First Saturday In Lent: The Three Counsels Considered
First – think of Poverty. Even outward Poverty, a hard and simple life, the dropping for love’s sake of the many things we feel we “must have” is a great help in the way of the Spirit. Far more precious is that inward Poverty of which it is the sacrament; which frees us from possessions and possessiveness and does away with the clutch of “the I, the Me and the Mine” upon our souls. We can all strive for this internal grace, this attitude of soul, and it is a very important part of the life of prayer. The Holy Spirit is called the Giver of Gifts and the Father of the Poor; but His cherishing action is only really felt by those who acknowledge their own deep poverty – who realize that we have literally nothing of our own, but are totally dependent on God and on that natural world in which God has placed us and which is the sacramental vehicle of His action. When we grasp this we are ready to receive His gifts. Some souls are so full of pious furniture and ornaments, that there is no room for Him. All the correct things have been crammed into the poor little villa, but none of the best quality. They need to pull down the curtains, get rid of the knick-knacks, and throw their premises open to the great simplicity of God . . .
Chastity – The counsel of Chastity does not, of course, mean giving up marriage but something much more subtle and penetrating. It really means the spirit of poverty applied to our emotional life – all the clutch and feverishness of desire, the “I want” and “I must have” taken away and replaced by absolute single-mindedness, purity of heart. This may involve a deliberate rationing of the tie and energy we give to absorbing personal relationships with others – unnecessary meetings, talks and letters – to special tastes and interests, or, worst of all, self-occupied daydreams and brooding about ourselves, cravings for sympathy and interest. We have to be very firm with ourselves about all this, making war on every kind of possessiveness, self-centredness, and clutch. From all these entanglements Christ’s spirit of chaste Love will set us free; for it is a selfless, all embracing charity – friendship with God, and with all His creatures for His sake . . .
Obedience – This means the total surrender of our wills, which are the greatest obstacles to our real self-giving to God. The more we get rid of self-chosen aims, however good, the more supple we are to His pressure, the nearer we get to the pattern of the Christian life, which is summed up in “not my will but Thine be done.” Then, not before, we are ready to be used as God’s tools and contribute to His purpose. Since God is the true doer of all that is done, it is always for Him to initiate and for us to respond, and this willing response is the essence of obedience. Obedience means more freedom not less, for it lifts the burden of perpetual choice, and in so doing actually increases our power of effective action by making us the instruments of God’s unlimited action. When the whole Church is thus obedient to Him it will be what it is meant to be, “a fellowship of creative heaven-led souls” with power to fulfill its vocation of transforming the world.
“Letter to the Prayer Group, Lent, 1941,” The Fruits of the Spirit