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제목 The Three Evangelical Counsels;Poverty, Chastity and Obedience
작성자 관리자 작성일 2016-08-16





The Three Evangelical Counsels(14th August, 13th Sunday after Pentecost)



My dear brethren
In this Sunday’s prayer, we ask for the virtues of faith, hope and charity: they are the object of the first commandment, which we have already seen earlier this year. But you need to know that the Church teaches, with St Thomas Aquinas, that Christian perfection consists essentially in the fulfilment of this Commandment of Charity. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” Mk. 12:30

St Thomas distinguishes three levels of fulfilment of this commandment. Indeed, since God is infinitely lovable, it seems that one could always strive to love God more, and thus never love Him enough. The truth is that God alone loves himself as much as He is lovable: God’s Goodness is infinite and thus only an infinite love can be adequate: God alone can love infinitely. However, when we love God as much as we can, we do offer Him this “sacrifice of adoration” that is pleasing to Him. In Heaven, the Saints love God truly “with their whole heart, and with their whole soul, and with their whole mind, and with their whole strength”, without ceasing: this is the top degree of charity, and will make the Saints truly delight in God and be somehow infinitely happy, because they delight fully in the infinite Goodness.


On earth, the perfection of Christian life consists in loving God as much as we can, and this has different degrees. The first degree is to absolutely avoid anything that would separate us from God: to avoid all mortal sin. Mortal sin is incompatible with charity; mortal sin is to prefer the creature above the Creator, to put our ultimate end in a creature (money, pleasures, power, etc.): all this is incompatible with the love of God. Hence the first degree of the spiritual life is called “purgative life”, when one strives to avoid absolutely all mortal sin, and to make reparation for past sins, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The next degree includes the first, but focuses more on the practice of virtue in order to do that which pleases God, out of love: it is called the “illuminative life”, when we strive to know more and love more the most Holy Trinity, through our Lord Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God.


The last degree includes the first two, but then focuses more and more on charity itself: putting more and more charity in each action, further purifying our motives: to do what pleases God, in the manner that pleases God, and for the purpose of pleasing God. Love and union with God becomes the main focus of life, hence it is called “unitive life”; it is the top level of Christian life on earth, and leads to the “spiritual marriage” with God.


Now this can be practiced by all, in all ways of life. But, some choose to follow more closely the examples of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the practice of the Three Evangelical Counsels, they strive to reach better and faster this Christian perfection of charity. They make it their business to reach and live such religious perfection. These are therefore called “the religious”: monks and nuns. Usually they bind themselves to the practice of these Evangelical Counsels by vows: the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.


Note that the practice of the Evangelical Counsels is a duty of the priests (and all clergy) for an even higher reason: because they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, re-enactment of the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, they must “imitate what they perform”, as the bishop enjoined them on the day of their ordination. Hence they must be poor with Jesus poor on the Cross, they must be chaste with Jesus detached from pleasures on the Cross and they must be obedient with Jesus obedient on the Cross! 

So today I would like to explain these Three Evangelical Counsels more in detail. God has given Commandments to men, which all are bound to obey in order to go to Heaven. I have explained them at length some time ago, and I hope you remember. But by His example and His teaching, our Lord Jesus Christ has given us, beyond these Commandments, also three Counsels in order to live a more perfect life. These are called the Three Evangelical Counsels: the counsel of poverty, counsel of chastity and counsel of obedience.


First our Lord lived the counsel of poverty: He chose to come in a poor family, of a simple carpenter, full of virtue but poor of earthly goods. As if this was not enough, He even organised that He would be born in a poorer setting: in the crib of Bethlehem. Then He lived poor at Nazareth, to the point that the Pharisees of Nazareth despised Him when he visited his own city. He mentioned that “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head”(Mt. 8:20) And finally He died, stripped of his garments and of everything, on a cross, the death reserved to the lowest and poorest cast, to the slaves.


Our Lord Jesus Christ also counsels poverty very explicitly in the holy Gospel: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me” (Mt. 19:21) All true Christians must be detached from the love of money, as Jesus said: “Be not solicitous therefore, saying, what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or wherewith shall we be clothed?” (Mt. 6:31) He teaches all to “seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33) But that detachment from the heart is not enough for the evangelical perfection: our Lord positively counsels effective detachment from everything. And we see the early Christians following that counsel of our Lord generously: “Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need” (Acts 2:45)  “Neither did any one say that any of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them” (Acts 4:32)


That counsel has been followed through the centuries by the monks and the nuns, who renounce any personal property. In a monastery or convent, all things are common; no one says that anything is his own. And they live detached from all the vanities of the world, from all the superfluities of the world. What one was before he enters does not count: whether he was rich or poor, once he is in the monastery, he shares the common poverty.


There were among the saints very illustrious examples of this counsel of poverty. For instance, St Paulinus, who lived at the end of the 4th and in the early 5th century, was a Roman Patrician, of senatorial rank, in the south of France. He was converted and baptised by St Delphinus, bishop of Bordeaux, and then sold this very large properties and distributed all his goods to the poor. Then he and his wife (St Theresa, the first one) each joined the monastic life, in Italy. Later he became bishop of Nola, and went so far as to sell his own self as slave, in order to redeem the son of a widow who had been taken by the Barbarians!


Our modern world needs this example of evangelical poverty, of perfect detachment from riches. Indeed, the love of riches is one of the great causes of sin in the modern world. With modern technology, the available wealth has greatly increased and this has caused a thirst for such thing unsurpassed in previous times. But by their practice of evangelical poverty, the monks and nuns and clergy give the proof of the exceedingly superior value of spiritual things over material things, of eternal goods over temporal goods, of divine Good over created goods.


Our Lord practiced himself the Counsel of Virginity: He was not married. Moreover, He was born of the Virgin. This is unique in the history of mankind. God did this great miracle of the virgin-birth in order to show His esteem for such consecrated virginity. But He practiced the ultimate detachment from earthly pleasures on the Cross! Consecrated virginity was unknown in the Old Testament, but as soon as Christ came, there were many such consecrated virgins, such as the four daughters of Philip Acts 21:8-9


Now St Thomas Aquinas teaches, with the whole Tradition of the Church, that beyond the common reward of all the elect, there is a special reward for the virgins, and for the martyrs and for the doctors. These three kinds of saints get a special “crown” for their special merit. Thus when our Lady appeared to St Maximilian Kolbe, she offered him a white crown and a red crown: the crowns of virginity and martyrdom.


Christ taught this Counsel, saying to His Apostles, that “there are people who can’t have children, because they were born so from their mother's womb: and some who were made so by men: and there are some who have personally chosen not to have children for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take it, let him take it” (Mt. 19:12) St Paul echoed this great teaching of our Lord, writing to the Corinthians that he advised virgins “to remain so” (1 Cor. 7:26-27) He gives several motives for this counsel: 1/ to be spared from “tribulation of the flesh” (1 Cor. 7:28) 2/ not to attach oneself to passing goods (1 Cor. 7:29-31) 3/ to be free from earthly solicitudes (1 Cor. 7:32) 4/ to be “undivided”, totally dedicated to God :“He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God” (1 Cor. 7:32): consecrated virginity gives “power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment” (1 Cor. 7:35) He concludes that marriage is good, but consecrated virginity is better.(1 Cor. 7:36-38)

This teaching has been repeated throughout the centuries by all the Saints, holy Doctors and holy Popes: marriage is good but consecrated virginity is better. It is a mark of the heretics and bad Catholics to reject it. Today we hear some who refuse to acknowledge this superiority of consecrated virginity; but we must keep the faith of all times, the Catholic faith. The Council of Trent has defined this as a dogma of faith: “If anyone says that the married state surpasses that of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema!” (Council of Trent, Session 24, canon 10)


More than ever, our modern world needs this example of consecrated virginity. Indeed it is addicted to all kinds of impurities, even the most abject, corrupt and unnatural, and leading to the most criminal acts such as abortion. By the very example of their lives, consecrated virgins show the power of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in our corrupt world: they are a great encouragement for the normal faithful, showing that if God can help the monks and nuns and good priests to practice this supreme degree of chastity, how much more He can help the married faithful to be faithful in their marriage, and the unmarried young ones to keep themselves pure before the marriage. Indeed virginity is not only for those who intend to consecrate themselves to Christ, but also it is the required preparation for a good, holy and faithful marriage.


Our Lord has also practiced the Counsel of obedience. He chose to be born as an infant, in order to live an obedient life as a child: He “was subject to them” Lk. 2:51
: He was obedient to Mary and Joseph. Even when He stayed at Jerusalem, that was out of obedience to His Heavenly Father. All his life, he was obedient to His Father; indeed he said: “he that sent me, is with me, and he hath not left me alone: for I do always the things that please him” (Jn. 8:29) And supremely at the end: “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8)


Our Lord has taught the counsel of obedience, when he said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk. 9:23) To follow Him means to obey him: the way the Apostles were with our Lord is the way the early Christians were with the Apostles and the way the early Christians were with the bishops, in perfect obedience. This Christian perfection was continued in the practice of the Fathers of the Desert, then in monasteries and convents.


Here again, our modern world does need this example of obedience: indeed self-will, egotism, the spirit of independence is so spread today that many do not even see any evil in it. The modern world refuses all authority and ultimately the authority of God: it shouts “I will not serve Jer. 2:20
, I will not obey!” Yet nothing is more opposed to sanctification than this self-centeredness: indeed sanctification is rather God-centeredness and Christ-centeredness!


The three evangelical counsels are so closely connected with Christian perfection, because they remove the obstacles to the perfection of charity: these obstacles come from the love of money, the love of pleasures and the love of self. The immoderate love of these things is the root of all sins. By removing these obstacles, the practice of the three evangelical counsels frees the soul to “run the way of the commandments of God, when He enlarges the heart” (Ps. 118:32)


Since our Lord Jesus Christ gave the supreme example of these Three Evangelical Counsels when He offered himself on the Cross as a perfect Sacrifice, it is clear that the holy Sacrifice of the Mass is at the heart of religious life. This is where all monks, nuns and even more priests, renew the grace of their state of life, and obtain the grace to reach that goal of holiness which they pursue. Indeed who is more detached from riches that Jesus stripped of all things, even his garments, on the Cross? Who is more chaste and detached from pleasures than Jesus nailed on the Cross? Who is more obedient that Jesus “obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross”.(Phil. 2:8)  


The drama of the liturgical reform is that the new Mass has put aside this sacrificial character: modernists do not like the Cross; they do not like the idea of sacrifice. And the result has been a frightful decrease of vocations for almost all the religious orders. True renewal will come with the return to the Traditional Mass.


My dear brethren, we need to pray much for vocations, that there be many good and holy vocations of priests, monks and nuns, who pursue wholeheartedly Christian perfection by the practice of these three Evangelical counsels, for the glory of God, for the salvation of their souls, and for the great benefit to the Church and to many souls.


May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the greatest model, after Christ, of the practice of these Three Counsels, obtain this grace! Amen.


 Fr. F. LAISNEY(SSPXASIA)