The knowledge of God in which eternal life consists, as Jesus has said, is not the kind of knowledge which stops at the enlightenment of our intellects, but knowledge which stirs up our wills to love the God whom we know, and which regulates our whole life so that it will be pleasing to Him. Consequently, when Jesus has brought us to the knowledge of the Father, He then teaches us what we must do to please Him: “Be you therefore perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In this brief formula, the divine Teacher reveals two great truths: God is the model of sanctity, because He alone is the fullness of perfection, free from every shadow of fault or failing; secondly, God’s will in our regard is that we also be perfect, which we shall be according to the degree in which we try to imitate God’s perfection.
Yet how can a mere creature imitate divine perfection? Jesus, our Life and our Teacher, makes it possible for us. The grace which Jesus merited for us and which He is continually giving us, together with the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, raises us from the human level to the supernatural, divine level; we are made sharers in the divine nature, the divine life. Faith also makes us sharers in God’s truth and in the knowledge which He has of Himself and of all things. Charity gives us a participation in the infinite love with which God loves Himself and His creatures.
However, we cannot see God’s perfection and holiness, because He “inhabiteth light inaccessible, whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). But Jesus reveals God to us: He manifests Him to us in Himself, His works, and His words.
Hence, Jesus is the perfect Teacher of holiness. He teaches us that God wants us to be holy, shows us God as the supreme, infinite ideal of holiness, and enables us to start out toward this sublime ideal.
O my divine Master, what a sublime ideal of perfection You set before my soul! With Your help, I shall go on in this way with the one desire of following Your teaching, of doing the will of God, and of pleasing our heavenly Father. If in comparing myself to the saints, I see so many defects, how shall I ever put my misery before the infinite perfection of God? But, O Jesus, there is no question about it, for Your words resound clearly in my mind: “Be you perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I can do nothing better, then, than to imitate St. Thérèse’s charming, audacious method. Instead of becoming discouraged, I shall say to You as she did, “O Lord, You would not inspire me with a desire which could not be realized; therefore, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to become great, so I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of reaching heaven by a little way—very short, very straight, and entirely new. We live in an age of inventions: there are now lifts which save us the trouble of climbing stairs. I will try to find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too small to climb the steep stairway of perfection…. O Jesus, Your arms, then, are the lift which must raise me even to heaven. To reach heaven I need not become great; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become even smaller than I am” (Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul, 9).
These are Your two arms, O Jesus: the Holy Spirit whom You have sent to me, and the grace which You have given me: sanctifying grace and actual grace, by which You continually sustain the steps of those who trust in You. I must admit that if I am often discouraged, finding the path of perfection too difficult and wearisome; if I give up at last, because I think that a certain effort or act of generosity is too much for me, it is simply because I forget to have recourse to You, to cast myself into Your arms and implore You to help me. O my loving Master, You who never abandon us, but are always ready to help us if we have recourse to You, teach me to fly to You for refuge continually, with full confidence, asking Your help in every difficulty.
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Art: Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator) a 6th century encaustic icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai; PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.