First Friday in Lent: The Three Counsels

Evelyn Underhill Outside


First Friday in Lent: The Three Counsels – Evelyn Underhill

Each person’s discipline, of course, will be different because what God wants from each of us is different.  Some are called to an active and some to a passive life, some to very homely and some to hard and sacrificial careers, some to quiet suffering.  Only the broad lines will be alike.  But no discipline will be any use to us unless we keep in mind the reason why we are doing this – for the Glory of God, and not just for the sake of our own self-improvement or other self-rewarding purpose.

Our object is to be what God wants of us, not what we want of Him.  So all that we do must be grounded in worship.  First lift up our eyes to the hills, then turn to our own potato field and lightly fork in the manure.

All this suggests that though this outer discipline is very important for us, there is something deeper and more secret that God asks of us, if we really desire to give our lives to Him.  Our Lord demanded great renunciation of those who wanted to follow Him.  He never suggested that the Christian life was an easy or comfortable affair.  The substance of what He asked is summed up in what are called the evangelical counsels – Poverty, Chasity, and Obedience. 

We know that those who enter religious communities accept these counsels in their most literal form.  They do give up all their possessions, their natural and human relationships, the freedom of their wills.  But in one way or another, something of their spirit is needed by everyone who really desires to follow Christ.  The New Testament means what it says when it demands poverty of spirit, purity of heart and filial obedience from all who would do this.  And the reason is, that each of these qualities in a different way detaches us from the unreal and self-regarding interests with which – almost without knowing it – we usually fill up our lives. 

They simplify us, clearing the ground for God; so that our relation of utter dependence on Him stands out as the one reality of our existence.  So it might be profitable for us this Lent to meditate on the three Counsels and see what light they cast on our own lives.

“Letter to the Prayer Group, Lent 1941,” The Fruits of the Spirit






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