Even when we are not guilty, we are not innocent

February 3, 2022 • 3 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 157
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

HUMILITY WITH REGARD TO PERFECTION.

Whatever perfection the just man may recognize in himself, he is like the palm tree, which, says the Psalmist, the higher it rears its lofty head the deeper down in the earth it casts its roots.

And certainly, since all our perfection comes from God, since we have no good or perfect gift which we have not received from the Father of Lights, we have no reason to glorify ourselves.

Truly, we can do nothing of ourselves as of ourselves, all our sufficiency, in good, proceeding from God. Our vanity is such that as soon as we begin to suspect we are not guilty, we regard ourselves as innocent, forgetting that if we do not fail in one direction we do in another, and that, as St. Gregory says, our perfection, in proportion to its advancement, makes us the better perceive our imperfections.

Without purity how should we recognise impurity? It is light which makes us understand what darkness is. Many people not discerning in themselves certain particular vices think that they possess the opposite virtues, and are deceived.

Again, seeing themselves freed from some earthly passions they imagine themselves to be clothed in heavenly affections; and thus their ill-advised heart is darkened, they feed upon wind, and walk on in the vanity of their thoughts.

Our Blessed Father, reflecting one day upon the condition of his soul and feeling it to be enjoying great peace owing to its detachment from creatures, made his own the sentiments of the great Apostle, who, though not feeling himself guilty of anything, yet did not therefore consider himself justified, and who forgetting the past pressed on always farther and farther, never thinking that he had yet reached the goal of perfection. [Philipp. iii. 13.]

I must read you the passage in which he expresses this view of himself:

I find my soul a little more to my liking than usual, because I see nothing in it which keeps it attached to this world, and because it is more alive to the things of the next, to its eternal joys.

Ah! if I were but as closely and consciously united to God as I am dissevered and alienated from the world, how happy I should be! And you, too, my daughter, how rejoiced you would be!

But I am speaking of my feelings, and my inward self; as regards the exterior, and, worst of all, as regards my deportment and behaviour, they are full of all sorts of contradictory imperfections.

The good which I wish to do, I do not do; but nevertheless I know well that truly and with no pretence, I do wish to do it, and with a most unchanging will.

But, my Daughter, how can it be that out of such a will so many imperfections show themselves as are continually springing up within me?

Certainly, they are not of my will, though they be in my will, and on my will. They are like the mistletoe which grows and appears on a tree and in a tree, although it is not of the tree, nor out of the tree.

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