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Human perfection comes in many different forms

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We cannot be perfect without giving wholly of ourselves
by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo


Photo Caption:
St. Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli (wikimedia.org)

The concept of perfection, as applied to Christian life, has its origin in the Sacred Scriptures. Christ admonished his disciples: “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

The first time I heard that I am to be perfect was when I was a new seminarian. Only about 12 years old at the time, I asked my prefect of religion to explain this to me because I felt I was an “imperfect saint.” I liked to eat too many cookies and pray only half the Rosary because its five mysteries were too long.

Only later, when I was in St. Thomas University in Rome, did I become more familiar with the notion of perfection. I learned that the term was used in antiquity even by the Barbarians, who thought of it as fortitude, as frequently evidenced in their legends.

The idea that human perfection consists in fortitude has reappeared in recent times. Indeed, some have explained Christian perfection as the supreme act of fortitude, which is martyrdom. Others believe that the essence of perfection consists in penance and mortification, as we read of the saints who gave up their lives after suffering horrifying cruelty and ignominy.

Some Greek philosophers explained perfection in terms of wisdom. Their error has been revived in modern theosophy, which makes perfection a consciousness of the divine presence in man and holds that the essence of Christian perfection consists in the contemplation that proceeds from the gift of wisdom.

In opposition to the explanations above, the majority of theologians insist upon charity as the formal element in true Christian perfection, following the doctrine of the Scriptures which teach that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him” (Jn 4:16). St. Paul confirms this saying that “Charity is the bond of perfection” (Gal 3:14), summarizing the teaching of Christ that the whole law depends on these two precepts of love: “thou shalt love the Lord they God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy strength, and with thy whole mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Lk 10:27).

While man can never exhaust God’s capacity to love for he is infinitely good, nor can the Christian always be actually loving God except in heaven, there are recognizable differences in the degree of perfection that depend upon the extent of man’s efforts to remove the obstacles to the love of God in this life. The first and lowest degree consists in the removal of all that is directly contrary – i.e. the avoidance of mortal sin.

A higher degree of perfection is achieved in the effort to remove whatever in man’s affections might hinder him from tending wholly to God. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The various degrees of charity are distinguished according to the different pursuits to which the increase of charity brings man. The first is to avoid sin and resist his concupiscence, which moves him in opposition to charity. In the second place, man’s chief pursuit is to aim at progress in good, and this is the principal aim, to strengthen charity. The third pursuit is to aim chiefly at union with God and enjoyment of Him: this belongs to the perfect who ‘desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ’” (Phil 1:13).

Even in this final degree of charity in this life, perfection is only relative, however, because, in a true sense, there is no limit to growth in the love of God in this life. The perfection of charity is not a matter of counsel, which the individual Christian is free to choose, but is commanded as the end to which all Christians must tend.

The precept to love God is without limitation. Now the love of God and neighbour is not commanded according to a measure, so that what is in excess of the measure is a matter of counsl. This is evident from the very form of the commandment ‘Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with thy whole heart; and thy neighbour as thyself’, since whole and perfect are synonymous.

Mystical or spiritual marriage is figuratively used to denote the state of a human soul living intimately united to God through grace and love. In a broad sense, mystical marriage is applicable to all unions of souls loved by God and drawn to him, as in the case of virgins solemnly consecrated, religious in vows, and all other souls espoused to Christ (2 Cor 11:2).

More properly, and in a more restricted sense, mystical marriage refers to what is recognized in mystical theology as a “transforming union between a soul and God, requiring extraordinary graces, and to which God calls only a few – e.g. St. John of the Cross who wrote Ascent of Mount Carmel, and Dark Night of the Soul; and St. Teresa of Avila, the author of Interior Castle.

Spiritual marriage constitutes a consummate union of love – a total possession, a fusion of “lives” made one with God, made divine by participation, without losing its identity.

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 May 2017 10:25  

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