Let charity and piety begin at home
NEGLECT of business and domestic duties under pretext of piety is a fairly common fault. Devotees, especially of the female sex, often fall into this error, and so give scandal even to sensible and really religious people. Yet it is not piety that is to blame, but rather their self-will which is followed instead of the spirit of God.
Many have no sooner taken up the practices of religion than they start neglecting their homes, their children, and those dependent upon them. They spend the day going to church, in running after popular preachers, attending every religious service and special festival, and in undertaking all manner of good works. They are to be found everywhere except at home, which they leave as early, and return to as late, as possible.
Meanwhile, all is disorder in the household; everyone does as he pleases in the absence of the mistress. Children are left to the doubtful care of those who themselves want looking after; or they are dragged about, especially if girls, from service to service, until they are wearied out and disgusted, and soon begin to tire of religion. The husband very rightly complains, but his word is not heeded, and he is secretly accused of not being sufficiently devout.
And thus it is, too, with many men. They are active, bustling busybodies; meddling in everything under the pretext of serving God; fancying that the Church depends on them. They concern themselves with the affairs of others, and neglect their own. Even some priests are not entirely exempt from these and similar faults. They are zealous, but, as St. Paul says, not according to knowledge. [ ] They allow their natural activity full rein, and because their ministry is spread over many objects insinuate themselves into everything and imagine that all good works must pass through their hands, otherwise they will not succeed. They are for ever coming and going, and the day is not long enough for all they have to do. They even borrow from the night, and leave themselves barely time to say their office.
I am not saying this in a spirit of criticism: nothing is further from my wish. But how can I do otherwise than lament over such an evil as this, which is so harmful to the cause of religion? I am not calling into question the intention: that I well believe to be right and good. Nor do I blame the objects in view, which are also good, since they concern the worship of God and the welfare of men. But how can one rejoice to see the order of duty reversed, and works of supererogation take precedence over duties of obligation? Who can excuse that mistaken piety which looks merely to externals, counts the inner spirit as nothing, and neglects God's primary laws?
The spirit of the inner life follows quite another course, and inspires ideas the very opposite of what I have been describing. It teaches all who yield to its guidance that their first duty is the sanctification of their own souls, and that Christian sanctity consists primarily in the fulfilment of the duties of one's state. These are indispensable. The very end of devotion is the obtaining of such graces as are necessary for their fulfilment, and it can never, therefore, be a reason for neglecting them. On the contrary, true piety allows such time only for prayer as can lawfully be spared from duties of obligation. In all religious exercises not of strict obligation, it bids us accommodate ourselves to the wishes and frailties of those whom we are bound to consider, and, for the sake of peace, to sacrifice our own tastes, be they never so pious.
The inward spirit also reminds us that we must only undertake good works such as are left to our discretion, in so far as they do not encroach on our spirit of recollection. Should they even begin to make inroads thereon and dissipate us ever so little, we must absolutely give them up, or put them off until another time when we shall not run the same risk. In all such circumstances, it is best not to act on our own but take sound advice before acting, or wait until God sends the occasion. We must also be on our guard against our natural activity and ardour, and all indiscreet zeal which would have us take on far more than we can manage, so that there remains no time for prayer, and for the duties of our state, which are always the first of all good works.
The true interior spirit also teaches those who are charged with the sacred ministry that the care of souls should be limited to spiritual matters, and only extended to temporal things when charity requires it of them, and then with much reserve and circumspection, lest these should prove harmful to themselves or lessen in the minds of others the reverence due to their sacred office.
Such has ever been the mind of the Church from earliest times. The apostles were the first to set an example in this matter by appointing deacons to see to the needs of the poor, reserving to themselves the duty of prayer and the ministry of the word. [ ] In whatever time remains over from the administration of the sacraments, from preaching, the direction of souls, visiting the sick and other similar duties, the primary duty of priests should be prayer, the reading of sacred books and other studies proper to their state. They ought to concern themselves in temporal affairs only in so far as they are a matter of conscience, by pointing out the rules which should be followed so as not to offend against justice or charity, and to maintain or re-establish unity and peace. In the matter of good works or works of mercy, they should, if possible, confine themselves to directing affairs, committing the carrying out of them to those well qualified to do so. Otherwise, apart from losing time, they will lay themselves open to complaints, murmurings, and sometimes unworthy suspicions. The closer they live in intimate union with God, the better will they serve the cause of religion and procure the salvation of souls, the greater authority and consideration will they possess, and their reputation will remain intact and their good name respected.
All this would be taught by the spirit of the interior life, if men sought its guidance with a pure intention. Thus it taught St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis of Sales, and every other saint and doctor of the Church throughout the ages, and those most zealous for the greater glory of God and the good of souls.
Acts vi. 2-4
Work of God Apostolate