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Climbing the Mountain of Christian Perfection

February 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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An Introduction to the Devout Life (Week 12 of 14)

But as you gaze upon the steep mountain of Christian perfection: “Alas!” you exclaim, “how shall I ever ascend it?” Be of good cheer; when the young bees begin to take their form they are called nymphs, and are unable to fly to the neighboring flowers or hills and valleys in search of honey, but by degrees, being fed with the honey provided for them, these little nymphs acquire wings and grow strong enough to fly everywhere in quest of honey. We are as yet but nymphs in devotion, and cannot mount up as we would, for we would fain attain to the summit of Christian perfection; but we are gradually being formed by our desires and resolutions. Our wings are beginning to grow, and so one day we may hope to be perfected and mount upwards. Meanwhile, let us feed upon the honey of those pious instructions left to us by holy men of old, and let us beseech God to give us the wings of the dove, so that we may not only fly in this present life, but also find our rest in the eternity of that which is to come. – An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter II, Paragraph III

Climbing the Mountain of Christian Perfection

Oh, Lord, how I do gaze upon that mountain every day of my life!!!! So often I gaze up from my knees, almost despairingly, reliving every word that should have remained unspoken, every untoward glance that I can not take back, every action that I cannot rewind…and that mountain feels virtually insurmountable as I wallow in my own weakness.

But in his wisdom – at the moment when I cry out, “How shall I Ever Ascend it?” – St. Francis de Sales chooses this very moment to say, “Be of good cheer...” No words from of old could be sweeter than the honey which he pours onto my bitter tongue!

So often I approach this mountain with the weight of my humanity tied around my ankles, dragging me down as I struggle to climb. But in this moment, as I gaze up toward the summit, the weight of my own making has been lessened, as my friend and counselor, St. Francis de Sales, has offered me Hope. The only antidote to despair. And that hope will keep me going yet another day.

As long as we live in the desert of our own weakness, we can return to the fountain of wisdom offered by those who have gone before us. THIS is the beauty of the Communion of Saints. In His Divine Mercy, God has not left us alone, but has given us guides to help us along the way. Guides who have run the race, so to speak.  Not only did they have physical obstacles to overcome, but even more importantly, they had to overcome their SELVES.  Not one of them claims that the task was easy.  But they do provide evidence that, with Christ, reaching the summit is possible.

It can be unbelievably motivating to think of saints who overcame obstacles like ours – or worse! Saint Augustine, who was known for living a less than stellar life, gambling, drinking and loose living. Or Saint Teresa of Avila, who struggled with materialism and worldly attachments long after choosing a consecrated life. Or Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized this April. Reading his autobiography, The Journal of a Soul, one can almost enter into the intimate dialogue of the struggles he encountered in his interior life. His difficulties paying attention during prayer, particularly while praying the rosary, are difficulties with which I can identify and which have revived my own prayer life, because I now realize that perseverance is key.

When we read about the saints we are not simply reading interesting stories about people who have gone before us. Yes, there are those; but the saints are our brothers and sisters who love us, who want only our good, and are rooting for us as we carry on. They are the great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on through our battles, encouraging us to keep going. They are standing alongside the road of this marathon we call life, offering us food and drink along the way – and as long as we accept the “honey” they offer us, drinking from the fountain of wisdom they hold out for us, we will persevere:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – Hebrews 12:1

And those witnesses who have completed the race? They used this same advice. They also sought wisdom, courage, and strength from those who went before them. Spiritual reading has made many saints. Saint Augustine, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, St. John Neumann, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint John XXIII – not to mention countless others – each steeped themselves daily in Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and/or the lives and wisdom of the saints to gain nourishment for their journey.

Saint Augustine once said, There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.  His words feed directly into the advice from Saint Francis de Sales – Be of good cheer!  In other words, DON'T QUIT!  I know I keep mentioning Pope John XXIII; but his story just resonates with me because he seemed such a “normal” soul, who was transformed through his great desire and God's grace over 62 years. His transformation didn't take place overnight.  He was often disappointed with his own efforts and his progress, but he kept on trying, and his perseverance paid off.

Robert Louis Stevenson is credited with the quote, “Saints are sinners who keep on trying.”  If that's true, then all the more reason for us to look to those who have reached the pinnacle of the mountain after having struggled where we struggle, fallen where we fall and sought, like us, a hand-up from brothers and sisters who had gone before them.

The mountain may be steep, but we needn't travel it alone.

 

Reading Assignment:

Part 4: Chapter 12-15

Discussion Questions:

1. As a convert, it took me a while to recognize that the saints really were my brothers and sisters in Christ – have the saints ever been an obstacle or an area that you didn't explore?  If so, what helped you to open your mind and heart to allow them into your life?

2. Are there particular saints who have helped you along your way or to whom you go for comfort or guidance?  Are there any inspirational stories you'd like to share with us?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

 

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • MarcAlcan

    But they do provide evidence that, with Christ, reaching the summit is possible.
    I would say not just possible, but a necessity. Because this is what we were created for – to be saints in complete union with God. And we thank the Lord for giving us guides in our walk towards eternity.
    And I don’t think we need to see this as some kind of heavy task that must be done. Christ said his yoke is easy and I do believe that the more we become conformed to Christ, the easier it becomes, in the sense that we learn that the hard task can be accomplished in joy through His grace.

    • LizEst

      Spot on, MarcAlcan! God bless you!

  • Suzi dutro

    Thanks Vicki. I too am a convert and after I had been received into The Catholic Church, I was on my own. People talked about saints and I thought they were just stories of great people more like great figures in history. Once I started reading and reading and reading it opened up a new world for me, God was very patient with me and slowly revealed these treasures which I now rely upon, they are the crutch which hold me up and help me go forward on this rocky road. Blessings to you.

    • Camila

      Hi tapinu33,

      Your witness is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
      What books did you find most helpful?

      • Suzi dutro

        Thanks Camila. Over the years of reading and self searching I now have a top ten go to book list The very 1st book that stArted the journey was the hidden power of kindness by Lovasik then I went onto others. I remember reading St John of the cross and put it down as I didn’t understand it at all now it is in my top ten lol. Here is
        my list in no particular order of preference
        He leadeth me. Walter Ciszek
        Prayer primer. Dubay
        Fulfillment of all desire Ralph Martin
        The practice of the Presence of God Br Lawrence
        Interior castle. Teresa of Avila
        Dark night of the soul J of the Cross
        Interior freedom Jacques Philippe
        The gift of oneself Fr Joseph Schryvers
        Abandonment to divine providence causade
        More recently I have added
        Navigating the interior life by our very own Dan Burke and of course Dr Lilles hidden mountain secret garden
        I daily read Divine Intimacy. I would love to hear anyone elses list of books that have had a profound impact on their spiritual life. I have to say He Leadeth me by Walter Ciszek made me cry and made me realize how to follow Gods Will. Blessings to you Camilla x

  • Suzi dutro

    I love this book club!! Thank you

  • Jeanette

    Re: “…the saints are our brothers and sisters who love us, who want only our good, and are rooting for us as we carry on.”

    Vicki, I can so relate to these words. I have said them myself as I have been led by the Holy Spirit to believe this so strongly…that the saints in Heaven love us, pray for us and are rooting for us! Imagine St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Padre Pio etc. all praying for us! It is such a comfort to have such a ‘rooting section’ to help us along our journey to Heaven. God bless you!

  • LizEst

    Yes, the saints are helping us to heaven. Many people, and religious even, have the custom of drawing names of saints to ask for their intercession throughout the year. Now, we don’t even have to go through all that. There is a website where you can go to get a randomly assigned saint for the year.

    Go to the saint’s name generator here and follow the instructions: http://jenniferfulwiler.com/saints/

    And, no fair doing it over and over until you get the saint you want…that wouldn’t be accepting the will of God for you. Yes, I’ve done this. In fact, this is my second year doing this. God bless you…and enjoy the relationship with your new saint for the year!

    • Camila

      Thanks! I did it and it was great!!! Funny, my twin boys have been asking to become altar servants and I keep putting it off…. But I think the saint God chose for me is His way to nudge me…. “Get those boys to altar serving!” It was Saint Berchmans, patron saint of altar servers!!!

      • LizEst

        Wow! Come Holy Spirit! Thanks for sharing. Saint Berchmans was also a favorite of Blessed John XXIII.

        When I did this last year, I got St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who, besides all the great and famous things he is known for, was also an editor and writer!!! Need I say more?!!

    • Jeanette

      I went to that link and got Saint Agostina Petrantoni, whom I had never heard of but I know about her now. A Sister with the Sisters of Charity whose mission was to nurse the critically ill and contagious. She worked in a TB ward where a patient stabbed her to death during a rape attempt. She died praying that he be forgiven. Wow!

      • Camila

        Jeannette, that’s a beautiful saint! Clearly, St. Agostina understood just how precious the treasure of her purity is. This crystal clear purity is something we need very much nowadays. So precious she was willing to die to keep it unspoiled!! Oh Jeanette, she’s beautiful!

        • Jeanette

          Not only that, St. Agostina contracted typhus, malaria and TB in the process of working with the critically ill and contagious. Talk about giving up your life for others!

          • Camila

            What a generous soul. I want to be like her, Jeanette.

          • Jeanette

            Me too!

          • Camila

            May our Lady teach you and form you to become a most welcoming home for the Holy Spirit! Amen.

      • LizEst

        I’ve never heard of her except for now, through you. I’m also struck by the combination of saints that form her name: Augustine, Peter and Anthony. Very impressive! Thanks for teaching us about her.

        • Celeste Lovett

          Hi Liz,

          I also got her as mentioned to you in a previous post when you inquired about who was chosen for me. Here is what I found out on the Holy See site.

          http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19990418_pietrantoni_en.html

          Thanks for the “generator”. I’ve decided to be assigned a new saint every Sunday night for intercession for the week.

          • LizEst

            Yes, I see that you share one with Jeanette. How wonderful to have that in common! Why don’t you keep St. Agostina for the year and also do your special intercession for each week? The purpose of the exercise is to have one saint for the whole year. Just as any friendship, sometimes it takes a while to develop a friendship with a saint. For example, I asked for my saint’s intercession for about six months (last year) before I saw evidence of his powerful intercession in my life. If I had switched to someone else, I doubt I would have come to know him in this special way.

            …just something to think about. God bless you, Celeste…and Happy Lord’s Day!

          • Celeste Lovett

            That’s a great idea to consider. Thanks, Liz (my daughter is Elizabeth Anne and goes by Liz now)

          • LizEst

            I like her already! May God bless both of you abundantly!

      • Celeste Lovett

        Hello Jeanette,

        I got her also. Here is more about her on the Holy See site. http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19990418_pietrantoni_en.html

        God Bless you!

        • Jeanette

          Thank you Celeste for this link re Saint Agostina! We now have a few things in common…We love God, St. Agostina and RCSD! I’m even more impressed with her holiness and her willingness to suffer for others. She is a great inspiration to me in her great love for God. I ask for her intercession every day that she will obtain for me the grace to glorify God in my life (as she did). God bless you!

    • Vicki

      Liz, I did this today – not quite seeing the connection, as some of you did – but I learned about a beautiful saint, nonetheless. St. Margaret of Cortona. Patron of falsely accused, hoboes, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren, tramps. Lovely story of a women who offered 29 years of penance for her past life.

      I take that back – I just realized why this woman is my special saint – and believe it or not, it’s related to a special project, on which I planned to spend one year, having just begun at the end of January! – Thanks so much for the link!

      • LizEst

        You’re welcome. To God be the glory! Is this something you can share with us after the year is up?

        ps. I just read that her body is incorrupt…and this, after having lived with her lover, with whom she had a child, for nine years!: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09653b.htm

        • Vicki

          I certainly hope so – please pray for my diligence and God’s grace:).

          • LizEst

            Certainly! God bless you.

        • Camila

          Liz, For two days I have been thinking about your comment “I just read that her body is incorrupt…and this, after having lived with her lover, with whom she had a child, for nine years!”

          I kept pondering on this because you bring up such a good point. Yesterday I read the story The Pardon of the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50). The part that struck a deep chord in my heart was “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

          This is such mystery! Of course God doesn’t want us to sin, yet those whose sins are great and have been greatly forgiven are the ones that can love greatly, for they taste the very depths of Love and Mercy.

          Oh Liz, this is so beautiful. There is much freedom in recalling our sins and standing at the foot of the cross, vulnerable to God’s merciful love. So deeply satisfying is to wash our Lord’s feet with our tears, like the humble and sinful woman. These tears that are an admixture of sorrow over our sins brimming with love and profound gratitude.

          • LizEst

            It is, in fact, very beautiful. There are quite a number of incorruptibles; but, I had never come across one that was not a virgin. God bless you, Camila!

    • Patti Knudsen

      Liz, I am definitely going to do this today. It seems like a perfect answer to my quest for a “saint” to help me. I have developed a real love for Saints over the last few years….due mostly to the wonderful stuff I’ve read on this website, the book club and its members, and a couple of other really good web sites. My personal journey actually began a number of years ago when I attended my first Spiritual Exercises and of course, I became an instant lover of St. Ignatius. From there I began to read a daily “Saint of the Day” and have really come to understand so much about how they truly can inspire us to greater things. Next thing was I wanted to change my confirmation saint so that I could say that I picked one who was really special to me. After reading about many saints I have come to love some of them, male and female. I even talked to a priest about it. Like most kids at age 14, I would say I really didn’t know much about the saints…or care, for that matter. I picked St. Veronica because I liked her name. Then I thought if I change I might offend her, because who knows??? She might have been watching out for me all my life, and I just don’t know it. So NOW instead of thinking about changing my confirmation name, I’ll just go on this website, see what name I get, and go with it. As you say, hopefully what ever name I get will be picked for me through divine providence! Meanwhile, I remember being told that when I was baptized, although my actual legal middle name is Kay, the priest insisted that my baptismal name be converted to a saint’s name, hence I was given Katherine. So…..I could also assume it is safe to say that St. Katherine Drexel could also be looking out for me, as well as all the other Catherines…and then there is my guardian angel whose name according to once source is St. Sealtiel. Talk about a multitude!

      • LizEst

        I’ll be interested to know who you get. Please keep us posted. God bless you, Patti! Yes, a cloud of witnesses indeed!

        • Patti Knudsen

          St. Juan Diego. Very appropriate I think, for many reasons. I know of his devotion to the Blessed Mother, of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Since I consecrated myself to her last summer on the Feast of the Assumption, I pray a rosary daily and have come to understand more profoundly how she can help us to come to the Father. Of course, I’ve always had a real love and admiration for our Mexican brothers and sisters. Even learning to speak Spanish over many years. Steve and I are actually pursuing our dream of moving back to Arizona, where we know well the Hispanic culture. I am hoping I can look to him as a role model, as Pope John Paul II said when he canonized him in 2002, ” he is a model of humility for all of us. ” This is a virtue I have been working on for some time, having discovered my root sin of “pride.” I’m hoping for his help in this regard. I think he’s a PERFECT FIT for 2014.

          • LizEst

            St. Juan Diego is excellent for this virtue. You know, a confessor once told me, “One does not become humble except by being humiliated.” Sounds harsh, but it’s true…unless we don’t learn the lessons when they come to us. Blessings to you in your quest for holiness, Patti. Remember, it is God that provides the increase!

          • It is true – for a live example watch me tonight on EWTN News Nightly…

          • Camila

            “You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that you may know, and believe me, and understand that I myself am.” (Isaiah 43:10)

    • I got St Albert of Sicily. A Carmelite saint! 🙂
      Last year I got St Helena of the Cross. And its so cool because I got to venerate a true relic of the cross on Good Friday and join a “Santacruzan” in May. “Santacruzan” is a feast with flowers, rosaries, processions, etc. Its a feast celebrating Queen Elena finding the cross. They have it every year in the provinces here but since I live in the city last year was my first time! 🙂

      • LizEst

        Another one I didn’t know any thing about! So, I looked him up and found a good amount here: http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/liturgy/st-albert-trapani-priest-feast
        He’s considered a patron and protector or “father” of the order. So, he’s a very important Carmelite saint…invoked for exorcisms of the possessed, against earthquakes and for the cure of the sick.

    • Celeste Lovett

      I just upon this current book club area and saw the link for having a saint assigned. I think it is great idea and was introduced to a new saint I’ve never heard of before. Thank you!

  • DianeVa

    “They had to overcome their SELVES!” Such encouraging words Vicki because that is my biggest mountain, my SELF. I find the communion of saints to be so comforting and helpful and to know they immersed themselves in spiritual reading brought a big smile to myself for I am drawn to their writings like a bee, no way..I am still an infant nymph, to honey. Super Bowl crowds always set me on fire because I imagine all the saints cheering us on with one big difference, we all win when they cheer for us! Blessings

    • Jeanette

      This reminded me that the other day, I was musing about how all the sports fans fill the stadiums and at times cheer wildly for their teams and I thought, “O how I wish that there were stadiums filled with people cheering for Jesus. At that moment, I remembered that there is a “Lift Jesus Higher Rally” in Toronto on March 1st. You can bet that I’ll be there cheering for Jesus!

  • Camila

    Dear Vicky,

    I LOVE your sentence “As long as we live in the desert of our own weakness, we can return to the fountain of wisdom.”God resists the proud, but a humble and contrite heart he will not spurn.

    I wanted to share with you a beautiful insight that I learned from the class in spiritual theology with Dr. Lilles. It is not the size of the effort that matters, but the size of our charity in the effort. In other words, sometimes we imagine that doing something that is very hard and challenging gains more merit then something simple, mundane and humble. This is not so! God will measure us by the size of our charity.

    I felt so incredibly free when I learned this. Things that felt so hard and difficult melted in front of me like wax in a fire. Things that I didn’t value that much (like doing dishes and laundry and cooking and cleaning bathrooms for the enth time) have become incredible little acts that I try to do for whomever is in my mind or heart or who have asked for prayers. What joy there is in filling these little moments with thoughts of blessings and praise!!!!!

    Oh Vicky, your post is stunning. It is IMPOSSIBLE to climb this mountain you talk about on our own effort. Literally impossible! It is a mountain the size of God! Be as pliable clay in the eternal hands of almighty God!

    Much love.
    Camila

    • Vicki

      Camila, Thanks so much for the insight. I was able to share it with my son today, as we were talking about martyrdom vs. small, daily sacrifices. I think your comments resonated with him:)

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