Preach My Psalter

Province of St. Martin de Porres

     The subject for today is the perfection of the spiritual life.  In this brief article I do not intend to say everything that could be said about spiritual perfection.  I will only consider the primary means to this perfection of the spiritual life. This primary means to this perfection is certainly love, but the human being can only love what he first knows. For this reason, for the human being, knowing prepares him to love in the perfection of the spiritual life. According to Scripture and Tradition, the Shema from Deuteronomy is a call to know and love both God and neighbor that informs Jesus’ teaching on the perfection of the spiritual life in the Gospel.

     Do you have a desire for such perfection?  Do you desire to be holy son or daughter of God? The saints certainly did.  This is the greatest mission you have in this life in preparation for perfect happiness in Heaven. God Himself desires your spiritual perfection.  Yes, He desires your sainthood.  In fact, you can only be the holy person God created and redeemed you to be by reaching spiritual perfection someday in heavenly beatitude.  In this life, the spiritual perfection of the human being is only imperfect, but in Heaven such perfection for the saint is perfectly fulfilled.  This is the perfection, the perfect happiness, that God desires for you, for everyone.

     At the same time, the perfection of the spiritual life requires maturation.  The human being can only mature to spiritual perfection gradually.  The more he moves from potency to act, as he matures spiritually, through the grace of God, the more he becomes the holy man God created and redeemed him to be. This involves the perfection of his intellect and will, including his passions, through holy virtue, throughout his life.  The human being, in this life, remains unfinished.  Only through the beatific vision of God in heaven and his glorious resurrection can he reach full or final perfection in the afterlife.  On this basis, you may have imperfections, vices and sins, as I myself do, but do not be discouraged or despair. Be patient in this maturation process to perfection.

     In the Gospel, Jesus calls His disciple to be perfect just as His heavenly Father is perfect.  This is a call to be spiritually perfect by imaging the charity of Jesus, the love He has for His Father and for His neighbor, the human being.  Accordingly, St. Thomas says that the perfection of the spiritual life primarily involves the perfection of charity in the disciple.  In his teaching, he says that the disciple can only be perfected spiritually by loving the Lord and his neighbor, as Jesus Himself does, according to the order of charity.  Consequently, the disciple could never reach spiritual perfection by loving the Lord alone or by merely loving his neighbor.  Nor could he ever be perfected spiritually by loving the Lord as he loves his neighbor or by loving his neighbor as he loves the Lord.  For the Lord and his neighbor are not the same. The Lord is God, the Creator and Redeemer; and his neighbor, the human being, is a creature.  Nor could the disciple reach spiritual perfection through a natural love proportionate to his human nature.  On the contrary, he is perfected spiritually in his humanity by the divine grace of God to love both God and neighbor supernaturally according to the order of charity.  This means loving God first and the human person second.  In fact, as St. Thomas says, Jesus Himself establishes this order of charity in the Gospel. 

     First of all, He calls His disciple to love God as his First and Greatest Good.  In doing so, he says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” (MT 22:37).  In this sense, there is no greater commandment or precept of charity for the disciple than loving God above all.  Indeed, “This is the greatest and the first commandment” (MT 22:38).  In loving God in this manner, as his First and Greatest Good, the disciple images the love that Jesus has for God the Father.  This prepares him for true and lasting happiness in Heaven someday.

     Secondly, in the Gospel, Jesus also calls His disciple to spiritual perfection by loving his neighbor, not as he loves God, but as he loves himself.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourelf” (MT 22:39).  In doing so, he images the love that Jesus has for His neighbor.  After all, he is united to his neighbor in a fraternal relationship, either in anticipation of perfect happiness or in the enjoyment of such happiness in heaven.  This involves loving not just his family members and friends, but also the poor, the ill, the imprisoned, and even his enemies.  As such, Jesus calls His disciple to love his neighbor as himself that he may reach perfect happiness with him in heaven someday.  This means that loving his neighbor as himself is the second greatest commandment or precept of charity that perfects him spiritually after the image of Jesus (MT 22:39). 

     For this reason, for the disciple, the perfection of his spiritual life primarily involves loving God; and secondarily, loving his neighbor.  According to Jesus, the “whole law and the prophets depend on these commandments” to love God and neighbor (MT 22:40).  In other words, this double commandment to love is the source of the Word that God revealed to Moses and the prophets.  Indeed, in God’s love for the people of Israel, He illumined and inspired Moses and the prophets to proclaim His Word to them, including His commandments of love.  For God Himself desired that they would learn to love Him and their neighbors according to the order of charity.  On this basis, the disciple can only be perfected spiritually after the image of Jesus by loving God and neighbor faithfully.

     At the same time, St. Thomas says that the disciple cannot love what he does not know.  On the contrary, as a human being, he can only love what he knows, for knowing is the antecedent or precondition that opens and prepares him to love.  In this sense, his spiritual perfection as a disciple involves both knowing and loving. Yes, knowing that he may love. For this reason, in calling His disciple to be perfect spiritually by loving the Lord as His First and Greatest Good in the Gospel, Jesus is also calling him to know the Lord as His First and Greatest Truth.  Indeed, He calls His disciple to know the Lord that he may love the Lord faithfully.  In doing so, the disciple remains faithful not only to the order of charity, but also to the order of truth.  As such, by knowing that the Lord really is God, and not something else, the disciple learns to love Him as God.  He learns to love Him as His First and Greatest Good.  Thus, Jesus’ first and greatest commandment to love the Lord includes the call to know the Lord, for the disciple can only love what he knows.  Similarly, this is also true of Jesus’ second greatest commandment.  In commanding His disciple to love his neighbor as himself, Jesus is calling him to know his neighbor as himself.  Yes, Jesus is calling him to know his neighbor that he may love his neighbor, not as he knows and loves the Lord, but as he knows and loves himself.  Here, once again, the order of truth informs the order of charity.  This means that in the Gospel Jesus’ double commandment to love God and neighbor presupposes or implies a double commandment to know God and neighbor.

     In calling His disciple to know and love God and neighbor faithfully in the Gospel, Jesus is basing this teaching on the Shema passage from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.  In the first verse of this passage (DT 6:4), the Lord proclaims to His people, through Moses, the Truth that He is the One True God.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, is Lord alone!”  This is the first Truth that the Lord calls His people to know in their intellect by faith.  He is their One True God who created them and redeemed them.  For this reason, there is no God besides Him.  All other gods are idols or false gods.  Consequently, these false gods can neither know the people of God nor love them.  Only the Lord can know them and love them. For He alone is their One True God.  As a result, the Lord calls them to know Him by faith as the One True God.  Indeed, He calls them to believe in Him alone intellectually. This is the greatest act of their intellect in this life as a people of faith, for God Himself is their Highest Truth.  He alone is their God.  This is the first Truth proclaimed by God, through Moses, in the Shema passage.  In calling His disciple to be faithful to the Shema by loving the Lord as his First and Greatest Good, Jesus is also calling him indirectly or implicitly to know the Lord, as His First and Greatest Truth, as a man of faith.  In this sense, He is calling him to believe that the Lord alone is his God.

     Moreover, in the second verse of the Shema (DT 6:5), Moses also teaches the people of God to use their will to love the Lord, their God, as their First and Greatest Good. Jesus has this verse from the Shema in mind in commanding His disciple to love the Lord in the same manner.  This is the greatest act of his will in this life.  In this sense, in the Gospel Jesus calls His disciple to be faithful to the Shema as Moses does for Israel in Deuteronomy.  According to Moses, for the people of Israel, this act of loving the Lord, through their full human nature, in the Shema involves loving Him with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their strength.  Indeed, using all these human capacities to love the Lord, their God, through an act of their will is their greatest act of love.  In St. Thomas’s reading of the Shema, he says that loving the Lord with all their heart means intentionally directing everything to Him, all that they are and all that they have, as to their Last End.  In other words, for Thomas, the people of God can only love the Lord with all their heart by ordering their life completely to the loving service of God through the right intention.  Here their heart represents their intention to love the Lord, their First Love and Greatest Good, as their Last End.  As for loving the Lord with all their soul, St. Thomas teaches that the people of God can only love the Lord as such by loving everyone and everything in the act of loving the Lord Himself, which involves referring all their affections or passions for them to the love of God.  In this sense, for God’s people, loving the First Cause, God Himself, involves loving His effects in creation for love of Him.  Lastly, St. Thomas says that the people of God can only love the Lord with all their strength by establishing all their words and actions in divine charity.  That is to say, they can only use all their strength to love the Lord as their Greatest Good by speaking and acting with charity in loving Him.  This is their greatest act of love as free moral persons: loving the Lord, as their God, with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their strength, because He is their First Love and Greatest Good.  As such, this is a love they may only offer to God.  In the Shema passage from Deuteronomy, God is calling His people, through Moses, to image His Truth and Goodness by knowing Him and loving Him as their Highest Truth and Greatest Good, through their intellect and will.

     Furthermore, in the third and fourth verses of the Shema (DT 6:6-7), Moses calls the people of God to teach their children to know and love their neighbors as themselves.  In doing so, he does not use these particular words in teaching the second greatest commandment to them.  On the contrary, he pronounces this message to them only indirectly by telling them in the third and fourth verses of the Shema to teach their children what he proclaims to them in the first and second verses.  As you recall, in the first and second verses of the Shema, Moses teaches the people of God to know the Lord as their Highest Truth, their One True God, and to love Him as their Greatest Good with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their strength.  For this reason, in the third and fourth verses of the Shema, Moses tells the people to teach their children these words.  Indeed, he says, “These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them to your children, and you shall talk of them when you are at home.”  For the people of Israel, God’s people, this act of teaching their children to know the Lord, as their One True God, and to love Him as such is really an act of knowing and loving their neighbors as themselves in the highest or greatest manner.  After all, what greater act of knowing and loving their children as themselves could parents ever offer their children than teaching them to know and love the Lord according to the order of truth and charity?  In other words, what greater gift could they offer them than forming them to know the Lord, as their One True God, their Highest Truth, and to love Him as their Greatest Good?  There is nothing greater they could ever do for them.  Nothing.  Accordingly, for the people of God, this formation of their children is the greatest act of knowing and loving their neighbors as themselves because here they teach their children to image the Truth and Goodness of God, above all, by knowing Him and loving Him, through their rational, free human nature.  In the Gospel, Jesus calls His disciples to do the same for their children by teaching them to know and love the Lord according to the order of truth and charity.  As such, here Jesus bases His teaching on the Shema in Deuteronomy. As a result, through the formation that children receive from their parents, they learn to image the Truth and Love of Jesus by knowing and loving their neighbors as themselves in the highest manner. This involves teaching them, first and foremost, to know and love God.  This is the greatest act of knowing and loving that will lead their neighbors to Heaven.  On this basis, the perfection of the spiritual life for the disciple involves God’s grace perfecting human nature that he may know and love God and neighbor faithfully according to the order of truth and charity.

In Christ with Blessed Mary,

Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.

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