Impediments to Spiritual Progress – Counsels of Perfection


by Marie Spartali Stillman 1885

From Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers

My daughters, I seek an answer to a most important question: Why do we not advance? The subject is too broad to be treated in one chapter, so we shall divide it.

Here is the first answer: We do not advance because we are ignorant of the things we ought to know. We do not advance because our intelligence is not sufficiently enlightened, that is, we do not possess, in an adequate degree, the science of the things of God.

Are you fully aware of the importance of light in the spiritual life? If you ask me what relation there is between clear knowledge and progress in the matter of spirituality, I will tell one simple sentence: Knowledge always precedes love. Suppose, for example, that you have before you the most beautiful picture in the world; if you close your eyes so as not to see it, or if, on account of some distraction, you see it obscurely, will you love it? Never! It would be impossible for you to love it under these conditions.

Again, if after partly opening your eyes you close them again, or direct them towards some other object, will you love this picture? Perhaps, but how superficially! You have not sufficiently regarded the object before you; you are not well enough acquainted with it to admire it, to say nothing of loving it.

Let us apply this principle to our subject. However admirable and worthy of love God may be in Himself, and whatever admiration and love the things of God may merit, you will love God, and the things of God, only when you know Him and then in the measure in which you ought to know them.

Here I must anticipate a false interpretation of my words. From what has been said pray do not conclude, that spiritual progress is intended only for the learned, and that in order to strive for perfection, it is necessary to possess a mighty intellect and profound learning.

There are two kinds of knowledge. The one resides in the mind and consists in merely knowing one’s religion. This sort of knowledge is worth little or nothing. If it does not stimulate the heart and direct the conduct, it will be a source of condemnation.

The second kind of knowledge is that which is acquired by meditation, that is to say, by fixing the mind on the things of God and contemplating them seriously and profoundly; but above all, it consists in loving them. Now the poorest servant who knows neither how to read or to write is as capable of acquiring this knowledge as the most learned doctor.

Certain geniuses like St. Bonaventure, or St. Thomas, have possessed this knowledge in all its fullness, but a poor menial in their convent could have attained it as well as these princes of the Church. For example, it is related that a poor servant to whom St. Bonaventure had expounded the truth that I have just set forth, ran to every one whom he met, crying out in his excess of love: “Do you know that I can love God just as much as our great theologian, Brother Bonaventure?”

This humble servant loved God as much as the great Bonaventure, because he had acquired that knowledge of God which is founded on prayer and meditation.

My daughters, we are all capable of acquiring this knowledge, regardless of our degree of intellectual culture; and if your progress in the spiritual life has been slow or insignificant, it is due to the fact that you have not sufficiently known God nor the things of God.

Let us now consider the principal points of this knowledge. Do you reflect profoundly on your dependence upon that God who has given you life, who conserves it, and in whose hands you rest like a crystal globe which would break into a thousand pieces were that hand withdrawn?

How important it is for you to know your true situation relative to God, you must remember that he has every right over you, and that in relation to Him you have only duties!

How necessary it is for you to be convinced that His presence envelops you on all sides, that His eye follows you everywhere, and that nothing of your inmost life, thoughts, desires or affections, can ever escape that infinitely penetrating eye!

My daughters, do you consider well what your lives would be, what a great change they would undergo, if these fundamental truths were profoundly engraved on your minds? Do you not know that they would direct your conduct, and hold you unceasingly in your place relative to God?

Are you well acquainted with Jesus Christ? Do you meditate on His mysteries? Do you study that Heart which inspired all His actions? Are you convinced that the Incarnation, the Redemption and the Holy Eucharist are proofs of His love?

Do you center your thoughts especially on the Eucharist? Does It arouse an immense gratitude in you? Oh, if we had a profound knowledge of what the Eucharist really is, we should be astonished that the entire universe does not bow down in adoration before the tabernacle.

But alas! is not Jesus in the Sacred Host a stranger to many among you, my daughters? Is not the manner in which you treat Him after Communion a sad fulfillment of the words of St. John: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not”?

Permit me to acquaint you with a very important subject for meditation. I refer to the supernatural life, the life of grace that is within you. The angels contemplate with ecstasy the marvelous operations of grace in your souls. They are astonished at the goodness of that God who gives to His creatures the treasure of all treasures, divine life. And do you ever give it a thought?

Seldom if ever do you reflect on the fact that grace has deified you, and yet more seldom do you center your eyes on those marvels of grace which are continually taking place in your souls.

How astonishing it is that you take so little pains to augment divine grace in your souls? How strange it is that you do not use all the prudence necessary to guard and protect this treasure.

My daughters, let us now make a serious examination of conscience, and be convinced that if we have not advanced in the spiritual life, it is owing to the fact that our knowledge of God and divine things has been very insufficient.

Let us promise our Lord that we shall strive to acquire this knowledge by serious meditation on all the great truths which have just been expounded. Let us strive to know God better, so that we may love Him more ardently.

Be sure to treat all alike. Nothing is so disrupting to home life as favoritism for one or the other child. The same measure for all! – Christ in the Home, 1950’s, Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J

Thank you so much for the prayers for my mom. She is still having a rough time so please keep her in your prayers! She loves to sit outside among her flowers and listen to the birds sing and feel the warm sunshine!

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