Chapter III: The Rosary and Perfect Holiness.
Ordinary holiness is necessary if we wish to attain eternal salvation, but there is a higher degree of holiness, which, although not the highest, may be called the perfection of love in the perfection of sacrifice. This is the holiness aimed at in the religious life.
By virtue of their religious profession, consecrated souls are bound to aspire to perfection. God the Father must be able to recognize His Son in each one of them; Mary must be able to see clearly in their souls the sweetness, charity, humility and spirit of renunciation of Jesus. But to arrive at this stage they must labor unceasingly at the work of their sanctification, and even after the efforts of a lifetime their ideal will still not be realized, because their model is Infinite Perfection itself.
The religious life, then, is a continual advance towards perfection. But in what does this perfection consist? When we read the lives of saintly, worthy religious we see that they paid to the Church the tribute of heroism, just as the holy martyrs pay the tribute of their blood. Profession creates within the soul an ardent desire for perfection, makes it aspire even to heroism; more than once, submission and obedience have reached a heroic degree.
Nevertheless, the holiness ordinarily demanded of religious is not heroic charity; it is charity of a lower degree than heroic charity, but higher than the charity expected from Christians in general. It consists in the removal of all those obstacles which hinder in any way the operations of divine love in the soul. It is a species of perfect charity, or, as we have already said, the perfection of love in the perfection of sacrifice. Our Redeemer showed His love for us by sacrificing Himself for our sakes, we must also prove our love for Him by death and sacrifice. We sacrifice and put to death our worldly ambitions and possessions by the vow of poverty; we sacrifice and put to death the flesh and the senses by the vow of chastity; we sacrifice and put to death our will by the vow of obedience. When the heart and soul are immolated, when the will free will, that most dear possession, the inheritance of even the most lowly of the sons of men is entirely abandoned to God, then we have the perfection of love in the perfection of sacrifice. A religious who is faithful to his three vows already has this perfect charity which is bordering on heroism.
In order to be faithful it is not sufficient merely to avoid mortal sin. No doubt, as long as a soul avoids serious faults it is still, in a sense, in the state of perfection. But in order fully to respond to Him Who calls us to perfection, the souls must have a deadly hatred of venial sin. One who commits deliberate venial faults wounds our Blessed Lord in that which is very dear to His heart. He cannot be said to be in the state of perfection of love in the perfection of sacrifice. It is evident that detestation of venial sin must go hand in hand with a sincere desire of perfection. All progress in perfection consists in lessening venial faults; each time we commit a deliberate venial fault we fall a degree, on to a lower level from these radiant heights towards which a true religious soars. A soul, therefore, that is seriously desirous of perfection must be determined to avoid as far as possible all deliberate venial sin. We say deliberate because it is the teaching of the Church that it is impossible, save by a singular privilege such as was granted to Our Blessed Lady, to avoid all indeliberate faults. Again, we do not take a vow to be perfect, but only to strive after perfection. We are not hypocrites or liars if we still have our faults in the religious state, but only if we renounce our desire for the attainment of perfection.
The holiness required of a religious may be summarized in these few words: the perfection of love in the perfection of sacrifice, which supposes fidelity to our three vows, together with an intense hatred and horror of deliberate venial sin.
The great secret of progress in the way of perfection is to keep very close to Jesus, united to Him. If we are guided by His inspirations, if we leave ourselves completely in His hands, then we shall run with Him in the royal way, we shall be able to exclaim with the Psalmist: Exultavit ut gigas ad currendam viam. He hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way (Ps. 18:6).
The Rosary can help us in a very special manner to reach our goal. Jesus in the Rosary is our model, our way, and our life. He is our model, because He was the first and most perfect religious of His Heavenly Father. He is our way; He stretches forth His all-powerful hand to sustain and support us; He is our life, because meditation on the Mysteries results in marvelous graces being poured into our souls to aid us in the observance of our vows.
Our Blessed Lord in the Rosary is the religious par excellence of the Eternal Father. A religious is one who is entirely bound to God. In fact, the word religion is derived from religare, which means to bind a second time. Every human being is bound to God by the very fact that all depend on Him for their creation and preservation. Without Him they could not exist for an instant.
We add a moral and voluntary bond to this necessary physical bond. God is our first principle, we adhere to Him by the bond of adoration. God is our sovereign master, we bind ourselves to Him by submission and obedience. God is our last end, we unite ourselves to Him by the bond of love. Religion is the link which binds us a second time to God, our Redeemer and our first principle. St. Thomas says that the term religious may be applied in this wide sense to all who serve God; but it usually reserved for those who consecrate their whole lives to the divine service, disengaging themselves completely from worldly affairs and attaching themselves to God in a very special way by their three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty binds them to the source of all good; chastity to a Virgin God, the source of beauty and purity; obedience to God, the sovereign master of all liberty. Thus, in every possible way is a religious bound to God.
In the Mysteries of the Rosary, we can consider the absolute submission of Jesus Christ to the will of the Father. In the Incarnation we see our adorable Savior coming forth from the bosom of the Father, assuming our frail human nature, making Himself entirely dependent on God, constituting Himself, as it were, His vassal. Behold I come to do thy will, O God: Ecce venio ut faciam voluntatem tuam (Heb. 10:9). When about to return to that eternal abode whence He came, He uttered the selfsame words: Fiat voluntas tua. This one thought was the dominating factor of His whole existence here below. When He remained behind in Jerusalem, separating Himself from Mary and Joseph, it was that He might be about His Father’s business; when He passed entire nights in ardent prayer, it was to fulfil the will of Him Who sent Him. Every instant of His life was spent in carrying out the mission entrusted to Him, until at its close He could say to His Father: Opus consummavi quod dedist mihi ut faciam. I have finished the work which Thou gavest to Me to do (John 17:4). He was the type of the perfect religious, one who is consecrated entirely and completely to God.
Jesus practiced poverty even to heroism: He was born in the midst of poverty and felt its pangs during the whole of His life. He had not whereon to lay His head. On Calvary His garments were taken from Him and divided among the soldiers. He is still poor for unto this day He dwells in the Eucharist, where He despoils Himself of even the appearance of humanity and dons the borrowed clothing of the sacramental species.
With regard to chastity, Jesus is a Virgin God, son of a virgin Mother, spouse of a virgin Church. He willed His body to be laid, after death, in a sepulchre which was not already the resting place of any man; He still dwells in the Blessed Sacrament, the pure wheat of His chosen ones, the wine which gives birth to virgins.
For obedience He had a passionate love. Out of love for obedience He became incarnate, lived and died; He remains in the Eucharist, even allowing Himself sometimes to be desecrated by sacrilegious and sinful hands.
So it is with all the Mysteries. Our Redeemer is the model for all religious when He says: I have given you an example that as I have done, so do you also (John 13:15).
But He did not content Himself with simply showing us the way. He is our way and our life. Meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary has a wonderful efficacy for communicating to us the graces of our vocation. Our three vows are a solemn challenge to the three great concupiscences of the world. But Our Savior triumphed over this triple power of the evil spirit by His life, passion and resurrection which we recall in the fifteen Mysteries. He Himself was never under the sway of the demon or hell; it was for us that He triumphed over sin; for our sakes He expiated those vices which originate in us from this triple root; for our sakes He merited the graces of the virtues. When we meditate on the Rosary, then, we actually assist at the victory of Our Savior over the three concupiscences. As a result of this meditation holy souls will obtain from their contact with the Word Incarnate actual graces which will help them to destroy vices. By uniting ourselves with Jesus in His poverty in the different mysteries, we obtain grace to conquer the concupiscence of the eyes; our contact with Jesus, Who is purity itself, will help to triumph over the concupiscence of the flesh; our humble obedience, modeled on His, will destroy in us the pride of life. In this fashion, the observance of our vows will become easy, the contrary temptations will be overcome.
We have seen that religious perfection does not consist in merely avoiding mortal sin, there must also be an intense hatred and horror of the slightest venial fault. The Rosary can obtain this grace for us. Not only will it strengthen us in moments when the life of the soul is in peril, but its influence extends also to those daily innumerable little struggles which the soul undergoes: the combat between our lower and higher natures, between renunciation and tepidity. In the Rosary we can contemplate on Jesus, the exemplar of all religious, perfect from His very birth. By thus uniting ourselves to Him, we surely receive a little of His admirable perfection. We learn to forget ourselves and to think only of our Well-Beloved and His interests. We have a holy horror of offending Him even in the slightest degree; the more we detach ourselves from ourselves and created things, the more are we attracted towards fervor and love in the divine service.
These are some of the wonderful effects of meditating wisely on the Rosary. But we must be vigilant. If we neglect to respond to the inspiration of Jesus when He draws nigh, He will pass by and we shall be left to pursue our journey to eternity alone. The way is long and difficult, it is easy to become discouraged and turn back.
In such moments we can always have recourse to Mary. Mary in the Rosary knows from experience all the trials and troubles of a religious. She practiced in those Mysteries poverty, chastity and obedience, with perfection such as excluded even the faintest shadow of venial sin. If we unite ourselves to her in her celestial Psalter, the Mediatrix of All Grace will obtain grace for us to imitate her perfection, her love of God, her detestation of sin. Aided by Mary, we shall endeavor to reach Jesus and the good Master, for the sake of His mother, will take compassion on us and will deign to draw near to us again. Hence, we shall arrive safely in eternity in the company of Jesus and Mary. If religious only realized the wealth and treasures hidden in the Mysteries of the Rosary, how easy would become the way of perfection for them! Supported by the hands of Jesus and Mary, that is by the graces which proceed from both, they would be able to repeat these words of Brother Marie Raphael, O.P.: I have found in my Rosary the secret of holiness.