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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

On Self-Denial And Perfection

My Daily Bread was a popular book in the 1950s and 1960s. My parents had it on their bookshelf. It is a book of meditations on the spiritual life written by Father Anthony J. Paone, SJ.  One of my readers sent me this section and asked for a clarification. I shall be a bit personal, as my own struggles seem to help some of you. My comments are in blue.

Zeal for Perfection


MY CHILD, do not be afraid of the daily battle for perfection. If you had even a passing
glimpse of the heavenly glory which I have prepared for you, you would joyfully embrace
any trial and all sufferings for My sake. But I want you to do so without seeing the eternal
reward. Strive for perfection with the best and purest motive. Do it because I deserve such
effort and loyalty.

So far, so good, as this is in keeping with the perfection series I wrote on this blog.

2. Look for opportunities to contradict yourself. This mortification will be your surest sign
of spiritual progress. Beware of self-deception. Suspect your motives even in the good
within you. Root out all foolish self-seeking by a constant self-contradiction.

OK, this is the hard part. Mortification means penance. Self-seeking is the lack of humility, which is pride. Self-contradiction is doing the opposite of what you want to do. I shall give some examples,

3. This supernatural self-contradiction will purify your love for Me. However, even in this
self-contradiction you must be ready at all times to obey your superiors. The higher you
aim in the way of perfection, so much the more do you need the guidance and counsel of
others. He who follows the will of superiors is more perfect than one who follows his own
will in these matters. Obedience is the surest proof of generosity with Me.

For example, in the monastery, it was easy for me to self-contradict, as the entire schedule was outside of my control and I only had to obey, with grace. But, in the world, we have many opposite pulls. We are not under obedience most of the time in the same way. However, we cannot speed if we feel like it in the car, and we cannot drink and drive, so we are obedient in some ways. We pay our taxes and do our familial duties. However, self-contradiction is much more than this.

Those Catholics who are not obedient are endangering their immortal souls. For example, if any Catholic uses contraception, or IVF, or does not give to the Church, or skips Mass on Holy Days of Obligation and so forth, these disobediences are huge obstacles to grace.

Let us continue...

4. Avoid false virtue. Never do anything which would prevent you from fulfilling your
daily obligations. Any form of self-discipline which makes you uncharitable or
inconsiderate of others is not from Me. Be eager to have your virtues tested by the
experiences of daily life. Do not fear misunderstandings, failures, humiliations, or
sufferings. Fear only to see your day go by without some sound spiritual progress.

For example, today was another hot day. I live next to a coffee shop and love iced coffee. But, right now, I cannot afford to buy an iced coffee. God has allowed me a chance to deny my desire for iced coffee in good grace, joyfully. He has imposed a self-contradiction upon me, as He knows I am too weak to do this myself. Being poor is a daily self-contradiction, as one cannot go where one wants to go, do what one want to do, eat what one wants to eat or drink what one wants to drink. One cannot buy the clothes one would like, or even get teeth fixed or new shoes, etc.

The denial of such can be willingly done and if so, this is willing self-contradiction-like nuns wearing black all the time or a habit, like those of us who are single not having sexual relations or even thinking about such, All these denials of self are self-contradictions. I have not had desserts for over a month, so yesterday I bought some cookies and candies. But, the more perfect thing would have been to deny myself those sweets, even though I thought I needed them.

But, there are spiritual ones as well. I wanted to be a nun. God did not want me to be a nun. He contradicted my own spiritual pride in wanting to do the hardest thing for Him. So, spiritually, I rejoice in the humbler, less immediately holy way to which He has called me.


If I desire true spiritual progress without self-deception, I must embrace this sure way of
self-contradiction. I can do it in two ways. Firstly, I can willingly embrace the unexpected
disappointments and unforeseen sufferings which come to me throughout the day, thanking
God for them. In these trials I can renew my self-offering to His divine Will. Secondly, I
can seek opportunities to contradict my natural preferences and desires, so that I may offer
my will more fully to God. In all this, however, I must always be prepared to obey the
corrections and counsels of my spiritual guide and of my legitimate superiors. Only then
can I be sure that my desire for perfection is complete.

A magazine refused an article of mine recently, and I was a bit sad. But, I quickly realized that this was a chance for humility and I thanked God for the rejection. When this is automatic, I shall know I am truly humble, which I am not.

Someone walked in front of me rudely today (happens daily) and I was a bit peeved. But, I quickly saw it as an opportunity for self-denial.  Now, if one is used to be perfect, such a rudeness becomes the cause for joy, as not only do I deserve rudeness for my sins, but who am I to expect preference?

One can seek such opportunities, such as offering to do something regularly which one does not like to do, or accepting things when asked which are contrary to one's desires, as long as these things are not sin.

Those people who live alone in loneliness and desire love meet this self-contradiction daily. There are so many like this-but the pain of being overlooked in love can be a chance for self-contradiction. I want to be loved by a human, but I am not, therefore, I accept God's Will is being made holy in this way. And, so on.

Our Lord's entire life was one of self-contradiction. He, as the epistle notes, humbled Himself to the state of a slave. Can you imagine God becoming Man for our sake? Such is the ultimate self-contradiction.


My God, my greatest Treasure, enlighten my mind to appreciate You more fully. Arouse
my generosity to offer You the unreserved love which You deserve. Strengthen my efforts
to give myself to You more fully throughout the day. Cast out of my heart all worry about
the past, all preoccupation with the present, and all fear of the future. Fix my mind so
completely on Your goodness that I may hunger only for one thing-to contradict myself for
love of You. You deserve the best that is in me. Let me give it without hesitation. Take my
love in whatever way You desire it, whether in sufferings of the body or trials of the mind.
I want only one thing-to give You all that I am and all that I have. Jesus is my Model of
this self-giving. He was born poor in the stable of Bethlehem, and died poor upon the cross
of Calvary. His poverty was due to His voluntary self-giving for my sake. I hope to imitate
Jesus in His self-giving. Amen