no less necessary than that of the sailors who manage the ropes and sails. We must not judge of an action by the labor it requires, but by its value and the effects it produces. Thus, you would not say that the work of a laborer is more important in a commonwealth than that of the statesman who wisely directs the government.If we seriously weigh these considerations, we shall learn to respect all vocations. We shall not reproach the hand for not being the foot, nor the foot for not being the hand. We shall understand the truth of the Apostle's words when he tells us that the beauty and perfection of the body result from the diversity of its members.