The perfections of this kingdom are, like everything else about it, of so sublime a nature that our frail understanding requires a heavenly grace in order to begin to take them in. So, help us, Father …
For instance, here there is a perfection known as repentance. The only way it can come to the fore is through the knowledge of our dark and vile sinfulness. The better we see our inherent imperfection, our inbred iniquity, the more perfect our repentance, and repentance is the perfect solution to our heinous imperfections of soul and decision.
Then there is the grace of humility, which is the perfect antidote to the pride and and self-reference that mask our fears. We are told, beyond the reaches of natural intellect, that perfect love casts out fear, and we learn here in Cor Unum to humble ourselves to the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the perfect response to the perfections of this love that knew no bounds and knows no end.
Pride, greed, self-pity … we are so far from perfect at every turning. There is this perfection ever at hand: we confess our sins, to the Lord Who loves us and to another, and we pray for one another that we may be healed, and that is the perfect thing to do, both for those oppressed and those looking on. (1 John 1:9 and James 5:16) The perfections that define eternal life have to do with loving one another (Matthew 19:16-22,) and this vocation is given to each and to all. We know that the perfections of love nearly always call us to love others in their startling imperfections, and to pray for them in the perfection of faith and hope.
We are called to be a perfect-hearted people. One thing that particularly marks the monastic man or woman is the near absence of self-pity, and in order to stay, each must pursue it and overtake it; the monastic must not turn back until it is consumed and trampled under foot (Psalm 18:37-40.) It is perfectly necessary. Monastic joys are difficult to understand, for to all appearances “real” monks and nuns have surrendered all the pleasures that, for the rest of us, make life as close to perfect as we think it can be. This absence of self-pity flavors the monastery, and flavors it by its absence, as if one had never eaten any but grossly over-salted eggs.
We are meant, one and all, to abide in Christ, and He, not our imperfections, is the savor of every day. I visited a spice market in New York City, and before me stretched long rows, dozens of rows, of beautiful, fragrant, colorful herbs and seasonings, more flavors than it would seem could be known to man! I never thought I would compare the Lord Jesus Christ to a spice market, but the Shullamite does, in the Song of Songs! In all our imperfections, there is a divine zest that makes life delectable, like the first spoonful of a bona fide, slow simmered Boeuf Bourguignon. Yum!
In abbeys of stone and steel, there are those who leave because they mistook their vocation, but those who stay have learned to sink their souls deeply down into the compassions of the Lord. This is vital! All good things are given for us to enjoy, but one thing excels, and that is He, Himself, the Jesus that Mary chose, at His feet. This is the greatest perfection of them all, this decision and determination to abide in Christ, as He abides in us. Truly, for us there is no other vocation; not one of us is not called to abide! Here in Cor Unum Abbey we treasure Jude’s instructions, nearly the last words in Scripture before the Revelation. These words point us back, at the close of the written word, to Jesus’ premier exhortation, “Abide in Me!”
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 20, 21)
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” (D.H. Lawrence)
Moroccan spice market
Bertrand Devourard, wikipedia