4. Religious Life

Twelve months must be spent by the Passionist novice in the novitiate before he can take the vows that make him a religious of the Congregation. These twelve months are a time of trial and probation. The novice living the life of a Passionist is given every opportunity to try it well before solemnly promising to continue it for the rest of his days. His superiors put his vocation to the test, and watch carefully to see if he is worthy to be admitted a member of the Congregation.

The Passionist Sign

The Passionist Sign

Gabriel loved the religious life from the moment he entered upon it. He fulfilled the rules of the Congregation with the greatest fervour and exactness, and was professed on the twenty-second of September, 1857. Be sides the usual religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, a Passionist makes a particular vow to spread devotion to the passion of our Lord; hence, he is called a Passionist.

The Sunday after his profession Gabriel wrote to his father as follows: “Through the grace of God and the protection of Our Lady of Sorrows, and to my unspeakable joy, my desires have been fulfilled, and I have made my holy profession. Such a grace can never be valued adequately, and therefore, as I have been favoured by Almighty God with such a privilege, I feel bound by an ever-increasing obligation to correspond thereto. I leave it, therefore, to your own judgment whether or not I stand in need of the prayers of yourself and others.

When the year’s novitiate is ended those young men who are destined for the priest hood are formed into classes, and placed under the charge of a spiritual director and a professor. These students seldom remain in the retreat where the novitiate is, but are distributed among the other retreats of the province. Some time is spent in the study of classics, two years in philosophy, four years in theology, and then a course of sacred eloquence is gone through, before the young priests begin the public life of their sacred ministry.

After his profession Confrater Gabriel remained five months in the retreat at Morrovalle. Then, under the spiritual direction of Father Norbert, who had been his Vice-Master in the novitiate, he went with other students to Pieventorina in the Marches. Here he remained about eighteen months, befoxe Father Norbert took his class to the retreat at Isola, in the province of Abruzzo, where Gabriel, after a residence of about three years, died.

There is nothing sensational to tell about the religious life of Gabriel. Passionist novices and students go through the same routine day after day, and week after week. After a rest of between four and five hours, they rise from bed a little after midnight to chant matins and lauds in the chapel, and spend some time in prayer. An hour and a half is spent in this way, and then the religious go to bed again for two or three hours. Between five and six 0 clock they rise the second time, and go again to chapel. An hour and a half is spent there in chanting prime and tierce, in hearing Mass, and in mental prayer. The breakfast consists of a cup of coffee and a little bread. Three hours are given to study, quarter of an hour to spiritual reading, and half an hour to solitary walk, or work in the garden. Towards noon all the religious assemble for the third time in choir to chant sext and none. After dinner three-quarters of an hour are spent in recreation before the religious retire to their cells for an hour. At the sound of the bell they go the fourth time to chapel to chant vespers. The afternoon is spent, like the morning, in study, work, and solitary walk. In the evening all go to chapel for the fifth time to chant compline, which ends the divine office of the day. An hour is then passed in mental prayer, a light supper is taken, and, after another recreation of three-quarters of an hour, the religious say the Rosary and night prayers together before going to bed.

The life of a Passionist at home is a continual round of prayer and study, with short intervals for manual work, solitary walk, and recreation. Except during the time of recreation, silence must be kept throughout the whole day. Students are not allowed to speak to anyone, even of their own number, without their director s permission. They fast and abstain from meat three times a week, and during the whole of Lent and Advent. Their bed and pillow are of straw. Twice a week they are allowed to go beyond the enclosure of the retreat for a walk, under the guidance of their director. In Italy, once a religious lays aside the dress of a secular, he never puts it on again, but always wears the religious garb wherever he goes.

To one of the world that seems a most monotonous life. To one called to it by God it is the happiest life on earth. This was the life that Gabriel led for nearly six years. There was only one miraculous occurrence in his secular life, the warning given him by the Blessed Virgin through her image at Spoleto. There was nothing miraculous in his religious life. It was remarkable, not for great or extraordinary deeds, but for a complete change of life, a wonderful correspondence with God’s grace, and a marvellous exactness in every detail of his duties. In a letter to his brother, describing his daily duties, he says:

“With joy, swiftness, and goodwill each day comes to an end. Oh, how pleasant it is to lay one’s self down to rest with the consciousness of having served God (however unworthily) during the whole day!”

A friend called one day on Michelangelo, who was finishing a statue. Some time afterwards he called again, and found the great sculptor still at the same work. His friend, looking at the statue, exclaimed: “You have been idle since I saw you last.” “By no means,” replied the sculptor; “I have retouched this part, and polished that; I have softened this feature, and brought out this muscle; I have given more expression to this lip, and more energy to this limb.” “Well, well,” said the friend, “but all these things are trifles.” “It may be so,” replied Michelangelo, “but remember that trifles make perfection, and that perfection is no trifle.”

Had the worldly-wise watched Gabriel at his work they would have regarded it with even less favour than Michelangelo’s friend regarded his. Had they seen Gabriel spending an hour morning and evening on his knees in silent prayer; had they seen him serving Mass with the simplicity of a child and the devotion of a saint; had they seen him from time to time making short visits to the Blessed Sacrament; had they seen him day after day doing the same things, studying at his desk, walking alone in the garden, never speaking or writing to anyone without his director’s permission, serving at the table in the refectory, washing the dishes in the kitchen, sweeping the corridor, scrubbing his cell, weeding the garden, and carrying his floral offerings to the statue of his beloved Virgin-Mother had the worldly-wise seen this constantly and daily repeated, they would have said that it was all useless waste of time and energy, that Gabriel was burying his talents, and spoiling his life. But Gabriel was at a great work, the masterpiece of his life. He was at the greatest work that is given man to do the work of perfection. Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle. By the menial work he did Gabriel was chipping off the rough edges of pride, and bringing out the lovely form of humility; by his simple life and coarse habit he was rubbing away the superfluities of vanity, and revealing the grace of modesty; by his poverty, chastity, and obedience he was toning down the rough defects of the man of nature, and producing a spiritual man of grace to the likeness of his Divine Model, Christ; by his frequent prayer and meditation, raising his mind from earth to heaven, he was bringing down and infusing a super natural life into the work of his hands, and making it breathe and throb with the warmth of divine love.

The religious life of Gabriel was made up of trials, and Gabriel was aware that they were trifles. But he was striving for perfection, and knew that trifles make perfection.