dimanche, mars 04, 2007

The Quest for Christian perfection ( II )

Sermon for the second Sunday of Lent

Last week, we began to consider what Christian perfection is. With the help of Saint Francis de Sales and Father Jerome, our guides during this Lenten season, we have, first, seen what Christian perfection is not. To refresh our memories, let us remind that Christian perfection does not consist of the absence of imperfections, passions and temptations. It does not consist of the science and the multitude of desires and exercises.

Let us add that it does not depend upon natural gifts. These are conducing to the acquisition of human value, according to the spirit of the world, as we saw with Father Jerome last Sunday. He said: “In a natural career, an intelligent man concentrates his faculties for one work – familial, social, artistic, scientific or intellectual – which he molds according to his will.” But we are now talking about something totally different.
On the level of the Divine grace, our natural gifts are nothing but a means by which we have to glorify God. They don’t make our value. They could even devaluate us if we don’t use them well. Even our natural love does not give us our true value in front of God. Some people have a natural predisposition to love, sweetness and tenderness, but this does not make them holy ipso facto. Let us consider two persons. One is loving and sweet by nature. The other is bitter and rough. Saint Francis de Sales explains that if they have an equal charity, “they certainly love God equally but not similarly. The heart with natural sweetness loves more easily, more kindly, more gently, but not more robustly nor more perfectly. On the other hand, the love which springs from a dry and harsh nature is more brave and more glorious as the other is more delicate and gracious.” Please, remember this when you have the temptation to make yourself the judge of the charity of your neighbor. Charity is not necessarily the expression of external and visible marks of affections. Thus, Christian perfection does not consist of an effusion of feelings, especially when they are tactless and irrelevant. I think it may be not useless to recall this.

So, what is Christian perfection? First, it consists of fighting every affection for sin. Understand well, brethren! We say affection for any sin, even those that you might falsely call the “little” sins. “Venial sins displease God and if we have an affection for a venial sin, it is nothing other than the resolution to want to displease the Divine Majesty” as Saint Francis de Sales says. Then, he explains that everyone has some bad natural inclinations.

Now I can already hear some objections: “But Father, it is impossible to be totally detached from all sins!” I have already heard this many times by persons who try to explain that it is impossible for almost everyone to gain a plenary indulgence. I remind you of the necessity to be detached from all sin in order to be able to gain a plenary indulgence. So, it would be impossible to gain a plenary indulgence because we could not be totally detached from all sins? If I had believed those persons, I would have come to think that the Church was a cruel Mother who presents to Her children beautiful gifts that finally they would, after all, never have because they are not worthy of them. I would have come to believe also that the word of Our Lord was in vain: “You must therefore be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” All the advice and counsels of the Saints, the Doctors and the masters of spiritual life who encourage us to be perfect would have also been in vain. And what about the Saints themselves? Are they not the living proof that perfection is really possible on earth?

The fact is, dear brethren, that we like to believe that perfection is not possible in our present condition, so that we have a good excuse for not being perfect. The fact is that we like to satisfy ourselves of our condition with a pseudo-humility and a sight of so-called wisdom which pushes us to recognize: “After all, we are like this and we cannot change!”

It is true that one cannot change if one does not want to change. He might believe in God and love Him a little bit, but not enough to remove from his life what is an obstacle toward perfection. He satisfies himself with his imperfections. Therefore his Christian life only consists of fulfilling his duties of religion, but the practice of the evangelical counsels is totally unfamiliar to him. Perfection is definitively not for him. Blessed is he if he can manage to save his soul, but he is in great danger of losing it, because of an excessive or disordered love for creatures.

Saint Francis de Sales says that Christian perfection consist of loving God, above everything as we say in our act of Charity. The love for creatures is good as long as it remains ordered toward the love of God. But as soon as you love a creature more than God, it becomes a disorder, namely a sin. “ When a heart loves God in consideration of His infinite goodness in all circumstances, he leaves everything in order to remain in His Grace and nothing can separate him from it; further, he will leave himself, because the pure love of God cannot accept any companion.” It does not mean that if you love God you don’t love creatures, but that you love them in an manner ordered to God, in the right way. In fact, the love of God makes us love creatures better. There is no opposition between the love of God and the love of creatures but subordination of one to the other.
Now we still have to consider what is a true and pure love of God. It will be, if God wills our meditation for next Sunday.
May Our Lady, who knows the price of this love, help us to obtain it and to practice it with our whole heart.

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