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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!


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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 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

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