Degrees of Perfection.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
Degrees of Perfection.
In Christian perfection, whether essential or instrumental, the Holy Fathers distinguish three degrees, each of which degrees places the person that professes it in one of three different states.
St. Thomas attributes to Charity three stages of growth. The first he calls incipient Charity, the second growing Charity, and the third perfect Charity: whence it follows that the persons in whom Charity resides are divided into three classes: those who are beginners, those who are advancing, and those who are perfect. He founds his teaching on the words of St. Augustine, who speaking of Charity, says, “Charity is born expressly to attain perfection. After birth it is nourished; when nourished, it is strengthened; strengthened, it is made perfect” (Tr. 5, in I Epist. Joan).
The Charity, which, yet in its infancy is receiving nourishment, forms the state of beginners; the Charity, which is growing strong, is the state of those who are progressing; the Charity, which having been strengthened becomes perfect, constitutes the state of those who are already perfect.
What is here said of Charity applies equally to all other virtues; for each one has its own beginnings, its own increase, and a perfection proper to itself.
. . .
Indeed, the Angelic Doctor, after he has applied the distinction of grades and states just mentioned to the theological virtue of Charity, extends it to the whole of the Spiritual life, and to every faculty of man’s soul. In every power of man there is, he says, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Hence there is every reason why these three stages must be found in the Spiritual life: a beginning to which belongs the state of beginners; an intermediate state, which is that of those making an advance; and an end, which corresponds to the state of the perfect.
Every person who is struggling to attain perfection must travel by one of three roads; if he be a beginner in the Spiritual life, he is in the purgative, or as it is sometimes called the negative way; if he has made some progress, he is in the illuminative way; and if he be perfect, he is in the unitive way.
The state of beginners thus belongs to such as are indeed in a state of grace, but whose passions are still in full strength. Such persons have need to wage perpetual war in order to uphold Charity, which totters under the repeated assaults of their unsubdued appetites. These have no facility in the exercise of the virtues, but on the contrary, practise them with great repugnance. These persons are in the purgative way, being wholly employed in purifying the soul from the sins which it has committed, in correcting the evil habits which have been formed during the past life, and in curbing the violence of their passions which are yet rebellious and violent.
The state of proficients is that of such as have partially succeeded in subduing the revolt of their passions, and who in consequence have no difficulty in keeping themselves free from mortal sin; who persevere with courage in the practice of the moral and Theological virtues, but who cannot with the same ease, avoid falling into venial sins, because their affections and appetites are not yet thoroughly under control nor sufficiently repressed. The illuminative way answers to this state which, full of light, enables all efforts to be directed to the uprooting of the passions, and to the practice of real and solid virtue.
The state of the perfect belongs to those who have gained a complete victory over their passions; who refrain with ease from every sin both mortal and venial; and who have a readiness in performing acts of all the virtues, especially of the love of God. The Unitive way corresponds to this state, in which the soul, being settled in a calm and peaceful security, unites itself without difficulty to God with the bond of Divine love.
The Angelic Doctor illustrates this spiritual progress by a comparison with the growth of the human body. Man is born an infant, and at that imperfect age has not the use of his reason, nor even of his limbs, which he knows not how to employ ; so that he is very properly confined in swathing bands.
The child, advancing in years, gradually acquires the use of his reason, and the command of his limbs and senses; still, in this stage of growth, something more is wanting to the perfect use of limbs, senses, and reason.
At length he arrives at manhood with all his limbs fully formed, and all the powers of his mind developed; and now he is able to perform every act proper to man with full perfection. This development, the Saint observes, which we see taking place slowly in the body, takes place imperceptibly also in the soul (Scaramelli, Vol. I, Section I, Article i, Chapter III).
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
August Devotion: The Most Pure Heart of Mary
Virtues to practice: The sanctification of our actions, diligence, edification, fidelity in little things
O Heart of Mary, Mother of God, and our Mother; Heart most worthy of love, in which the adorable Trinity is ever well pleased, worthy of the veneration and love of all the angels and of all men; Heart most like to the Heart of Jesus, of which thou art the perfect image; Heart full of goodness, ever compassionate toward our miseries; deign to melt our icy hearts and grant that they may be wholly changed into the likeness of the Heart of Jesus, our divine Saviour. Pour into them the love of thy virtues, and kindle in them that divine fire with which thou thyself dost ever burn. In thee let Holy Church find a safe shelter; protect her and be her dearest refuge, her tower of strength, impregnable against every assault of her enemies. Be thou the way which leads to Jesus, and the channel, through which we receive all graces needful for our salvation. Be our refuge in time of trouble, our solace in the midst of trial, our strength against temptation, our haven in persecution, our present help in every danger, and especially at the hour of death, when all hell shall let loose against us its legions to snatch away our souls, at that dread moment, that hour so full of fear, whereon our eternity depends. Ah, then most tender virgin, make us to feel the sweetness of thy motherly heart, and the might of thy intercession with Jesus, and open to us a safe refuge in that very fountain of mercy whence we may come to praise Him with thee in paradise, world without end. Amen.
An indulgence of 7 years once on any day of the month; A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, if this act of devotion is repeated daily for entire month (Apostolic Brief Dec. 21, 1901)
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