Decided to share an excerpt from the late Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey's marvelous contribution to any soul desirous of spiritual progression and Christian perfection. The following are his written insights on developing and living a rule of life, taken from The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology.
This hermit knows of no other as thorough and grounded guidance in what every Christian--not just hermits and other consecrated religious individually embrace and live. A rule of life for anyone and everyone will improve one's life, over all, and bring success to one's vocation and mission in life. Enjoy!
II. A Rule of Life #558. A rule of life extends the influence of the director, by imparting to the penitent principles and rules that will enable the latter to sanctify all his acts through obedience, and that will provide him with a norm of conduct at once sound and safe. We shall explain: (1) its utility; (2) its qualities; (3) the manner of keeping it. n1. ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introd. to A Devout Life," Part. I, C. III, Part. III C. XI; TRONSON, "Manuel du Seminariste;" ID., "Traite de l'obeissance," III' Partie RIBET, "L'Ascetique," ch. XLI; KEATING, "The Priest, His Character and Work," P. I, C. II; "The Secret of Sanctity," C. I. Utility of a Rule of Life Useful even to laymen who seek holiness in the world, a rule of life is of still greater importance to members of religious communities and to priests in the ministry. It is no less conducive to personal sanctification than to the sanctification of the neighbor. #559. (1) Its utility as a means of personal sanctification. In order to sanctify ourselves we must make good use of our time, supernaturalize our acts, and follow a certain program of perfection. Now, a rule of life wisely made with the help of our spiritual director secures for us this threefold advantage. A) It enables us to make a better use of our time. Let us actually compare the life of a person that follows a rule with that of another that does not. a) He that lives without a rule inevitably wastes a great deal of time: 1) He hesitates as to what is the best thing to do. Time is spent in deliberation, in weighing the reasons for and against, and, as in many cases there are no decisive reasons on either side, he is liable to remain inactive; then, natural inclinations gain the upper hand and he runs the risk of being led by curiosity, pleasure or vanity.
2) He neglects a certain number of duties, for having neither foreseen nor determined the acceptable time and place for their fulfillment, he no longer finds time to perform them all. 3) These negligences engender inconstancy. At times he makes vigorous efforts to steady himself, while at other times he surrenders to his native indolence, and this, just because he has no fixed rule that would act as a corrective to the fickleness of his nature. #560. b) The man who holds to a well-defined rule of life saves considerable time: 1) He wastes no time in hesitation. He knows exactly what he is to do, and when he is to do it. Even if his schedule is not mathematically detailed, at least it sets off time-periods and lays down principles with regard to religious exercises, recreation, work, etc...
2) There is little or nothing unforeseen, for even should the unusual occur, he has already provided for it by determining beforehand exercises that may be shortened and the manner of making up for them. At all events, as soon as these exceptional circumstances cease to exist, he immediately comes back to his rule.
3) Inconstancy likewise vanishes. The rule urges him to do always what is prescribed, and that every day and at every hour of the day. Thus, habits are formed that, give continuity to his life and assure his perseverance; his days are full days, teeming with good works and merit. #561. B) A rule of life enables us to supernaturalize all our actions.
a) They are performed through obedience, and this virtue adds its own special merit to that which is proper to every virtuous act. It is in this sense that the saying obtains, that he who lives by rule lives unto God; since it means the constant fulfillment of His holy will. Faithfulness to a rule has, besides, a decided educative value. Instead of caprice and disorder
that run rampant in an ill ordered life, duty and strength of will prevail, and as a consequence, order and system. The will submits to God, and our inferior faculties yield their obedience to the will. This is a gradual return to the state of original justice. b) With a rule of life, it is easy to infuse supernatural motives into all our actions. The mere fact of conquering our tastes and whims puts order into our life and directs our actions towards God. Moreover, a good rule provides for a brief thought of God before every action of any importance, and for the forming of a supernatural intention. Thus each and every one of our actions is explicitly sanctified and becomes an act of love. What a great measure of merit can be thus gained each day! #562. C) A rule gives us a program of sanctification.
a) What we have described already constitutes such a program, and by following it, we march on to perfection; it is none other than the highway of conformity to the Divine Will so extolled by God's Saints (n. 493-498). b) Moreover, no rule of life is complete that does not single out the virtues best adapted to the individual penitent's condition in life and to his state of soul. Of course, this program will be subject now and then to change by reason of new needs that arise, but all this will be done in agreement with the spiritual director. #563. (2) A rule of life cannot but promote the sanctification of the neighbor. To sanctify others, we must join prayer to action, make good use of the time devoted to works of zeal, and give good example. This is exactly what is done by the man who is faithful to his rule. A) In his well-regulated life he finds the practical means of combining prayer with action. Convinced that the soul of zeal is an interior life, he takes care that his rule devotes a certain portion of time to prayer, Holy Mass, thanksgiving, and all other exercises indispensable as spiritual food to the soul (n. 523). This does not prevent him from devoting a good measure of his time to works of zeal. Having learned how to make a wise distribution of time (n. 560), he knows how to spare it whilst doing all things in an orderly and methodical manner. Fixed hours are devoted to the divers kinds of parochial work, like confessions and the administration of the Sacraments. The faithful, once they know these arrangements, readily abide by them, happy to know just when they may call on the priest in their various needs. #564. B) Furthermore, the faithful are edified by the example of punctuality and regularity which they observe in the priest. They cannot help thinking, and repeating that he is a man of duty, ever faithful to the rules laid down by ecclesiastical authorities. When they listen to him urge from the pulpit or in the confessional obedience to the laws of God and of the Church, they feel drawn more by the force of his example than by his words, and they become in turn more faithful in their observance of the Commandments. A priest that lives up to his rule sanctifies in this manner both himself and the neighbor. This is true also of those of the laity who devote themselves to works of zeal. I I. Qualities of a Rule of Life That a rule be productive of these happy results, it must be devised with the help of our spiritual director; it must be at once flexible and firm; it must grade one's duties according to their relative importance. #565. (1) It must be devised with the help of our spiritual director. Prudence and obedience require this: a) prudence, because to draw up a practical rule of life, great discretion and experience are needed in order to see not only what may be good in itself, but also what is good for this particular individual; what is advisable in his case, what is beyond his strength, what is timely and what is not, considering his circumstances. Few, indeed, are those that can unaided settle all these things wisely. b) Besides, one of the advantages of a rule of life is to give us occasions to practice the virtue of obedience. This would never be the case if we were its sole framers and did not submit it to a lawful authority.
#566. (2) The rule must be firm enough to sustain the will, yet elastic enough to be adaptable to the various circumstances arising in real life, which not infrequently foil our calculations. a) It will have the necessary, firmness if it embodies all that is needed to fix, at least in principle, the time and the manner of performing our spiritual exercises, of fulfilling our duties of state, and of practicing the virtues proper to our condition in life. #567. b) It will possess the required elasticity if, once these points have been determined, it leaves a certain freedom of action as to changes of time, substitution of practices not essential in themselves by their equivalents, and if it makes allowance even for the shortening of exercises at the demand of charity or of some other duty, the more so if the religious exercises be completed at some later time. This elasticity should especially apply, according to the wise remark of Saint John Eudes, 1, to forms of prayer and the manner of offering our actions to God: "I beg you to notice that the practice of all practices, the secret of secrets, the devotion of devotions, is not to attach oneself exclusively to any one particular practice or exercise of devotion. Take care, on the contrary, in all your exercises and all your actions to give yourself up to the Holy Spirit of Jesus with humility, confidence, and detachment from all things, so that, finding you detached from your own spirit and from your own devotion and dispositions He may have full power and liberty to act in you as He desires, to inspire you with such dispositions and sentiments of devotion as He shall judge well, and to lead you by the ways which are pleasing to Him. " n1. "The Reign of Jesus," p. 148. #568. (3) The rule must give each duty its own relative importance for there is a hierarchy in our duties: a) God must evidently hold the first place; then come the welfare of our soul and the sanctification of the neighbor. Assuredly there is no real conflict between these duties; on the contrary they will, if we desire it, blend most harmoniously; for to glorify God means simply to know and love Him. But to know and to love God is to sanctify oneself, and also to sanctify others by making them know and love Him. If, however, one should devote his entire time to works of zeal to the detriment of the great duty of prayer, he would evidently be neglecting the most efficacious means of zeal. It is likewise evident that should any one neglect his personal sanctification, he would very soon be lacking in genuine zeal for that of others. So, if we are careful first to give to God the portion of time that should be consecrated to Him and to reserve the necessary time for our essential spiritual exercises, the means of working out our own sanctification, then our works of zeal will most assuredly bear abundant fruit. Therefore, the first and the last moments of the day should be devoted to God and to our soul. Then we can safely give ourselves to works of zeal, stopping however from time to time to raise our mind and heart to God. Our whole life will thus be divided between prayer and works of zeal. b) However, in urgent circumstances we must be guided by another principle: that the more necessary comes first. A case in point would be that of an urgent sick call; a priest leaves all else to attend to this. Still, while on the way he should strive to occupy his mind with holy thoughts, which will take the place of whatever spiritual exercise was then to be performed. III. The Manner of Keeping a Rule of Life #569. That a rule be sanctifying, it must be observed entirely and in a Christian manner. (1) It must be observed in its entirety, that is to say, fully, in all its parts, and with punctuality. If we pick and choose among the various points of our rule, and this without reasonable cause, we shall carry out those that cost us less and omit those that are more difficult. We should thus lose the chief advantages to be derived from the exact observance of a rule, for even in the points we should observe we would be in danger of acting from caprice or self-will. The rule, then, must be kept in its totality and to the letter, as far as possible. If for some grave reason this cannot be done, we must abide by the spirit of the rule and do all, that is, morally speaking, within our power. #570. There are two faults to be avoided here: scrupulosity and laxity.
1) Let there be no scruples. As long as there is a serious reason to dispense with a given point of the rule, to postpone it or to substitute an equivalent for it, let it be done without misgivings. Thus an urgent duty, a sick-call for instance, is sufficient to dispense from the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, should no time be left for it; one may easily supply for it by communing with Our Eucharistic Lord on the way. The same may be said of a mother's care of her children; it dispenses her from her regular communion, when it is impossible to harmonize this with the other duty. Spiritual communion, in that case can take the place of sacramental communion. 2) Neither let there be laxity. A lack of mortification, the mere desire to prolong conversations without necessity, curiosity, etc., are not adequate reasons for deferring the performance of a given exercise, at the risk of omitting it altogether. Likewise, if the accomplishment of certain duties in the usual manner becomes impossible, we must strive to comply therewith in another way. Thus a priest who is obliged to take the Holy viaticum during his time of meditation, will try to turn the fulfillment of this duty into an affective prayer, by offering his homages to the God of the Eucharist Who rests upon his heart. #571. Punctuality is an integral part of the observance of a rule of life. Not to begin an exercise at the prescribed moment, and that without a reason, already constitutes an act of resistance to grace, which admits of no delays; it is to run the risk of omitting or at least shortening this exercise from lack of time. If it is question of some public exercise of the ministry, a delay often means considerable inconvenience to the faithful; on the part of a teacher lack of punctuality sets before the students a bad example which they are but too prone to follow. #572. (2) The rule must be observed in a Christian manner, that is to say, with supernatural motives, in order to do the Will of God, and thus give Him the most genuine proof of our love. This singleness of purpose is the soul of a rule; it gives to each of our actions its true worth, by transforming them all into acts of obedience and love. In order to practice this singleness of purpose, we must reflect a moment before acting, ask ourselves what our rule demands of us at the time, and then regulate our conduct thereby With the view of pleasing God: "I do always the things that please Him." Thus the keeping of a rule will enable us to live constantly for God: "He who lives by rule, lives unto God."