Session 3

 Constitutions 151-237                      

Brief Summary:

Fr. General grants the faculty for transferring postulants to the Novitiate to Fr. Provincial whose special duty it is to watch over the novitiate house of his Province.

Qualities of the Master of Novices: must be a most trustworthy person, the most suitable of the brethren, peaceful by nature, gifted with holy simplicity and lovable in his love of Christ, discreet, learned, a true father and teacher.

Discipline of life in the novitiate: novices must be eager to serve God in charity, according to obedience. They need much supervision and holy discipline in order to purify themselves from vices, to cultivate virtue, and to unite themselves more intimately with God. This will be achieved with the help of external and internal solitude, silence, constant occupation, disclosure of conscience, confession, communion, examination of conscience, learning of Christian doctrine.

Effort required of novices. They must come willingly to this school of perfection, knowing that perfection is the “closest possible union of man with God”. This is obtained by loving Christ, and in Him all people to the point of being prepared to shed one’s blood for them.

Perfection is obtained by acquiring for life the “tools of the spiritual trade”, which are: harmony of wills, love among the disciples, self-abasement, mortification, poverty, chastity, piety, obedience, simplicity, courtesy, encouragement in the spiritual life, good intention and the love of God.

The tests proper to the novitiate are meant to prepare for the contemplative life and the apostolic life.

The ascetical teaching to be given in the novitiate consists of three parts: teaching about purification of conscience, teaching about the acquisition of virtues, and teaching about union with God.

Bodily health is an important means whereby one is permitted to dedicate himself fully to God and neighbour. Bodily penance must not be excessive, work must not crush the person. On the other hand, novices must strive to live in poverty, taking care of material things as goods belonging to the Lord.

1- The Desert Experience

The novitiate is a “school” where novices strive under holy discipline to obtain perfection. Fr. Founder calls the Novitiate “the school of JESUS Christ Crucified” and “the school where Christ’s discipleship is handed on and learned” (C79). It is also a “work-house” where the tools of the spiritual trade are learned and put into use for the sake of achieving the closest possible union with God.

All efforts of novices are directed towards achieving three specific tasks:

  1. Purification of all vices
  2. Cultivation and acquisition of virtues
  3. Intimate union with God


This school or work-house must have a clearly set “discipline” to facilitate the progress of novices in the three objectives. And first of all, the novitiate must create the conditions for a “desert experience” of the individual novice and of the community. Fr. Founder associates the novitiate with the type of desert experience that has been a fundamental means used by God throughout the long history of salvation. He quotes directly from Hosea: “Et ducam eam in solitudinem et loquar ad cor eius” (“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” Ho.2.14). 

The desert is important in the religious conceptions and theology of the people of God. Israel first met Yahweh in the desert, and the exodus account through the desert can be seen as the type of the encounter of man with God. In the Old and New Testament the desert is the place where man meets God. Israel knew that it could not have survived the passage through the desert were it not for the protection of Yahweh who took the initiative in every threatening event: “Stand back and you will see what the Lord will do to save you today!” (Ex.14,13; Deut. 8:14ff; Jer. 2:6). It was in the desert that Israel was tested, often failed, and was saved: Yahweh will lead Israel back into the desert in order to speak to her directly and recover her love (Ho 2:14). Elijah also met God in the desert (1Kings 19). The New Testament allusions to the desert experience of Israel are frequent. It is mentioned as a time of testing and failure (Acts 7:41; 1Cor. 10:5; He. 3:8). The desert experience was also a time when Israel found favour with Yahweh (Acts 7,36; 13,18). John the Baptist began his preaching in the desert and JESUS passed forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. This was for Him also a time of temptation. The period which St. Paul spent in Arabia after his conversion was probably a sojourn in the desert (Gal.1,17).

The individual novice, therefore, must see the novitiate as a period of testing and of purification, during which he learns to rely exclusively on the mighty power of God and not on his own means. Like for JESUS, his own desert experience will lead to temptation but with JESUS he will be able to overcome the trial. He will find in JESUS the fulfilment of the marvellous gifts that God bestowed on His people in the desert: JESUS is the living water, the bread from heaven, the way and the light, the light in the night, the serpent who gives life to all who look on it to be saved. He is also our Promised Land.

Fr. Founder recommends two passages from Scripture for constant meditation during the novitiate: Ecclesiasticus 2 and John 15. Here are some of the verses from Ecclesiasticus 2, that stress the inevitability of testing, of temptation at the beginning of religious life and the means for overcoming temptations:

My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.
Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when temptation comes.
Cling to the Lord and do not leave Him, whatever happens to you, accept it and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire.
Trust the Lord and He will uphold you, you who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy.
Those who fear the Lord do their best to please Him, keep their hearts prepared and humble themselves in His presence” (Eccl.2 passim).


The desert was also the place where Israel became the “people of God”. God wished His people to be born in the desert, and it was in the desert that they worshipped God, received the Law, and made the Covenant: “The Lord found His people wandering through the desert, a desolate, wind-swept wilderness. He protected them and cared for them, as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle teaching its young to fly, catching them safely on its spreading wings, the Lord kept Israel from falling. The Lord alone led His people” (Deut. 32,10).

The novitiate is the place where individuals are formed into a community, being moulded by the power of the Spirit according to the gifts and charism of the Church and of the Founder. The “rosminian community” is born in the novitiate: “Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum!” (Psalm 133). It is in the novitiate that novices should practice “to seek and desire the better part for others, in spirit esteeming all superior to themselves, and offering with simplicity and religious sobriety the external honour and respect required by each one’s state” (C164). The community dimension of the novitiate must not be underestimated. The “tools of the spiritual trade” which will be described by Fr. Founder in C184-187 constitute the “magna charta” of the nature and modality of the relationships that are at the foundation of our “rosminian communities”

The idea that the Novitiate is the birth place of the religious community is also highlighted in Vita Consecrata:

The community is the chief place of formation. Initiation into the hardships and joys of community life takes place in the community itself. Through the fraternal life each one learns to live with those whom God has put at his or her side, accepting their positive traits along with their differences and limitations. Each one learns to share the gifts received for the building up of all” (VC67).

For discussion:

What is the personal experience of Formators in relation to the importance of the “community” during the Novitiate and since the days of their Novitiate?

Fr. Founder teaches about the necessity of external and internal “holy solitude” for novices. The novitiate house, he says, should be established “in isolated localities”, and the novices should “willingly break off with externs all communication by word or letter” and “should not go out except when and with the companion the superior decides”. The novices should “not speak at will, but observe silence”; and “generally speaking, the novices should not talk amongst themselves, but observe silence, except in matters of necessity” (C161-163).

However, external solitude alone “is useless unless joined with internal solitude of spirit, and desire to flee this secular life” (C164). The means of achieving this internal solitude is “to guard the gates of their senses (especially the eyes, ears and tongue) from every bad inclination, and keep themselves in peace and true, interior humility which must be manifest both at times of silence and when they speak” (C164).

Idleness is for Fr. Founder “the origin of every evil”, therefore there must be “constant occupation” for all in spiritual or external activities. The reading of the life of the Saints and of the history of the Church is recommended, as well as the learning of various manual skills and intellectual disciplines. Novices should be instructed and become proficient in their knowledge of the Christian Doctrine, of the Liturgy, of various types of prayer, of the meaning and practice of the examination of conscience and of the more efficient forms of meditation. Moreover, the meditation and the study of the Bible, not merely as an academic subject, but as a perennial source of the Christian and religious life should become the daily nourishment for novices. It is through reading and meditating on the Bible that a novice is enabled by the Spirit to acquire “the mind of Christ” (C166-170).

Disclosure of conscience is an essential feature of the Novitiate. Fr. Founder goes as far as to say that “no one is to be considered suitable for the Society, or be co-opted into it” until he has shown readiness to open his whole soul to the novice Master: “A full, clear and simple disclosure of conscience is considered as an essential part of the perfection we seek in the Society, and the principal means of purifying the soul from all evil” (C173). We have already discussed this point in relation to the new Canon Law, but it may be appropriate to mention that there seems to be an agreement in Church’s documents about the fundamental importance in formation of a constant and open dialogue between novices and their formators: “The chief instrument of formation is personal dialogue, a practice of irreplaceable and commendable effectiveness, which should take place regularly and with a certain frequency” (VC66). For Fr. Founder the relationship between the novice and the Master of novices should be one of great friendship. The novice should know that in his Master he has found a friend given him by God in His mercy: “A faithful friend is an elixir of life; and those who fear the Lord will find him” (Eccl. 6,16).

In his book “Travelling Light”, first published in 2001, Daniel O’Leary writes about his “desert experience” lived in the high desert of northern New Mexico, directed by Richard Rohr, a well known Franciscan priest. According to him, the desert teaches five life-giving truths that need to be meditated constantly and lived on:

  • Life is hard. We simply waste our time when we try to make life easy for ourselves. Life is a struggle, a “carrying of the cross”, a rough process of purification from all impurities and selfish desires.
  • You are going to die. The desert presents this truth starkly at every turn, hence one is always aware of the mortality and impermanence of our condition. What appeared so important and worth pursuing suddenly becomes meaningless. The desert, therefore, forces us to purify our intentions, to discover the proper order of things.
  • You are not that important. The vast and intractable desert helps us to discover humility as the source of truth and happiness in our life. And with humility, we discover the beauty of all virtues that are simply different expressions of “living in the truth”.
  • You are not in control. The desert is unpredictable and cannot be easily manipulated. We experience our own powerlessness and the sense of dependency from God. It makes sense to abandon oneself completely in Divine Providence.
  • Your life is not about you. The solitude and silence of the desert help us to discover the presence of God and of neighbour as essential to our own existence. It was in the desert that Moses, Elijah, and the Fathers discovered the mighty presence of God; and it was in the desert that Israel became the people of God.

It is easy to see that Fr. O’Leary’s “messages from the desert” can be reduced to the three fundamental teachings and tasks that Fr. Founder says are to be pursued with great vigour during the novitiate:

  1. Purification of all vices
  2. Cultivation and acquisition of virtues
  3. Intimate union with God


And indeed, the ascetical teaching to be given “daily” in the novitiate must concentrate on the clear presentation of each of the three fundamental themes so that the “will” of each novice may be stimulated into action by the intellectual vision of the truth (C210).

Fr. Founder goes as far as to write: “These three parts contain all the education imparted to the human race by the divine Creator” (C217). We discover here, therefore, the foundation of the ascetical teaching of Fr. Founder, so that if anyone should ask, “But, what is precisely the “ascetical teaching” of Fr. Rosmini, and of the Rosminians?” there should be no hesitation in answering by explaining each of the three principles in turn. Fr. Founder talks of the “threefold syllabus” that contains his ascetical doctrine:

  • “The first part concerns man’s purification which is never to come to an end in this life, although very special care must be taken about it in the first year;
  • the second part deals with the virtues with which the Christian, cleansed according to the favour of God, must be adorned;
  • the third part, suited for the more perfect, touches upon the union by which the just man, replete with virtue, is intimately bound to God” (C212).


The three parts cannot be separated from each other. All are inseparably bound to one another and are “three points of view from which the same indivisible form of human perfection can be seen and contemplated” (C213).

Fr. Founder traces the source of each teaching from a “single principle”:

The teaching on purification springs “from fear of the Lord and man’s end, according to Scripture, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps.110,10). The saving fear of the Lord stimulates man to root out his vices, “lest he fall away from the end for which he was created and redeemed by divine Goodness” (C214).

The teaching on virtue begins with acknowledgement and love of truth, for Scripture says, “The sum of Thy word is truth” (Ps.118,160). Here we have a most beautiful definition of virtue: whether we talk of charity, of humility, of honesty, of temperance, of hope, of faith, of prudence, of justice, etc. we are talking about a clear vision of the intellect that acknowledges and loves the truth discovered in each case: “All human virtues proceed from the simple acknowledgement and love of truth” (C215). The virtue of humility, for example, is simply the acknowledgement and practical love of the truth about God, the other, and myself.

The teaching on the intimate union with God is based on JESUS’ commandment of charity, “This is the great and first commandment” (Mt. 22,38).

Fr. Founder sees these three teachings developing over the course of salvation history, with the teaching on purification being more extensive and appropriate during the time before the birth of JESUS, the teaching on virtues being stressed more during the time after Christ, and the teaching on love of God and union with Him beginning here on this earth through baptism but being brought to completion in the after life in the joy of God’s presence.

2- Lectio Divina on John 15, 9-14 (C182-183)

The novitiate is a school of perfection, novices, therefore, should have a most clear view of what perfection is. But Fr. Founder wants to make sure that “this idea” is well understood and often meditated, and therefore he produces for novices a “lectio divina” on John 15, 9-14 that should provide an example from Scripture that illustrates its meaning even further.
    9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command.”
The chapter presents the image of the vine and branches, with which we are all very familiar. V.5, in particular, is Fr. Founder’s favourite verse, quoted more often than any other in the whole of the bible, expressing with great clarity the essence of the gospels and of Fr. Founder’s special charism: “Whoever remains in Me, with Me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for independently of Me, you have no power whatsoever to do anything”. This verse is the foundation of the principles of passivity and of indifference, as we have already seen.  Using verses 9-14 Fr. Founder provides us with a stringently logical explanation of the essence of our spiritual life:

  • Perfection is the closest possible union of man with God
  • We obtain this union by loving Christ JESUS supremely (v.9)
  • The love of Christ must be operative, in faithful obedience to his commands(v.10)
  • Christ’s command is “love one another as I have loved you” (v.12)
  • Perfection, therefore, is “perfection in the love of neighbour”. We ought to be  ready to lay down our life for our neighbour: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (v.13)
  • Selfless charity must be joined with wisdom, observing the supreme order of charity which is known to God alone; hence the need to follow the “will of God” in all things (v.14)
  • The will of God is known by superiors appointed by the Church, through holy discernment given by the Holy Spirit. It is reasonable for a person to submit himself to the direction of such people, “chosen from many and tested for a long period, bound to judge the cause of others in conscience, and with the counsel of discreet men” (C183).


This is gospel perfection and is also the perfection we seek to achieve in the Institute of Charity: novices should keep this teaching very close to their minds and hearts.

3- The Tools of the Spiritual Trade

The novitiate is a school of perfection and a workshop in which novices are engaged in the hard and meticulous labour of acquiring the closest union with God. Fr. Founder identifies 12 tools “by the constant use of which the novices will work out their own perfection”:

  1. Harmony of wills
  3. Self-abasement
  4. Self-mortification
  5. Poverty
  6. Chastity
  7. Piety
  8. Self-denial and OBEDIENCE
  9. Simplicity
  10. Modesty
  11. Edification
  12. Good intention and the LOVE OF GOD

Three of the twelve tools have been highlighted by Fr. Founder himself, expressing the special importance he attributed to them: Love among the disciples, Obedience, Love of God. There should be no difficulty in understanding the stress on Obedience, since the specific characteristic of the Institute of Charity is “universal” indifference and “universal” obedience, as we have already seen (C66). What follows is a brief description of each of the twelve tools, some seen in the light of one or two modern documents of the Church.

1- Harmony of wills

We join the Institute to “become saints together”, so from the beginning there is already a most solid base for building up a perfect harmony of wills. St. Paul encourages us to acquire “the mind of Christ”, that is, to think in all things like JESUS, and to will all that JESUS wills. Harmony of wills is, in a sense, having also the “mind of our brothers”, a perfect unity which is both at the intellectual and the affective level. It is clear that it will not always be possible to agree with others intellectually, but every effort must be made to work for unity, for example, by interpreting favourably what others say or do, by listening or talking with humility, by giving way immediately to opinions of others which have been proven true. As far as the will is concerned, the novices “should be eager to be first to give way to the wishes of others in all things, hiding their own will that the will of others may be done”. A first consequence of working together for this harmonious concurrence of wills will be “a delightful warmth of affection” and “mutual harmony” among the brothers who will truly become “of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4,32). A second consequence is that prayers offered to God by a united community “will go up to the Almighty: “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in Heaven” (Mt. 18,19).

Harmony of wills is the foundation of sound community life, and it is not surprising that Fr. Founder stresses this “spiritual tool” in many of his letters to the brethren. There is an opportunity here for Formators to ask novices and scholastics to do some research work so that the rich and profound meaning of this first step may become more apparent. It would be useful also to meditate on the exemplary conduct and on the words written by Fr. Founder on occasion of his trials and persecutions after the condemnation of two of his books by the ecclesiastical authorities.

“Deus Caritas Est” (Encyclical letter of Benedict XVI)

The Pope mentions the importance of the harmony of wills for building up a community of love with God and with the brethren. His starting point is the importance of acquiring “the mind of God” for a perfect “coincidence” of God’s will and ours; it will then be easier for us to build up a community of wills with our own brethren:

“Idem velle atque idem nolle – to want the same thing and to reject the same thing – was recognised by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to a community of will and thought. The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without, but it is now my own will… Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and feelings, but from the perspective of JESUS Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. Seeing with the eye of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave” (Deus Caritas Est, No.17-18).

2- Love among the disciples of Christ

It is clear that love among the disciples of Christ is the source and the purpose of the other spiritual tools. The spiritual tools are essential for building up Christian communities of love, after the example of the early Church communities (Acts 4,32). Novices, therefore, should be of “one heart and soul” and they should be united to one another “by an extraordinary bond of charity unknown to others” (C186). Harmony of wills is a direct consequence of this beautiful bond of charity: “This affectionate union and agreement of will, which the novices have to seek in all things, must spring from their charity towards one another. This is the charity which Christ desired to see amongst His disciples when He said to them, “This I command you, to love one another” (Jn. 15,17)”.

Vita consecrata stresses the importance of the mutual love among the brethren:

The fraternal life plays a fundamental role in the spiritual journey of consecrated persons. I therefore exhort consecrated men and women to commit themselves to strengthening their fraternal life, following the example of the first Christians in Jerusalem. Above all I call upon men and women religious to show generous mutual love, so that every community will be revealed as a luminous sign of the new Jerusalem, “the dwelling of God with men” (Rev. 21,3). The whole Church greatly depends on the witness of communities filled “with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13,52). She wishes to hold up before the world the example of communities in which solitude is overcome through concern for one another, in which communication inspires in everyone a sense of shared responsibility, and in which wounds are healed through forgiveness, and each person’s commitment to communion is strengthened” (VC45).

For reflection:

The building up of a holy community is a fundamental aspect of the Novitiate, and therefore novices must be placed in a position of living in a “community”. What can be done when the number of novices seems to be too limited?  Is it possible to interpret Our Lord’s words, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them” (Mt. 18, 19-20) as meaning that a true community is possible even with a very limited number of brethren?

3- Self-abasement

It is very easy today to misunderstand this virtue and to ignore it as a result. It seems to imply giving a distorted view of ourselves, in a masochistic manner. It is, instead, a spiritual tool which is at the centre of the gospel, and JESUS’ washing of the disciples’ feet is the icon expressing it in a most profound way. “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23, 11): the way to greatness is through humble service, is through washing each other’s feet. Self-abasement is living in the truth, before the Almighty Creator from whom we depend totally, and before our brethren in whom we recognise Christ. There should be no place for self-praise, for boasting, for desire to show off, for arrogance: humility is living according to the truth and it is with a humble and contrite heart that we should wish to serve God and our brethren.

4- Mortification

This is another example of a virtue easily misunderstood today. Members of Opus Dei have been taken to task by the mass-media for their assumed bodily mortifications with various gadgets, which seem to imply sadistic tendencies. Yet, the modern generations are often prepared to go through the most demanding bodily exercises and routines to acquire the perfect body, or to train for competitions! They are also aware of the dangers of giving in to excessive eating and drinking, to drug taking, sexual promiscuity, and uncontrolled consumerism. They often express the wish they had the will power of resisting such damaging influences in their lives. 

The spiritual tool Fr. Founder calls “mortification” is nothing more than exercises in self control in order to train the will to keep in order the demands of instincts and passions. In a religious community the “demands of the flesh” may well be of a lesser nature than the ones mentioned above, but there are always many occasions which require self discipline, self control and rejection of negative tendencies. Fr. Cantalamessa, preaching to the Pope and his household a few years ago, reminded them of the necessity of mortification, of renouncing voluntarily even innocent bodily comforts in the daily life, and ended up mentioning as examples, among other things, the excessive attachment to mobile phones, computers, and the internet.

It is important to notice that mortification is not an end in itself, but a precious means to achieve holiness: “So then, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Rom. 8,12). The result of mortification is life in the Spirit, is living according to the demands of love: “Without mortification, neither charity nor tranquillity are lasting” (C188).

5- Poverty

Novices should “love poverty as a mother”, and should “experience” some of its effects in discreet measure. Novices must learn to be detached from all things, to acquire the true “poverty in spirit”, which allows a religious person to use all things from the standpoint of charity without any attachment of the heart. Fr. Founder quotes from St. Paul: “I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty. I have learnt this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil. 4,12). Novices “must use nothing as their own because in heart and mind they have truly left all things for Christ our Lord” (C189).  During the first five-six centuries of the Church, many people embraced wholeheartedly holy poverty by choosing to become priests or religious, often leaving behind great riches and positions of power; it is clear that Fr. Founder wants that anyone who chooses to become a member of the Institute of Charity does so that he may embrace holy poverty at the service of the brethren and in imitation of our Saviour’s way of life (see the fifth of The Five Wounds of the Church about the profound link between vocation and poverty in the early Church).

6- Chastity

Fr. Founder is famously parsimonious in writing about this “truly lovable virtue”, thus revealing his profound reverence for this precious gospel Counsel that allow novices to imitate fully the style of life chosen by the Word of God.  Chastity in novices should shine through the way they act, in their words, thoughts, and in all things. “God looks upon them with such favour that Christ in his sermon promises the vision of God as their reward: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5,8).

Perfectae Caritatis on chastity:

The Vatican II document calls chastity “an exceptional gift of grace”. It frees the heart of the person so that he may become more fervent in his love for God and for all men. For this reason it is a special symbol of heavenly reality, and for religious it is a most effective means of dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to the divine service and the works of the apostolate. The Council recommends mortification and custody of the senses as a means of keeping this virtue.

The document, however, stresses the need for a progressive education during the formation years and even for some form of testing: “The observance of perfect continence touches intimately the deeper inclinations of human nature. For this reason, candidates ought not to go forward, nor should they be admitted, to the profession of chastity except after really adequate testing, and unless they are sufficiently mature, psychologically and affectively. Not only should they be warned against the dangers to chastity which they may encounter, they should be taught to see that the celibacy they have dedicated to God is beneficial to their whole personality” (No.12)

For discussion:

The approach to education in human sexuality seems to have changed radically from the times of Fr. Founder. Is formation provided by the Institute on this matter sufficient and in line with modern psychological views? What recommendations would Formators make so that our postulants, novices, scholastics may become “sufficiently mature, psychologically and affectively” to embrace chastity wholeheartedly for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven?

NB: The encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” has much to say about the sexual dimension of love. We shall examine it more closely later in the course, when we shall touch again on “chastity” in Part VII of the Constitutions.

 7- Piety

It is clear that Fr. Founder’s words on piety come straight from his heart and personal experience. The piety of novices, he says, “should be afire, and, as it were, ablaze”. And the characteristic sign of such piety should be “hunger for the bread of angels and thirst for the wine that makes virgins joyful” (C191). The Eucharist is the source and means of our most intimate union with God: as we receive His body we are transformed into His body: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn. 6,58). At the same time, the Eucharist is the source of the unity with one another: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor. 10,17).

From this one source, therefore, they must draw an unceasing love of God and zeal for constant prayer, along with love for one another” (C191).

Bonum est nos hic esse” (It is well that we are here), said Peter to JESUS during the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The same words ought to be repeated by the novices who are with JESUS on the mount of the Transfiguration, their Novitiate. The novitiate is a privileged time of prayer and intimate union with the Blessed Trinity; the time will come to descend from the mount and to meet the needs of all our brothers and sisters in the various works of charity. This is what Vita Consecrata has to say:

For an overall picture of the essential characteristics of the religious life, it is singularly helpful to fix our gaze on Christ’s radiant face in the mystery of the Transfiguration. A whole ancient spiritual tradition refers to this “icon” when it links the contemplative life to the prayer of JESUS “on the mountain”. Even the “active” dimensions of consecrated life can in a way be included here, for the Transfiguration is not only the revelation of Christ’s glory but also a preparation for facing Christ’s Cross. It involves both “going up the mountain” and “coming down the mountain”. The disciples who have enjoyed this intimacy with the Master, surrounded for a moment by the splendour of the Trinitarian life, are then brought back to daily reality, are invited to return to the valley, to share with Him the toil of God’s plan and to set off courageously  on the way of the Cross” (VC14).

Benedict XVI adds the example of Jacob’s ladder which shows the inseparable connection between “ascending and descending love, between eros which seeks God and agape which passes on the gift received”. He mentions also Pope Gregory the Great who tells us that “the good pastor must be rooted in contemplation, for only in this way he will be able to take upon himself the needs of others and make them his own, after the example of St. Paul who was borne aloft to the most exalted mysteries of God, and hence, having descended once more, he was able to become all things to all men”. Gregory also points to the example of Moses, “who entered the tabernacle time and again, remaining in dialogue with God, so that when he emerged he could be at the service of his people” (Deus Caritas Est, No.7).

The saints, writes Benedict XVI, “constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (Deus Caritas Est, No.18).

8- Self-denial and OBEDIENCE

The starting point for the type of obedience demanded of novices is to be found in the words of JESUS in Mt. 16,24: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me”. The novice should be careful to avoid carrying out his own will, instead, he should “abide humbly in obedience to others” for love of JESUS. It is for the sake of JESUS that novices renounce their own will and obey superiors who take the place of JESUS, so that in carrying out humbly all tasks demanded by obedience their eyes are always set on JESUS.

Novices should learn obedience from JESUS Himself, who came to do the will of His Father and not his own will: “He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him”.

The Father, whose will is sought in all things through obedience to superiors appointed by Him, will reward His faithful servants by transforming the relationship into one of great friendship: “A faithful friend is an elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find him” (Sir. 6,16). Not “superiors”, therefore, but “friends”.

9- Simplicity

For Fr. Founder, to know and to acknowledge “being” is to know and acknowledge “truth”. Now truth in God is the Word, the Son of God. JESUS himself had said, “I am the Truth”. Therefore, to know, acknowledge, and love truth is the same thing, implicitly, as to know, acknowledge, and love the living Truth which is Christ, the Word of God. Hence Fr. Founder’s immense love for truth, and his insistence on truth, not only at the intellectual level but at the affective level: truth is to be known, affirmed, and loved. No wonder, therefore, that he should view sincerity or simplicity as a most fundamental virtue. Simplicity is to live in all things according to the truth.

The novice who seriously desires perfection will strive very earnestly to avoid all duplicity of heart and hypocrisy, which can be ruinous for the spiritual man. His obedience, his relationships with superiors and other brethren, his inner reflections, must all be free from insincerity. Even slight dissembling can cause a piteous downfall of the whole person if it is not detected swiftly and rooted out by a very thorough examination of conscience and careful scrutiny of heart” (C193).

Duplicity of heart, this “ugly and subtle enemy”, is the opposite of simplicity: it occurs when our intelligence does see the truth but instead of affirming and loving it chooses to cover it and rationalise it with false reasons which then move the heart to love the fictions created by itself. This can happen in a very subtle way, often without even thinking about it. And this is the reason for Fr. Founder’s insistence on a most thorough examination of conscience.

The novice must pursue and love truth in all things, and then he will experience the truth of JESUS’ affirmation, “Truth shall make you free”. Truth sets man free from the lies that have the devil as their father. To lie is to be a slave, is to be in darkness to the point that man no longer knows where he is going. Christ alone sets man free, because He is the living Truth: “He who follows ME, does not walk in darkness, but has the light of life”. He who follows truth is in the light. There are many references in Fr. Founder’s letters to “love for truth” and simplicity, the spiritual tool which should have a special place in the hearts of the brethren. Here are examples taken from letters to Don Pietro Rigler and to Don Paolo Orsi:

Try to implant in everyone a heartfelt love for truth and for all good. If we have an overriding love for truth we shall seek it everywhere, and we shall consider ourselves happy in the possession of it. And if we meet with truth in the words of a friend or brother of ours we shall esteem it even more dearly, and feel indebted to him for having shown it to us” (Ascetical letters, Vol.II, p.73, translation by J.Morris).

Anyone who teaches young people must be firmly persuaded that to induce them to be “good” and to have a useful and effective influence on their souls, there is only one simple means: and that is the “truth” in the fullest sense of the word. I mean “truth” both in its natural and imperfect form, and truth in its supernatural and perfect form. This latter is the grace of Christ, which works secretly in them, and from which alone can come the salvation, the interior virtue and the happiness of man… Reflect well that truth has an eternal beauty, such that it never grows less, never satiates or wearies those who look on it. Rather, the more it is contemplated, the more grows the desire for it…” (ibidem, p.229)

10 - Modesty

Inner joy and modesty is the result of simplicity of heart. This is Fr. Founder’s  description of modesty: “Wherever they are, and whoever their associates, all their actions, their laughter, words, movements, their facial expressions, general comportment, the way they dress, should be signs of holy maturity and self-respect, of watchful prudence and deference, and a certain attractiveness in the Lord, not a cause of disgust or useless sadness” (C194). Modesty is essential for building up a community of love, and, with modesty, inner joy. Fr. Founder had already condemned “that element of melancholy into God’s service” which is the sign of a divided heart and of lukewarm commitment to one’s vocation (C47E).

11- Edification

The novitiate is a time of intense personal work of purification, practice of virtues, and sincere desire to serve and please God in all things. This serious work of perfection is being undertaken with others, with a community of like minded individuals, helping each other in the common purpose of achieving holiness. As Fr. Valle remarks, “The whole community, that is, all the brethren in their mutual relationships, are to be concerned with their own personal sanctification and that of others. The tools are intended for this end, to which each religious is personally committed although held simultaneously to co-operate so that all the brethren attain it” (A Valle, A Rosmini, His charism as Founder, p.42). Edification is precisely this common effort to build up holiness in each member of the community, it is the reason for our coming together into the religious family. This insistence on the essential nature of the “community” is very easily overlooked since our own tendency is to affirm our own “individuality” and to work on our own perfection.

For discussion:

The purpose of the Institute is “to care lovingly for the sanctification of the members who compose it”. What is the Formators’ own view about the claim that this essential dimension of  “community life” is often seen as secondary and in practice dispensable? Have we spread ourselves too thinly on the ground to be able to have “communities”?

12- Good intention and the LOVE OF GOD

The final tool of the spiritual trade is clearly the first in importance. It is what Fr. Founder calls, “the most perfect end” of all our actions and aspirations. Holiness is to please God in all things and to be united with Him more and more. Here are Fr. Founder’s words:

In every action, they should try sincerely to serve and please divine Goodness for its own sake, and for the love and marvellous benefits with which it anticipates our needs… Let them be encouraged frequently to seek in all things the closest union with God. As far as possible, they are to free themselves from all love of creatures, and concentrate all their affection upon the Creator, loving Him in all his creatures and all His creatures in Him” (C196).

Fr. Founder wrote extensively about the love of God, but perhaps his most refined and warm treatment of it is to be found in the fourth of his sermons to his brethren on the occasion of their religious profession. Fr. Cleary defined the sermon as “a work of high theology, a treatise of profound mysticism and a song from the heart of a lover” (Cleary, A Society of Love, p.43). The five sermons deal with the five links of the chain of gold which binds all Rosminians together: justice, providence, charity, sacrifice, and glory (the last link could not be developed by Fr. Founder because of illness, the fourth is nearly completed).

Novices should be well acquainted with them since they contain, as Fr. Founder says, “the outline of our society to which we shall belong forever” (ib.p.6). Moreover, the sermon on charity is of outstanding beauty and clarity, a source for profound meditations and for encouragement in their vocation.

Formators should make great use of the booklet, especially of the sermon on charity; it should become a most precious text during the two years of the novitiate. Here are a few quotations from the sermon:

Yes, all Christians have been called to the perfect life, and have been given the rule of charity which is the fulfilment and goal of the Law, and may indeed strive to fulfil it, according to their condition in life. Nevertheless, only those reach the summit of perfection who, detached in spirit and truth, strip themselves of all worldly possessions, and of all attachment to their own life. They realise that they have no good of their own other than God, and that their sole daily work and profession is God’s own charity.” (p.45)

Christ’s charity, dear brothers, is simply justice at its most perfect. It is right to love God, and so the just love Him. “The righteous love Thee” (Cant.1,3). But in the lover the special, proper object of love is simply the will of the beloved. Whoever loves, desires the fulfilment and satisfaction of the will of the beloved.

Charity, therefore, means loving and, in loving, fulfilling the divine Will. But what does the divine Will want? All it wants from us – what a marvel this is – is love itself. The divine Will is manifested and summed up clearly and fully in the great commandments of love of God and one’s neighbour” (p.46)

Because the indelible character left upon our souls in the Sacraments is our Lord JESUS Christ Himself, the brightness of God’s glory and the figure of His substance (Heb.1,3), so Christ is the great lover in all of us. He is our power of love. Love is Christ’s very own Spirit diffused in our souls” (p.49)

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