As the Sundays of Lent follow one another, we continue our reflection on the Christian perfection and the means to acquire it. We know now that perfection is the will of God for each man and that it is not enough to just keep the commandments of God in order to answer this call of our Father. Furthermore, the experience teaches us that many souls that content themselves of just trying to keep the commandments fall occasionally or regularly in mortal sin and hardly make progress in their spiritual life. And if they finally obtain eternal life, we can reasonably suppose that they will see God after a substantial time of purification in purgatory. The truth is that one has to be holy in order to see God. If you do not use the grace of God in this life to be perfect, then God will have to make you perfect without your own participation in purgatory, provided that you are in state of grace at the time of your death. Another truth is that the sufferings of this world are nothing in comparison to the pains of purgatory.
And there is also a difference between the pains suffered in this present life and the pains suffered in purgatory. In the first case, you can offer these pains in satisfaction for your sins and this satisfaction is meritorious. It is a gain for eternal life, an increase of your future glory and happiness. In purgatory your sufferings are no longer meritorious. The soul in purgatory accepts these sufferings because it understands that it is good, but they are more endured than offered. For that reason, we speak about satispassion.
God wants you to be perfect. Is it also want you want? Is your ambition is to become a Saint? How do you think the Saints became Saints? “I have always wanted to become a Saint” Saint Therese of Lisieux says. And that was her concern during her whole life. What about you? Do you want or not to be a Saint? If you do, then you can be a Saint. You can! Now you still have to change the simple desire into a firm resolution, as Saint Francis de Sales says. We are now in the field of practical realization of a program of life. Your desire of holiness has to be effective.
"I have always wanted to be a Saint!"
We have seen that a condition for the achievement of this goal is self-denial, which is the practical acceptance of the cross in our live. We have seen that it is also necessary, as it is a part of self denial, to practice the virtue of obedience, and for that to put ourselves under the guidance of a good man, which is the admonition of admonitions, as Saint Francis de Sales reminded us last week. It is even more necessary as we have a natural tendency to be individualist. I want to worship God and serve him in my way! Maybe you want, but are you sure that it is what God wants? We are very individualistic in our way of serving God and that is a serious obstacle in the process of our sanctification. Saint Ignatius of Loyola gives us rules that might help us overcome this obstacle. They are the rules that we should follow to acquire the true sentiment which we ought to have in the Church militant. I put these rules in the bulletins for many weeks. What use of them do you make? Do you even try to put them into practice? These rules are precious, as they help us to get rid of a selfish religious life centered more on ourselves rather than on Christ and His Church. They help us not only to follow the commandments but also to live with Christ and His Church by uniting our will to the will of Our Lord and to think and to feel with the Church – sentire cum Ecclesia. And this might be the difference between a Pharisee, who is a strict follower of the commandment, and a disciple in truth of spirit, who aspires not only to serve his Master but also to love and to please Him.
Cardinal Newman says that the Pharisee – in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican – looked upon himself with great complacency, for the very reason that the standard was so low, and the range so narrow, which he assigned to his duties towards God and man. He used, or misused, the traditions in which he had been brought up, to the purpose of persuading himself that perfection lay in merely answering the demands of society. He professed, indeed, to pay thanks to God, but he hardly apprehended the existence of any direct duties on his part toward his Maker. He thought he did all that God required, if he satisfied public opinion. To be religious, in the Pharisee’s sense, was to keep the peace towards others, to take his share in the burdens of the poor, to abstain from gross vice, and to set a good example. His alms and fastings were not done in penance, but because the world asked for them; penance would have implied the consciousness of sin. He thanked God he was a Pharisee, and not a penitent.
The danger of being a Pharisee is great. It is always a threat to the Christians. This is the usual and eternal temptation: self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, self-esteem! If there is a “self” that we should observe, it is self-denial, which gives us the true spirit of penance. It is good to remember this, especially now in this time of Lent. Self-denial supposes also self-knowledge, and that will be our subject for next Sunday. In order to deny myself, I have to know who I am. Now, I ought to be a penitent, because I am a sinner. Let the penitent always feel pain for his sin, Saint Augustine says, and always feel joy for his pain. Today, the Church invites us to joy. But what is the motive of my joy?
May Our Blessed Mother continue to lead us of the way of self-denial and of penance, so that we can find the true joy of penance, the true joy of the cross, the true joy of the truth and the true joy of life. This way is the One who once said: I am the way, and the truth, and the life!