A Perfect Game


 

One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to throw a perfect game. A game where the pitcher retires every batter he sees throughout the course of nine innings – 27 up, 27 down. To accomplish this rare feat (in over 135 years of baseball history there's only been 23 to date), a pitcher needs to be focused, have a few balls and calls go his way, and usually needs an extraordinary catch or two (cue Dewayne Wise). It is the goal of every pitcher who toes up the rubber. Our spiritual lives are similar. Each of us is called have a goal of perfection in our spiritual lives.  But what does it mean to grow in perfection in the spiritual life, and how does one obtain such a thing?

 

Charity

Because we humans are rational animals, created in the image and likeness of God, we have the capacity to know God and to love him. This relationship with our God is the essence of our spiritual lives. It is in this relationship that we can grow in “perfection” of knowing and loving God; as our Lord says in the Gospel of Mathew, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48).  According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the spiritual life and its growth in perfection “consist in charity.”[1] Charity is the greatest of the theological virtues given to the Christian at his/her baptism, a grace infusing the very life and love of God (the Holy Spirit) into the soul. God works in the soul of the believer through charity.  Therefore, s/he that is perfect in charity is said to be perfect in the spiritual life absolutely.

 

Perfection of Charity Is both Love of God and Love of Neighbor

Our Lord gives us two divine commandments, one pertaining to the love of God; the other referring to love of neighbor: “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment; and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37). This order of charity established by the Lord works when we allow the grace of God into our lives (each and every day), responding to God in return with love, and allowing that love of God to flow back to love of neighbor. 

 

It’s like inhaling and exhaling; inhaling love of God, exhaling love of neighbor. You can’t do one without the other. Thus to grow in perfection of charity toward God is grow in love of neighbor.  One indicator of our growth toward perfection in love of neighbor is love of enemies. “What good does it do to love those who love you,” our Lord asks of us, “even the pagans do that.” But the Lord shows the true nature of divine charity, to love those who persecute us, to love our enemies (cf. Mt 5:44). As Dorothy Day was fond of saying, “You only love God as much as the person you hate the most.”  

 

It is then only the virtue of charity, from God alone, that we are able to perfectly love even our enemies. Thus to grow in perfection of charity and the spiritual life we do so, as St. Thomas says, "by walking with our Lord." But he makes sure to distinguish that “we walk before God not with bodily footsteps, but with affections of the mind.”[2] Hence, we are bound in charity to know the truth that we are to love God primarily through our neighbor (even our enemies) in order that together with our neighbor we may arrive at the happiness of heaven and the beatific vision of God.  This is the goal of the spiritual life and where the fullness of perfection of charity is reached.

 

Further Growth in Perfection of Charity

According to St. Thomas, “there is another way in which we love God with our whole heart and soul and strength….Frist, we are taught to refer everything to God as our End.”[3] As St. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). We grow in perfection then when we offer, in response to grace, everything we do each day to the glory of God, and see it as means of getting closer to heaven. What a radically different perspective than the one our world and our selfishness tell us. They say, view things and others not as a means to love and the glory of God but as means to our own gratification and pleasure.

 

We further grow in perfection in the spiritual life and in charity when all that we “love” is loved in God. We see this in ourselves when we habitually, more and more, allow God to love in us. We begin to renounce, as our Lord did, earthly possessions. When we see all the stuff we have as less and less necessary.  When we allow God to work in us to see all as gift and that all the things we have and enjoy should only be seen as a means of sharing in the love and joy of God.

 

Therefore, we are always moving forward or backwards in our cooperation with charity and the perfection of the spiritual life.  It is our sin, selfishness, vices and bad habits that keep us from perfection, which keep us from loving as God loves. The good news is that the Lord established a Church, a hospital for sinners to become the perfect saints he’s destined us to become. We experience the grace to heal us and strengthen us to return to virtuous road of perfection through the sacraments (especially the eucharist and confession), prayer and self-denial. 

 

So we go out there with God, having faith that his divine love and charity is in us. If we let the divine manager work within us, his earthly pitchers, we’ll see that all that we throw will be made of love. A love that moves us to perfection in all that we think, say or do. A love that is so perfect that it will be 27 up and 27 down on the way to the Ultimate Perfect Game.

 

 

 

                                                                                 

Photo illustration by Newsweek; Source: Buena Vista Images-Getty Images

 

 

[1] Thomas Aquinas, The Perfection of the Spiritual Life, chap. 1.

[2] ibid., chap. 2.

[3] ibid., chap. 5.