THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING PERFECTION
The first means is Mental Prayer, and particularly Meditation on the claims God has on our love, and on His love for us, especially in the great work of our Redemption. To redeem us, God even sacrificed His life in a sea of sorrows and contempt; and to obtain our love, He has gone so far as to make Himself our food. To inflame the soul with the fire of Divine love, these truths must be frequently meditated upon. In my meditation, says David, a fire shall flame out (Ps. xxxviii. 4). When I contemplate the goodness of my God, the flames of charity fill my whole heart. St. Aloysius used to say, that to attain eminent sanctity a high degree of mental prayer is necessary.
We should frequently renew our resolution of advancing in Divine love. In this renewal we shall be greatly assisted by considering each day, that it is only now you begin to walk in the path of virtue. This was the practice of holy David: And I said: Now have I begun (Ps. lxxvi. 11). And this was the dying advice of St. Anthony to his monks: “My dear children, consider that each day is the day you begin to serve God.”
We should search out continually and scrupulously the defects of the soul. “Brethren,” says St. Augustine, examine yourselves with rigour; be always dissatisfied with what you are, if you desire to become what you are not yet. To arrive at that perfection which you have not attained, you must never be satisfied with the virtue you possess; “for,” continues the Saint, “where you say you are pleased with yourself, there you remain.” Wherever you are content with the degree of sanctity to which you have arrived, there you will stop, and, taking complacency in yourself, you will lose the desire of further perfection. Hence the holy Doctor adds, what should terrify every tepid soul, who, content with her present state, has but little desire of spiritual advancement: “But if you say: It is enough, you are lost!” If you say you have already attained sufficient perfection, you are lost; for not to advance in the way of God is to go back. And, as Saint Bernard says, “not to wish to go forward, is certainly to fail.” Hence St. John Chrysostom exhorts us to think continually on the virtues we do not possess, and never to reflect on the little good we have done; for the thought of our good works “generates indolence and inspires arrogance,” and serves only to engender sloth in the way of the Lord, and to swell the heart with vain-glory, which exposes the soul to the danger of losing the virtues she has acquired. “He who runs,” continues the Saint, “does not count the distance he has gone, but the distance he has still to go.” He that aspires after perfection does not stop to calculate the proficiency he has made, but directs all his attention to the virtue he has still to acquire. Fervent Christians, as they that dig for a treasure (Job, iii. 21), advance in virtue as they approach the end of life. Saint Gregory says in his commentary on this passage of Job, that the man who digs for a treasure, the deeper he has dug the more he exerts himself in the hope of finding it; so the soul that seeks after holiness multiplies its efforts to attain it in proportion to the advance it has made.
The fourth means is that which St. Bernard employed to excite his fervour. “He had,” says Surius, “this always in his heart, and frequently in his mouth: Bernarde, ad quid venisti?” — Bernard, to what purpose hast thou come hither? Those especially who have consecrated themselves to God should continually ask themselves the same question: Have I not left the world and all its riches and pleasures, to live in the cloister, and to become a saint, and what progress do I make? Do I advance in sanctity? Am I not, by my tepidity, exposing myself to the danger of eternal perdition? It will be useful to introduce, in this place, the example of the Venerable Sister Hyacinth Mariscotti, who at first led a very tepid life, in the convent of St. Bernardine in Viterbo. She confessed to Father Bianchetti, a Franciscan, who came to the convent as extraordinary confessor. That holy man thus addressed her: “Are you a nun? Are you not aware that Paradise is not for vain and proud Religious?” “Then,” she replied, “have I left the world to cast myself into hell?” “Yes,” rejoined the Father, “that is the place which is destined for Religious who live like seculars.” Reflecting on these words of the holy man, Sister Hyacinth was struck with remorse; and, bewailing her past life, she made her Confession with tearful eyes, and began from that moment to walk resolutely in the way of perfection. Oh how salutary is the thought of having abandoned the world to become a saint! It awakens the tepid soul, and encourages us all to advance continually in holiness, and to surmount every obstacle to our ascent up to the mountain of God.