Have you ever wondered “What does the Bible say about perfection?” And in what context can it be applied to motherhood?
What does the word “perfection” mean to mothers? Perfectly clean homes, perfect meals, perfect routines? Of course, there is nothing wrong with aiming to have all these qualities in your home and family.
Let’s look at another point of view. When it comes to perfection, the standards of the world suggests another plethora of ideas. Luxury, wealth, recognition, fame, etcetera.
According to the Bible, Jesus Himself said:
“Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.”Matthew 5:48
So what does it mean to be perfect?
Allow me to share a chapter from the book “Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers” by Monsignor P. Lejeune. It is one of the great books ever written for mothers who seek to be as what God whats her to be as a mother.
The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the book were obtained 1913. Based on that, it can be assumed that the book was written on or before that year.
Read on and I hope you find enlightenment and answer to the question perennial as the grass: What does it mean to be perfect, and most especially as a mother?
What does the Bible say about perfection?
True and False Devotion
My daughters, you all aspire to perfection. But what is your idea of perfection? Do you not often use this word in a vague and even false sense? It trips so lightly into your conversation that each one prides herself on having a very clear conception of it. I am positive, however, that if I were to ask you to define this word, the response would be a confusion of tongues.
Perfection is frequently attributed to persons who assume strained attitudes and an affected bearing. Now this notion of perfection is erroneous; for these strained attitudes and this affectation, far from constituting true perfection, are but counterfeits of it.
For many, perfection consists in an invariable series of prayers. They consider it a crime to fail to make the sign of the cross, to omit one of the multiple invocations to some saint in Paradise, or to cut short a novena or some other pious practice. The laws of justice, the injunctions of charity, the rules of prudence, humility and modesty are elements of perfection to which these people give not the slightest concern. This type of devotees is by no means new. It flourished even in the days of our Saviour. You may recall to mind the Pharisees whom Jesus reproached for straining the gnat, and swallowing the camel.
The author of the Imitation severely rebukes those who center all their devotion on books, images, and exterior signs and symbols. I am not sure that some of you are not given to this whimsical and purely exterior piety. Some of you perhaps permit your interior life to lie fallow, because you have in your rooms an altar of the Blessed Virgin or the Sacred Heart arranged with taste, and adorned with the fairest flowers of the season…
Let us smile and pass on.
Here is another error. We find it among those honest but short-sighted people who insist upon viewing the spiritual life from one side only. This error lies in identifying perfection with macerations and corporeal penance. According to this view, he alone reaches the highest degree of perfection who can best submit to the blows of discipline, or to long-continued fasts. Now I have often read that sanctity adapts itself admirably to ordinary life, and does not at all entail the extraordinary and terrifying attendance of corporeal penances.
If this be our idea of perfection, then our idea is not correct.
Let us read a passage from Saint Francis de Sales, in which he describes with his usual grace all the counterfeits of perfection.
“You must first know what the virtue of devotion is; for since there is but one true devotion, and many which are false deceitful, if you cannot distinguish that which is true, you may easily deceive yourself in following some fantastical and superstitious devotion.
As Aurelius painted all the faces of his pictures to the resemblance of the woman he loved, so every one paints devotion according to his own passion and fancy. He that is addicted to fasting thinks himself very devout if he fasts, though his heart be at the same time filled with rancor, and scrupling to moisten his tongue with wine, or even with water, through sobriety, he makes no difficulty to drink deep of his neighbor’s blood, as it were, by detraction and calumny. Another considers himself devout because he recites daily a multitude of prayers, though immediately afterwards he utters the most disagreeable, arrogant, and injurious words amongst his domestics and neighbors. Another cheerfully draws money out of his purse to relieve the poor, but cannot draw meekness out of his heart to forgive his enemies. Another readily forgives his enemies, but never satisfies his creditors except by constraint. These may be esteemed devout by some, but in reality, they are by no means so.
When Saul’s servants sought David in his house, Michol, laying a statue in his bed, and covering it with his clothes, made them believe it was David himself; thus many persons, by covering themselves with certain external actions make the world believe that they are truly devout, whereas they are in reality nothing but statues and phantoms of devotion.”
* * *
Having pointed out the counterfeits of perfection, I must now proceed to give a precise definition of it.
But you must remember that it is exceedingly difficult to shape a definition which can be applied to all natures without exception. The saints, judging them on the surface, differ vastly in their ideas of perfection. The severe Saint Jerome, for example, seems to have a very remote relation to the sweet Saint Francis de Sales. Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga and Saint Stanislaus–delicate flowers that expanded in the peace and regularity of the religious life–bear but little resemblance to Saint Francis Xavier, who, preceding the most daring explorers, traversed the world to win kingdoms for Jesus Christ.
If I study the writings of the saints, if I recall the words that fell from their lips, and strive from these to form an idea of true perfection, I am again plunged into perplexity. I hear Saint Francis of Assisi preaching: “Be ye poor; this is perfection.” I hear Saint Saint Vincent de Paul repeating: “Be ye charitable; this is perfection.” I hear the Abbé de Rancey, the austere reformer of the Trappists, saying: “Be ye mortified; this is perfection.”
So I might heap up citation upon citation, but these will suffice to show how difficult it is to arrive at a formula for perfection which will fit all the saints, determine the common trait which permits us to classify them all under one head, and enables us to say of each, “Here is a saint.”
* * *
My daughters, I trust that the definition of perfection which I shall give, will sink deeply into your hearts. Perfection is accomplishing the will of God in a constant and generous fashion. That person, then, is perfect who does at every instant what God wishes. Ask her at any moment what she is doing, and she will always respond: “That which God wishes.” If a response other than that be obtained from her, for example: “I am doing what pleases myself, or some other creature,” then you have the right to say: “This person is not perfect.”
Do you ask for an example of a perfect woman? I shall give it to you from the heavenly hierarchy, by recalling the life of Mary, who, in the matter of perfection, is the nearest approach to God. She it is whom I charge to prove my thesis in such a way that you will be clearly persuaded that sanctity does not at all consist in splendor or magnificence or the glitter of exterior things, but rather in an interior principle which animates the most ordinary actions, and communicates to them an almost inestimable value.
Consider for a moment the life of Mary. What do you find rare or extraordinary in that life? It was the life of a plain Judean woman in the century of Augustus. It was spent in the monotony of the most commonplace occupations. We see Mary as a child growing up pious and pure under her mother’s care. We see her as a young maiden, espousing a workman. We see her as a mother watching over her slumbering Infant. We see her as a housewife preparing food for the husband and the Son returning from their labors. Yet this woman is holy, incomparably holier than all the saints taken together; holy with a holiness before which all other holiness pales, as the light of the stars pales when the sun rises above the horizon. I challenge any one to find another explanation of Mary’s sanctity than this: Mary was accomplishing the will of God at every moment of her life, and the perfect love with which she accomplished that will, constituted the measure of her sanctity.
Moreover, this rule can be applied to all the saints. Do not invoke the name of Francis Xavier, because he won kingdoms for Jesus Christ. Do not invoke the name of Saint Vincent de Paul, because he gathered all the wretched under the folds of his robe. Do not invoke the name of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, because he permitted his love for children to develop into heroism. If Saint Francis had baptized the Japanese and the Indians without the command of God, he would not be holy. If Saint Vincent de Paul had sheltered all the suffering under his robe, without the command of God, he would not be holy. If Saint John Baptist de La Salle had, without divine command, sold his goods and renounced all dignities, in order to become master of a school, he would not be holy. It was the will of God realized by them, and accomplished in the, that made these men saints.
Thus understood, perfection no longer appears to us as the privilege of the few. There are not professions to which it is allied to the exclusion of other professions. There are no countries to which it adapts itself to the exclusion of other countries. It is for all times, for all countries, and for all states and professions.
Whatever may be your station in life, whether you were born of poor parents, like our Saviour, or whether you spring from a family where ease and even opulence reigns, it matters little. Remember that perfection can and ought to harmonize with every state and condition.
The outline of perfection which I have sketched in this chapter does not originate with me. I have taken it from the words of the Saviour, who, far from designating certain individuals says to us all: “Be ye perfect.”
Let me recall to your minds that beautiful prayer which a holy princess, Mme. Elizabeth, daughter of a king, and sister of Louis XVI, made each morning of her life; and I charge you to repeat it every day, if not verbatim, at least in its general sense:
“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.”