Living with our Imperfections
For beginners in the spiritual life the greatest obstacle can be a false standard of perfection. It raises a standard of perfection that is beyond our power to reach and causes us to give up and fail. We do not accomplish what is possible. Others suppose that the standard of Christian perfection is something that it is not.. For example, to suppose that it is possible for a person to avoid all kinds of venial sins. When they have resolved to strive after this perfection and find that they cannot do this, they become discouraged and give up, and possibly fall into mortal sin.
No one can avoid venial sin during one’s lifetime. It is contrary to the Catholic faith to believe that anyone can. Many venial sins we can avoid and our striving will not be in vain. But venial sins that are not deliberate and spring mostly from our natural defects or from lack of attention, these are imperfections which no human being can ever completely avoid; except the Blessed Mother of Our Lord. She was enabled to do so through a special favor of God. To some, the idea of being a Christian is to be without any fault and without any imperfections. As Saint Francis de Sales says, what we need to rid ourselves of - is egoism, self love and at the hour of our death we shall be glad.
To beginners who seek to develop a spiritual life Servant of God Father Isaac Hecker warns us to go easy on ourselves. Learning to love God and place God first in our lives is the work we seek to do. Father Hecker is concerned that we have don’t develop a false sense of Christian perfection. He uses the example of venial sin. The Church defines sin in two cagegories, mortal and venial. Most practicing Christians oftentimes commit venial sin and to work at ridding ourselves of this is a good thing. Where Hecker cautions us is to be aware that venial sin is often not deliberate but happens because of bad habits or lack of attention. These can be difficult to overcome. In attempting to lead a better life, start with what is not difficult to change. If we attempt too much we may become discouraged and rather than commit less sin, we end up committing more.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.