THE DESIRE OF PERFECTION
An ardent desire of perfection is the first means we should adopt if we wish to acquire sanctity and to belong wholly to God. To hit a bird in flight, the sportsman must take aim in advance of his prey, so, too, a Christian, to make progress in virtue, should aspire to the highest degree of holiness which it is in his power to attain. Who will give me wings like a dove, says David, and I will fly and be at rest? (Ps. liv. 7). Who will give me the wings of the dove to fly to my God, and, divested of all earthly affections, to repose in the bosom of the Divinity? Holy desires are the blessed wings with which the Saints, bursting every worldly tie, flew to the mountain of perfection, where they found that peace which the world cannot give.
But how do fervent desires make the soul fly to God? “They,” says St. Laurence Justinian, “supply strength, and render pains light.” On the one hand, good desires give strength and courage, and on the other they diminish the labour and fatigue there is in ascending the mountain of God. Whosoever, through diffidence of attaining sanctity, does not ardently desire to become a saint, will never arrive at perfection. A man who is desirous of obtaining a valuable treasure which he knows is to be found at the top of a lofty mountain, but who, through fear of fatigue and difficulty, has no desire of ascending, will never, of course, advance a single step towards the wished-for object, but will remain below in careless indifference and inactivity.
He that does not desire, and does not strenuously endeavour, always to advance in holiness, will go backward in the path of virtue, and be exposed to great danger of eternal misery. The path of the just, says Solomon, as the shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even to perfect day. The way of the wicked is darksome: they know not where they fall (Prov. iv. 18). As light increases constantly from sunrise to full day, so the path of the Saints always advances; but the way of sinners becomes continually more dark and gloomy, till they know not where they go, and at length walk over a precipice. “Not to advance,” says St. Augustine, “is to go back.” St. Gregory beautifully explains this maxim of the spiritual life by comparing a Christian who seeks to remain stationary in the path of virtue to a man who is in a boat on a rapid river, and striving to keep the boat always in the same position. If the boat be not continually propelled against the current, it will be carried away in an opposite direction, and consequently, without continual exertion, its position cannot be maintained. Since the fall of Adam man is naturally inclined to evil from his birth. For the imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from his youth (Gen. viii. 21). If he do not push forward, if he do not endeavour, by incessant efforts, to increase in sanctity, the very current of his passions will carry him back. “Since you do not wish to proceed,” says St. Bernard, addressing a tepid soul, “you must recede.” “By no means,” she replied; “I wish to live, and to remain in my present state. I will not consent to be worse; and I do not wish to be better.” “Then,” rejoins the Saint, “you wish to do the impossible.” Because, in the way of God, a Christian must either go forward and advance in virtue, or go backward into vice.
In seeking eternal salvation, we must, according to St. Paul, never rest, but run continually in the way of perfection, that we may win the prize, and secure an incorruptible crown. So run that you may obtain (1 Cor. ix. 24). If we fail, the fault will be ours; for God wills that all should be holy and perfect. This is the will of God — your sanctification (1 Thess. iv. 3). He even commands us to be perfect and holy. Be you therefore perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. v. 48). Be holy because I am holy (Lev. xi. 44). He promises and gives abundant strength, as the holy Council of Trent teaches, for the observance of all His commands, to those who ask it from Him. “God does not command impossibilities; but by His precepts he admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask what you cannot do; and He assists you, that you may be able to do it.” God does not command impossibilities; but by His precepts He admonishes us to do what we can by the aid of His ordinary grace; and when greater helps are necessary, He exhorts us to ask for them by humble prayer. He will infallibly answer our petitions, and enable us to observe all, even the most difficult, of His commandments. Take courage, then, and adopt the advice of the Venerable Father Torres to one of his penitents: “Let us, my child, put on the wings of strong desires, that quitting the earth, we may fly to our Spouse and our Beloved, Who expects us in the blessed kingdom of eternity.”
St. Augustine teaches that the life of a Christian is made up of holy desires. He, then, that cherishes not in his heart the desire of sanctity, may be a Christian, but he will not be a good one.