Ave Maria Meditations
On Perseverance: Grant, O Lord, that by Your grace I may persevere unto the end.
To become a saint, it is not enough to be courageous and patient and to practice the other virtues for a few days or a few months, or even for a few years. We must persevere in these dispositions to the end of our life, never yielding to fatigue, discouragement or laxity. This is the crucial point for, as St Thomas says, “to apply oneself for a long time to a difficult task — and virtue is almost always difficult — constitutes a special difficulty”, and it is only by overcoming this difficulty that we shall be able to reach perfection.
We are not angels, we are human beings. The angel, a pure spirit, is stable by nature; if he makes a resolution, he holds to it; but this is not the case with us. We, being composed of spirit and matter, must suffer the consequences of the instability and fluctuations of the latter. As stability is a characteristic of the spirit, so instability is a characteristic of matter; hence it become so difficult for us to be perfectly constant in the good. Although we have formed good resolutions in our mind, we always feel handicapped by the weakness of the sensible part of our nature which rebels against the weariness of sustained effort, and seeks to free itself from it, or at least to reduce it to a minimum.
Our bodies are subject to fatigue; our minds are disturbed by emotions which are always fluctuating. That which at the one moment fills us with enthusiasm may, at the next, become distasteful and annoying to such a point that we think we can no longer endure it. However, God calls us all to sanctity, and since sanctity requires a continual practice of virtue, He, who never asks the impossible, has provided a remedy for the instability of our nature by giving us the virtue of perseverance, the special object of which is the sustaining of our efforts. Though fickle by nature, we can by the help of grace become steadfast.
There are two types of perseverance. The first is so perfect that it never wavers, it is always inflexible, maintained even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances. This is the perseverance of heroic virtue, of souls who have reached the state of transforming union, who habitually live under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the beautiful goal to which we can and should aspire, though we cannot attain to it by the practice of virtue alone; only the continual intervention of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can completely overcome the instability of our nature.
The second type is perseverance practiced by fervent or even perfect souls who do not as yet enjoy the habitual motions of the Holy Spirit, and whose perseverance, therefore, shows some fluctuations, more or less slight, according to the degree of perfection of the soul. In this case perseverance does not consist in remaining perfectly stable in good, but rather in constantly beginning again as soon as any failure is recognized. Sometimes just a momentary inattention, an unexpected happening, a little weariness or emotion, is enough to make us commit some fault that we had sincerely resolved to avoid at any cost, and here we have failed again!
This, however, is no reason for being discouraged or sad; rather it is a motive for humbling ourselves, for recognizing our weakness and begging more insistently for God’s help to rise at once and begin again. Because our human nature is so unstable, our perseverance will usually consist in continually beginning again. This is the perseverance to which we should all attain, because it depends on our good will, in the sense that God has infused this virtue in our soul, giving us at every moment sufficient grace to practice it. It is not in our power to free ourselves from this instability of our nature, and therefore we cannot avoid every slackening in virtue, every negligence, weakness or fault; but it is within our power to correct ourselves as soon as we perceive that we have failed. This is the kind of perseverance that God demands of us, and when we practice it faithfully, and are always prompt in rising after each fall, He will crown our efforts by granting us the supreme grace of final perseverance.
Prayer: “O eternal God, grant me the virtue of perseverance; without it, no one can please You nor be acceptable to You. This virtue brings to the soul an abundance of charity and the fruit of every effort. Oh! how happy I should be, Lord, if You would give me this virtue, because even here on earth it will make me enjoy a pledge of eternal life. But your light reveals to me that I cannot attain it unless I suffer much, because this life cannot be lived without suffering. He who would escape suffering would deprive himself of holy perseverance.” (St Catherine of Siena)