Christian Perfection. – 8

The Moral Virtues.


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.

The Moral Virtues.

If, then, the essence of Christian Perfection consists wholly in the love of God and of our neighbour, what is to be said of the moral virtues, and in the first place, of the cardinal virtues, the origin and source whence all the other moral virtues spring, and which make the soul of him that possesses them so bright and beautiful? What is to be said of the Evangelical Counsels, which our dear Redeemer recommends so strongly in the Gospel? As for example:
• to renounce all worldly possessions;
• to lead a life of celibacy;
• to subject ourselves voluntarily to the will of another;
• to confer a kindness on a friend when the rules of Charity do not make it of obligation;
• to pray frequently, even when present necessities do not force us to pray;
• to bestow alms, not only out of our abundance, but also out of that which is suitable for our maintenance;
• to fast often, even when no precept of the Church enjoins the practice;
• to mortify our senses, even in regard to lawful objects;
• to chastise our body in various ways;
• and a thousand other things, which, though not under rigorous precept, are nevertheless demanded from us by God, being by their own nature better than their opposites, and very pleasing to Him.
Must not all these holy counsels, and exalted virtues have their share in carrying out the noble work of our perfection?
Beyond all doubt these virtues concur powerfully in the formation of perfection, not because they constitute its substance, but as the Angelic Doctor teaches, because they are the instruments by which perfection is elaborated. St. Thomas, moreover, will have it that in the words of Christ “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me” (Matt. xix. 21), the essence of Christian Perfection is declared to be found in the mere following of Christ, whereby we become united to Him through Charity; and he supports his opinion by the authority of St. Jerome and St. Ambrose, both of whom give this very interpretation of the words, “Follow me.” The renunciation of riches is mentioned only as an instrument of perfection; as a means, that is, for the acquirement of essential perfection, which consists in following Christ and in holy love for Him.
Cassian teaches the same, in clear and unmistakable terms. To deprive one’s self of property and to divest one’s self of all worldly goods, is not the pith and marrow of Christian perfection, but only a means for its attainment.
If a painter were to prepare brushes suitable for painting, and to procure brilliant colours, combining them skilfully, and mixing them with a master-hand, still no one could call him an accomplished artist, because these things are not that at which his profession aims, but are only means thereto. The end proposed in the art of painting is to produce representations true to life: other things are but the means which the artist makes use of for this purpose. So in the case before us. The end of the Christian life and, therefore, its formal perfection, is Charity, as we have already shown. To renounce all worldly possessions, to lead a life of virginity, to subject one’s self to the will of another, constitute Christian Perfection, and this too in an exalted degree, but only as instruments, which help to acquire Divine Charity.
Voluntary poverty leads us to perfection, not precisely because it deprives us of the fleeting and perishable things of this world, otherwise, as St. Jerome observes, the philosopher Crates would have been perfect, and many others who have despised these things (In Matt, iii. 19); but because poverty, in depriving us of riches, at the same time plucks from our heart all that attachment to them which is so great a hindrance to the acquisition of holy love.
Chastity, too, is perfection, but not precisely because it cuts off even such pleasures of sense as are lawful; else should we have to admit that those idolaters were perfect, of whom history tells us that they lived in entire estrangement from such enjoyments; but because, in depriving us of vile bodily pleasures; it disposes us to the pure affection of superhuman Charity.
Obedience, also, is a great perfection in the faithful, yet not precisely because it divests us of our self-will; for in that case soldiers and slaves would be perfect, since they submit their will to their officers and masters, and sometimes do so in matters that are hard and painful; but because by crushing the natural propensities of each of us to follow the lead of his own will, we are made prompt to submit ourselves to the will of God alone, and this submission is the quintessence of the love of God.


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.


September Devotion: The Holy Cross

Virtues to practice: Piety, fervor in the performance of sacred duties, the spirit of prayer

O Mary, most holy Virgin and Queen of Martyrs, accept the sincere homage of my filial affection. Into thy heart, pierced by so many swords, do thou welcome my poor soul. Receive it as the companion of thy sorrows at the foot of the Cross, on which Jesus died for the redemption of the world. With thee, O sorrowful Virgin, I will gladly suffer all the trials, contradictions, and infirmities which it shall please our Lord to send me. I offer them all to thee in memory of thy sorrows, so that every thought of my mind, and every beat of my heart may be an act of compassion and of love for thee. And do thou, sweet Mother, have pity on me, reconcile me to thy divine Son Jesus, keep me in His grace and assist me in my last agony, so that I may be able to meet thee in heaven and sing thy glories. Amen.

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