Those who follow the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience give up the pleasures of the world in order to serve and love God more fully. They put into practice the idea behind these words of Holy Scripture: "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?" God gives more weight to the Counsels than to riches.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ especially recommends the observance of the Evangelical Counsels - voluntary poverty, perpetual chastity, and perfect obedience.
"Evangelical" here means contained in the Gospels; these counsels of perfection are clearly set forth in Holy Scripture.
They are called counsels, because they are an invitation and not a command; all are invited, but no one is forced. Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given" (Matthew 19: 11).
By means of the evangelical counsels the three chief evil tendencies of man - avarice, sensuality, and pride - are destroyed, enabling him to rise more freely to God.
Good works are mild remedies for these evil tendencies. Prayer cures pride; fasting cures sensuality; and almsgiving cures avarice. But the evangelical counsels are a radical remedy, for these three evils. Obedience subdues pride; chastity destroys sensuality; and poverty blots out avarice.
The evangelical counsels, however are not in themselves perfection. They are only the best means for attaining perfection. If we adopt the counsels, but do not follow them or make sacrifices for them, we are far from perfect.
Voluntary poverty is the renunciation of all earthly possessions, for the love of God. Christ counseled voluntary poverty: "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor" (Matthew 19: 21). Our Lord Himself was extremely poor. A stable was His birthplace; a poor woman was His Mother; a carpenter was His foster-father. He had nowhere to lay His head.
To give alms according to one's means is the duty of every Christian. But voluntary poverty means the giving up, for the love of God, of not only part, but of all our earthly property, and suffering the hardships of poverty.
Perpetual chastity consists in abstaining from marriage and all unclean desires. Christ counseled perfect chastity in Matthew 19: 12: "Let him accept it who can." Our Lord Himself was perfectly chaste and virginal. His Blessed Mother Mary was a virgin. He loved children who were virginal.
The Apostle Saint Paul counsels on chastity in 1 Corinthians 7: 25, 32-34: "Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give an opinion...He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please God. Whereas he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided. And the unmarried woman, and the virgin, thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit. Whereas she who is married thinks about the things of the world, how she may please her husband."
The sixth and ninth commandments of God oblige us to live chaste lives, and to avoid impurity. But lifelong and perfect chastity means besides the sacrifice of something lawful: marriage. The care of a family may engross a man in material interests, to the detriment of his spiritual good. Let us remember what Saint Paul said.
Perfect chastity is especially pleasing to God. When He wished to give a mortal Mother to His Son, God chose the purest of the daughters of Juda, a virgin, Mary. When He wanted a protector for the Blessed Virgin, and her future Child, God chose a virgin, Joseph, the most chaste of men. Christ Himself was a virgin, and the Apostle He loved best, the one who leaned on His breast at the Last Supper, and to whom He confided His Mother from the cross - Saint John the Evangelist - was also a virgin. "O how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory, for the memory of it is immortal; because it is known both with God and with men" (Wisdom 4: 1).
Priests and members of religious communities, both men and women, are bound to celibacy and perfect chastity. Celibacy is the state of being unmarried. St. Paul commended the state of celibacy: "I say to the unmarried, and to widows, it is good for them if they so remain, even as I" (1 Corinthians 7: 8). He said: "He who gives his virgin in marriage does well, and he who does not give her does better" (1 Corinthians 7: 38).
Even the heathen recognize and honor the virtue of virginal chastity. If the heathen respect those who prefer virginity to the married state, how much more should Christians respect those who, from supernatural motives, choose to live a life of chastity! In pagan Rome six virgins, caled the Vestal Virgins, were appointed to keep the so-called sacred fire burning on the altar in the temple of Vesta. These virgins usually came to the temple at the age of ten years, and remained there for thirty years. During that time they were forbidden to marry.
The Romans believed that the Vestal Virgins brought them good fortune and obtained for them the protection of their gods. They treated the Vestal Virgins with the greatest respect. They were accorded military honors in public. If a criminal, on his way to execution, happened to meet a Vestal Virgin, he was immediately pardoned. The virgins were given the best places wherever they went; they were clad in white robes. If a Vestal Virgin broke her vow of chastity, she was buried alive.
Perfect obedience is the complete subjection of one's will to that of a superior. Christ counseled perfect obedience. He said to His Apostles: "Follow Me." He said to the rich young man: "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor...and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19: 21), i.e., "Come and be guided by Me in all things."
Jesus was perfectly obedient to His Heavenly Father. He never sought His Own will, but always the will of the Father Who sent Him. He was obedient to His Mother and to St. Joseph.
All men are bound to render Christian obedience to their superiors according to their state. Children must obey their parents; citizens must obey the civil authorities; all must obey their spiritual superiors. But this obligation leaves us free in many things; it does not bind al our actions. Perfect obedience on the other hand requires us to obey in everything. It is the greatest sacrifice we can give to God.
Of course, obedience is contingent on what is being asked being in full accord with the will of God, His Laws, and held up in the Sacred Deposit of the Faith. For example, though abortion is "legal" it is morally wrong and therefore we are not mandated to obey civil authorities regarding murder in the womb, whether by promoting it or voting for those who further enable this hideous crime through legislation. So also in the Church, we owe no obedience to a religious superior, a bishop, or a pope, if they contradict what God has set down and passed down through the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church in the Dogmas and Doctrines that are unchangeable.
If we fast, give alms, or lose our reputation for God's sake, we only give part of ourselves. But if we give perfect obedience, we sacrifice our will; we give all we have. We have nothing more to give.
Next: Installment 287 - The Religious State
For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives