To Attain Perfection We Must Endure Our Imperfection

The feast of the Purification has no octave; it should continue our whole life.

We must have our mind settled on two points; one, to expect the growth of weeds in our garden; the other, to have courage to witness their removal, and to lend a hand ourselves. For self-love will not die as long as we live, and it is the origin of all those unwelcome productions. Man carries himself everywhere about with him, finds himself everywhere, and misery is attached to him as a shadow to the body.

According to the general opinion of good people, you should suspect all those desires which cannot be followed by their effects. Such are the desires of a certain Christian perfection which may be imagined, but cannot be practiced, and of which many can give lessons, but none a specimen.

Know that the virtue of patience is that which secures us the greatest perfection; and if we must have patience with others, we must also have it with ourselves. Those who aspire to the pure love of God, have more need of patience with themselves than with others.

To attain perfection, we must endure our imperfection. I say: we must suffer it with patience, not love or cherish it; humility is fortified in suffering.

We must acknowledge the truth: we are miserable creatures, who can scarcely do any good; but God, who is infinitely good, is content with our little works, and the preparation of our heart is agreeable to Him. (Psalm 9:38).

To travel well, we should apply ourselves to the present day’s journey, and not concern ourselves about the final one before we have finished the first. Remember this: we sometimes amuse ourselves so much about being good angels, that we hardly labor to become good men.

Our imperfection will accompany us to the grave. We cannot walk without touching the ground. It is not necessary to live or wallow there; neither is it necessary to think of flying; for we are so small, that we have not yet got wings. We die little by little; so we must also die to our imperfections day by day. O precious imperfections! Which show us our misery, exercise us in humility and self-contempt, in patience and diligence, and in spite of which, God has regard to the preparation of our heart, that it may be perfect!

You complain of the many imperfections and defects to be found in your life, contrary to your desire of perfection, and to the purity of the love of God. I answer that anything else is impossible here below. We must carry ourselves about with us until God carries us to Heaven; and so long as we carry ourselves, we shall have nothing to boast of.

O God, how great a blessing it is to know our weakness and our misery! This knowledge will serve us for the remainder of our days. “What does he know,” says the Holy Scripture, “who has not been tempted?” My God, how much I desire to be humbled and confounded!

Life joyful: Our Lord looks upon you, and looks upon you with love, and with tenderness in proportion to your weakness. Never permit your mind to willingly entertain thoughts to the contrary, and when they come, regard them not; turn your eyes away from their iniquity, and turn them towards God with a courageous humility, to speak to Him of His ineffable goodness, by which He loves our poor, abject, fallen nature, notwithstanding all its misery.

Our imperfections need not please us; we must say with the great Apostle: “Miserable man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But they need not astonish us, or take away our courage; we should rather draw submission, humility, and diffidence in ourselves from them, but not discouragement, nor affliction of heart, much less doubtfulness of the love of God towards us. Thus God does not love our imperfections nor venial sins, but He loves us much notwithstanding them. As the weakness and infirmity of an infant displease its mother, yet she does not cease to love it, but loves it tenderly and compassionately; so God, while He does not approve of our imperfections or venial sins, ceases not to love us tenderly; wherefore, David could say with reason to Our Lord: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak.”

We must have patience, and not expect to cure in one day the many bad habits that we have contracted, through the little care we have taken of our spiritual health. God has indeed cured some persons speedily, in an instant, without a vestige of their malady remaining, as in the case of Magdalen, who, in a moment, was changed from a sink of corruption into a fountain of perfection, and was never afterwards troubled.

But this same God left, for a considerable time after their conversion, in many of His dear disciples, marks of their former inclinations: and all for their greater good: witness the blessed St. Peter, who, after his vocation, was often surprised by imperfections, and once fell miserably.

Solomon makes mention of an animal as insolent as the servant who suddenly becomes mistress. There is great reason to fear that the soul which, for a long time, has served its passions and affections, would become proud and vain, if in a moment it were made perfect mistress of them. We must only acquire this ascendancy little by little, and step by step; it has engaged the saints for years and scores of years.

We must, if we please, have patience with everyone, and particularly with ourselves. Have a little patience, and you will see that all will go well; for the dear Saviour of our souls has not given us those inflamed desires of serving Him, without intending to provide some opportunity for doing so. He postpones the hour of the accomplishment of your holy desires only to make you find it happier; for the loving Heart of our Redeemer arranged and adjusts the events of this world to the greater good of those who unreservedly devote themselves to His love. It will come then, the happy hour you desire, the day which Providence has named in the secrets of its mercy; and then, with a thousand consolations, you will unfold your interior before the divine goodness, the rocks will be changed into water, the serpent into a rod, and all the thorns of your heart into roses, sweet scented roses, to recreate your mind with their delicious perfume. It is true that our faults, which, while in the heart, are thorns, on coming forth by a voluntary accusation, are converted into roses; and as our malice raises them in the soul, so the goodness of the Holy Spirit drives them out.

There is nothing without trouble in this world; we must, therefore, compose our will in such a manner as not to seek for our convenience, or if we do seek for it, to accommodate ourselves to those inconveniences which are inseparably attached to every convenience. We have not wine without lees. We must then examine whether it is better to have thorns in our garden, while we have roses there, than to have no roses, so as to have no thorns.

I pray our sweet Saviour to pour His holy unction over you, that you may repose tranquilly and securely on Him. O God! I recommend to Thee this poor heart of ours; comfort and strengthen it, that it may the better serve Thee; for such is the motive of our request. The heart is the lamb of holocaust which we must offer to God; it should always be in the best condition possible. It is the bed of the spouse; we should sprinkle it with flowers. Console then this poor heart, and give it an increase of joy and peace, that it may the better serve its Lord. Alas! What else have we to desire than this? Glory be to God! God or nothing; for all that is not God is nothing, or worse than nothing.

Let us always keep walking; though we advance slowly, yet we shall make much way. Your weakness, you say, impedes your progress, for it hinders you from entering into yourself, or approaching to God. This is certainly speaking ill. God leaves you thus for His glory and for your greater advantage. He wishes your misery to become the throne of His mercy, and your impotence to the the seat of His omnipotence. Where did God place the divine strength of Samson, unless in his hair, the very weakest part of him? Let no one blame her who would wish to serve God according to His holy pleasure, and not according to sensible consolations.

Beware of falling into any kind of distrust; for the celestial goodness does not permit you to meet with those falls in order to abandon you, but to humble you, and to make you hold more firmly by the hand of God’s mercy.

This article is taken from a chapter in Consoling Thoughts on Trials of An Interior Life by St. Francis de Sales which is available from TAN Books.



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