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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Christian Perfection, Grace and Contemplation

If we are called to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, then we must seek, far outside the narrow frontiers of our own fantasies, a perfection beyond all natural capacity, exceeding anything which our limited reason can calculate. This is why those who want to obey Christ, those who want to be perfect as is our heavenly Father, must first of all approach God like beggars. Before the mystery of God’s love we are indeed beggars who do not know what we need or how to ask for it. Charity cannot be grasped by our own cleverness nor can it be mimicked by our own industry. A soul weighed down by the spirit of self-sufficiency lacks the freedom this gift requires. Here we come against a great mystery. The primacy of grace in the Christian life is essential to Christian perfection.

If we are in some sense beggars asking for what we do not have and cannot even understand, the words of Christ push us beyond being just beggars in pursuit of this gift – for his mysterious command reveals more than a moral imperative, it reveals a relationship. We are not asked to be perfect as some inaccessible godhead is perfect. Were we asked to do this, Christ’s command would be completely impossible. Rather, we are asked to be perfect as is our Father in heaven, the Father who in his great love for us gave us his Son. It is through the gift of Jesus that we know our Father and his perfection. It is through Jesus’ gift of himself on the Cross that the perfection of the Father pierces our hearts and transforms who we are. Faith in Christ makes us into the sons and daughters of God. Not as slaves but as sons and daughters, being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect is possible.

The difference between a Father and Master, a son and a slave, is a matter of how each regards the other. This speaks to the primacy of contemplation in the Christian life. Although our faith compels us to take up every good work for the honor and glory of God, Christian perfection does not consist principally in good works. Instead, we are made perfect by the obedience of faith, a faith that attends to God in love. For in silent prayer, prayer where the heart attends to God, we allow the Father to behold us in love, to enjoy our attentive presence as his sons and daughters. As we allow Him to behold us in love, the most beautiful desires are given birth to in our hearts. Possibilities we never knew existed suddenly present themselves in the concrete opportunities of our real life circumstances. The heart delights to discover that the ability to add to the Father’s delight in ever new ways is always just a decision away. This is because the gaze of the Father is not passive – it is unfathomably fecund, constantly bringing forth into existence out of nothing. When the Father sees us in love the overwhelming generosity of his Heart spills into ours: He lavishes us with every gift and blessing so that his perfection might be revealed by how we live at all times in every circumstance, that we might become living icons of Christ the visible image of the invisible God. In such prayer, our gaze, participating by grace in his eternal creative love which constantly explodes into to action, becomes like His: we are in this exchange of glances with God perfect like our heavenly Father.

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