Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers: Why a Rule?

As I start blogging this book the question that comes to my mind is:

What do I hope to get out of this study?

and also:  What do you, the readers, hope to get out of it?

The main thing I want to draw from this study is wisdom and a commitment to follow God's will more closely -- and practically, to make some habit-changes that will hopefully last beyond Lent.  

How about you?   Let's pray for each other, that God works through this book with each of us! 

Part 1 of Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers  hinges around developing a Rule of Life.   In a separate post I am going to put a list of various Rules I have found around the web.  

Before we can make a "rule", which is like a map to our goal, or in St Paul's language, an athletic training program, we have to know what we are aiming for (our goal or "end") and what is blocking the way (why we aren't already there!).    So Msgr Lejeune doesn't start right in with life advice, but first provides a definition and the opportunity for self-evaluation.

That gives us a sense of what direction we might need to take.  In details that might vary for different people but the main goal is the same for each of us -- to become closer to God and to cooperate more fully with His grace.   Of course, this is something we can't do for ourselves; only He can work this transformation in us, but He has given us many promises of aid in our journey. 

Chapter 1:   True and False Devotion

Our goal is perfection, as in "Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect."

Or, to say the same thing, to have a habit of true devotion.  True devotion is "accomplishing the will of God in a constant and generous fashion" Obviously, Jesus Christ is the model here.  His constant thought was to "do the will of Him who sent Me."

I know very well that perfection is a loaded word nowadays.  Nowadays it means measuring up, which can cripple us with perceived expectations.  But its traditional meaning is something like  "becoming what you are" as Pope John Paul II often said.
Christian perfection is the supernatural or spiritual union with God which is possible of attainment in this life, and which may be called relative perfection, compatible with the absence of beatitude, and the presence of human miseries, rebellious passions, and even venial sins to which a just man is liable without a special grace and privilege of God. This perfection consists in charity, in the degree in which it is attainable in this life.   -- Catholic Encyclopedia,  Christian and Religious Perfection
True devotion: that seems a little easier to consider than perfection, which can become a sinkhole for pride and fear.   Considering devotion takes the focus off performance and puts it on relationship, on attention to God and His goodness.

I liked the meditation from Caryll Houselander that Cay posted for Lent: 

A mass of good resolutions, I think, are apt to end up in disappointment and to make one depressed.

Also direct fault-uprooting: it makes one concentrate too much on self, and that can be so depressing.

The only resolution I have ever found works is: "Whenever I want to think of myself, I will think of God."

If true devotion is following the will of God in love, false devotion is everything we do that looks good but is done for self-gratifying reasons; or sometimes, because we mistake exterior signs for the thing itself, as Michal mistook the statue of David for the real person.   Msgr Lejeune draws heavily on St Francis de Sales here so I will link to a couple of passages:

Devotion is for Everyone
True and False Devotion


Meditate upon or say the Prayer of Mme Elisabeth with which Msgr Lejeune closes this chapter.

"My God, what will happen to me today, I do not know; but I do know that nothing will happen to me which Thou hast not foreseen and ordained for my greater good.  I accept, then, Thy thrice holy will; I submit myself to it, and desire to delight in it despite all the revolts of my reason, and the repugnances of my nature."

Chapter 2:   Catalogue of Souls

This chapter aims to help you know where you are at present in your spiritual life.   

Msgr Lejeune doesn't spend much time on those who are in mortal sin and unwilling to repent; those people probably aren't reading his book anyway.  He focuses on those who are trying to improve or at least thinking about it, in what psychologists might call the "pre-contemplation" or "contemplation" stages of change 

Of those who are in a state of grace, ie not completely abandoned to sin, there are
  1. those whose souls are lukewarm, and who accept only the struggle against mortal sin ( here is an article by a former lukewarm Catholic)
  2. Those whose souls are fervent, and who not only struggle against venial sin, but also undertake to reform themselves.
  3. those whose souls are very fervent, and who are habitually disposed to refuse God nothing. 

He writes:

"Very happy I should be if this study would stimulate those among you who are lukewarm to march with a resolute step to the conquest of fervor, and should inspire those already fervent , with the desire to mount higher and still higher in fervor and love." 
One thing to notice is that fervor does not mean a high pitch of emotion.   Msgr Lejeune discusses our reason, our emotions (which he calls sensibility) and our will.   Which of these powers instructs us?

Not our feelings alone, since they can change drastically  from one hour or day to the next. Lejeune points out that sometimes we feel very close to God in prayer, while on another day we might feel distaste for prayer and no sense of closeness.  If feelings were the primary thing, the first prayer would be good and the second not good, but that is not the case; many saints went through long periods with no consolation in prayer.

Our intelligence would be suitable, if "to know good were to do it".  But many of us fail to do what we know is good. What remains is the will, which is sort of the motivating power that puts our knowledge and understanding into proper effect.
 "How is your will disposed towards God? .... Do you wish what God wishes, the least important things as well as the most essential?  ...the will is the most important faculty in the spiritual man.  Hence it is that Catholic theology styles the sinful soul, 'a will turned away from God' and the fervent soul ' a will which adheres to God.'"
More on the interaction between intellect, sensibility and will.


Consider Msgr Lejeune's list of traits of the lukewarm.  Are there any which are more of a recurring problem for you?   What are some areas you know you could use some improvement?

See you next week as we continue on to Chapter 3 and 4. 

Blogger is acting up a bit, so I had better stop editing and post this. Chari and I would love to hear any thoughts or ideas. If you post about it on your own blog, please leave a link in the comments and I will add the links to this post.

Lenten Blessings,

Willa and Chari


  1. Hi Willa and Chari,

    Thank you for writing this program and for supplying the links which were such a perfect supplement.

    You asked what we hoped to get out of this and I hadn't actually thought it through. I recognised a prompting when I read your last post and followed it. But, when I read the chapter, I realised that I've experienced glimpses of what it's like to be the eagle soaring on high so I get frustrated to discover that I'm still the little fat hen trying to get off the ground.

    When I read the list of traits of lukewarmness, I was uncomfortable at first, but then encouraged. I could see where God's grace had been at work but also areas where I could improve. It was good to have hope strengthened with the expectation of further instruction as the book progresses.

    I was so relieved to find that I could understand and that it all spoke to me - although, I must admit that I've saved the article on Thomas Aquinas until I can go through it slowly. Very slowly!

    I haven't got any words of wisdom to add, I'm afraid. I'm really soaking it all in as a beginner, at this stage.

    Thank you for writing such inspired words and going to the trouble of enriching the reading with more links.

    God bless, Chari and Willa:-)

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Vicky! What you said about noticing areas of improvement is something I've noticed with myself too, though I still have a lot of room to grow. The article on Aquinas is not required reading :-) I just thought it might be interesting if someone wanted to read more about the emotions, intellect and will. I grew up in the 70s when many Protestant churches emphized feelings too much... So much so that I would quickly get discouraged when I tried to become closer to Christ, because the emotions would fail and I would feel guilty about it. but emotions are important, not just the only important thing.

  2. I will add something after I catch up on the reading....already behind on the first day. Do I get credit for carrying the book around for the last two days???? With a pencil, too??

    1. Cool. I actually read all of chapter one and part of two......totally getting somehere now ;)

  3. Willa and Chari,

    I have just bought a copy of this book and am looking forward to reading it. I have only read the first few pages so I can't add anything to the conversation. I am looking forward to reading your study guide posts. Thank you!


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