If I Were a Rich Man

St. Clement of Alexandria, born Titus Flavius Clemens (ca. 150-215), answers the question: Can a wealthy person be saved? In his treatise Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, Clement argues that riches are no obstacle to salvation if one makes good use of them. We need not give up wealth when properly used; rather, we should give up those passions that lead to sin. For sin, not wealth, excludes one from heaven.

“Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbours, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they lie to our hand, and are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument. If you use it skilfully, it is skilful; if you are deficient in skill, it is affected by your want of skill, being itself destitute of blame. Such an instrument is wealth. Are you able to make a right use of it? It is subservient to righteousness. Does one make a wrong use of it? It is, on the other hand, a minister of wrong. For its nature is to be subservient, not to rule. That then which of itself has neither good nor evil, being blameless, ought not to be blamed; but that which has the power of using it well and ill, by reason of its possessing voluntary choice. And this is the mind and judgment of man, which has freedom in itself and self-determination in the treatment of what is assigned to it. So let no man destroy wealth, rather than the passions of the soul, which are incompatible with the better use of wealth. So that, becoming virtuous and good, he may be able to make a good use of these riches.” (14)

“If therefore he who casts away worldly wealth can still be rich in the passions, even though the material [for their gratification] is absent, . . . it is then of no advantage to him to be poor in purse while he is rich in passions. For it is not what ought to be cast away that he has cast away, but what is indifferent; and he has deprived himself of what is serviceable. . . . We must therefore renounce those possessions that are injurious, not those that are capable of being serviceable, if one knows the right use of them.” (15)

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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Striving for Perfection – Part 10 of 10

Father Geiermann concludes his discussion on striving for perfection by mentioning four things that people on the road to perfection do.

First, they are attentive to details. “Attention to details is essential to produce a perfect work. Our daily life is made up mostly of minor obligations and petty trials. Heroic sacrifices are rarely required in a lifetime. Though the main duties of our calling demand our first attention, the details are also of obligation. By performing these with due attention, we also fulfil the former well and thus bring forth fruit a hundred-fold. Continual attention to details in shunning evil and doing good is not only the greatest evidence of our loyalty to God, but also the evidence of virtue as heroic as is found in the lives of the canonized saints.”

Secondly, they make good use of the present moment. “The present moment links the eternity of the past with the eternity to come. The past will never return; the future is in God’s keeping. The present is the time of grace and opportunity.”

Thirdly, they renew their good intention. “As the hand of the compass turns to the North so human nature instinctively inclines to earthly things. To concentrate our energies on spiritual things we must counteract the downward tendency of our corrupt nature by a frequent renewal of our good intention. . . . If we do not recollect ourselves and renew our intention from time to time, our fervor will cool, our generosity will decrease, and our vigilance will relax. . . . All Christians are exhorted to renew their good intention at least every morning. St. Alphonsus exhorts us to make a good intention at the beginning of every undertaking, to renew it when the clock strikes.”

Fourthly, those who seek perfection are faithful. “Fidelity in the service of God is a persevering effort to avoid evil and do good. It is essential to attain eternal happiness. . . . ‘To begin well,’ says St. Teresa, ‘is half the victory, but to receive the crown of glory we must die a holy death.’ It matters little when or where we shall die as long as we keep ourselves in readiness by fidelity in God’s service. ‘Wherefore be you ready,’ exhorts our Saviour, ‘because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come’ (Mt 24:44). We insure this fidelity or final perseverance by serving God perfectly moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day. . . . We shall be ever ready for His summons, and so may confidently expect to hear those consoling words: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’ (Mt 25:21).”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Striving for Perfection – Part 9 of 10

Father Geiermann notes that one who strives for perfection avoids occasions of sin and seeks opportunities for doing good.

Concerning the avoidance of occasions of sin, he observes: “The occasion of sin is something external to us, which allures us to sin. . . . Some occasions are dangerous to faith, others to modesty, to temperance, to justice, or to charity. As long as we (1) avoid the proximate occasion of sin when we can; (2) render the occasion remote where it is impossible to avoid it; (3) renew our determination to avoid every sin; and (4) fortify ourselves by prayer, we have a claim on the special protection of Providence, and may rest assured that God will deliver us. But, to seek the occasion of sin, or tarry voluntarily in it, besides incurring the guilt of the sin, is an act of presumption.”

Moments of temptation call for moral decisiveness: “Decision in temptation is vigor and promptitude in resisting the inclinations to sin. Our will may act with this decision even when our nature is rebellious and hankers for what is forbidden. And, practically, the greater the effort necessary to triumph over a temptation, the greater is also the victory and the merit. . . . Our hope of triumph is in the goodness and promises of God, but the grace of God can not crown us with victory before we have stood the test of resisting the temptation with decision.”

“Most temptations are easily overcome by making contrary acts in a spirit of faith. The saints of God advise us, however, to turn away from temptations against faith and holy purity, and conquer them by invoking the aid of Jesus and Mary while occupying our minds with other subjects. The reason for this salutary advice is because temptations against faith and holy purity are intensified by actual opposition.”

As for seeking occasions for doing good, Father Geiermann says: “An occasion of doing good is an opportunity of pleasing God. All are given the opportunity of fulfilling the duties of their state in life, as well as the opportunity of performing various acts of fraternal charity and Christian mercy. Our first aim should be to perform the duties of our state in life conscientiously, and then to seek those occasions of doing good (1) which harmonize with our calling; (2) which are most urgent; (3) which are nearest at hand. It is better to seek the ordinary occasions of doing good rather than the extraordinary, and to prefer the hidden ones to those which earn for us the applause of the world.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Striving for Perfection – Part 8 of 10

Continuing his discussion of striving for perfection, Father Geiermann observes that the road to perfection is a gradual process that requires the traveler’s patience: “The spiritual life is composed of a divine and a human element. The divine element is the grace of God; the human, our fallen nature actuated by good will. Both elements combine to effect the spiritual life within us, the human element supplying the material or favorable condition, while the grace of God is the efficient cause of our sanctification. . . . As the human element progresses by being more and more subjected to the influence of grace, its progress is usually slow and necessarily gradual. . . .The progress of the divine element, or the influence of grace, when not miraculous, is also gradual, because proportionate to the capacity of the human element. God is indeed lavish, but not reckless, with His grace. He gives the increase in proportion to our fidelity in co-operating with it, or in proportion as we increase our capacity for grace by the gradual surrender of ourselves through conformity to His holy will.”

Patience is that self-possession which enables us to conform to the will of God in the trials of life. The trials of life arise (1) from the nature of our earthly pilgrimage; (2) from the infirmity of human nature; (3) from the conduct of others; (4) from the influence of the spirit-world; and (5) from the special dispensations of divine Providence.”

“Patience (1) makes us masters of ourselves and our surroundings; (2) makes us Christlike in our love of the cross; (3) makes us the beloved children of God; (4) entitles us to the reward of heaven; and (5) gives that ‘peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding’ (Phil 4:7).”

“To possess our souls in patience St. Alphonsus exhorts us (1) to anticipate the trials that await us; (2) to pray for strength to endure them; (3) to frequent the sacraments; (4) to live in intimate union with God.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Striving for Perfection – Part 7 of 10

Father Geiermann continues his discussion of striving for perfection by stating that a person seeking perfection should have a certain docility. He explains: “Docility is submissiveness to the will of God, whether made known by His law, through the voice of our superior, or by the inspiration of grace. It manifests itself in the respect we have for authority, in the reverence we have for our superiors, and in the readiness with which we welcome the inspirations of grace. Young Samuel had this spirit of docility when he said: ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth’ (1 Sm 3:9). King David also gave us an example of it when he prayed: ‘Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God’ (Ps 142:10).”

A person seeking perfection should have promptitude in the service of God, an “eagerness to please Him.” This promptitude “flows from a spirit of docility animated by the love of God, and manifests itself (1) in the exactness with which we perform the duties of our state in life; (2) in the willingness with which we carry our cross; and (3) in the alacrity, cheerfulness, and thoroughness with which we strive to please God in all things. It induces us to concentrate our energies on the task before us, and to accomplish much under disadvantages and in a short time.”

Such a person makes a continuous effort in the service of God. Geiermann insists that “our efforts should never relax till our earthly pilgrimage is ended. . . . Time, grace, and opportunity are given us. If we employ them in God’s service we progress; if we neglect to use them we recede. In this life there is no stopping place, no time when we are exempt from doing God’s holy will. Eternal rest awaits us in heaven. If, then, we neglect to co-operate even with a single grace, that neglect may break the chain of graces that leads to final perseverance, and so may be the first step to our final reprobation.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Striving for Perfection – Part 6 of 10

Continuing his discussion of striving for perfection, Father Geiermann mentions the importance of having a resolution to please God: “We should make the resolution to belong entirely to God and to please Him in all things. . . . By this resolution, firmly and irrevocably made and continually applied to the circumstances of our daily lives, we are made fit material, like clay in the potter’s hands, to be transformed by God into vessels of election. According to St. Alphonsus this resolution includes the determination (1) to avoid every deliberate fault; (2) to detach ourselves from earthly things; (3) to be faithful in prayer and mortification; (4) to keep the eternal truths and the passion of Jesus Christ before our minds; (5) to resign ourselves to the will of God in adversities; (6) to beg of God continually the gift of His holy love; (7) to do what seems most pleasing to God; (8) to carry this resolution into effect in the present.”

A person aiming at perfection wishes to serve God, and is characterized by generosity in disposition and fervor in action.

Geiermann defines this generosity as “wholesouledness in the service of God.” Such a one “joyfully does what he can, and confidently relies on the assistance and guidance of heaven. With St. Paul he not only says, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me,’ but is also, like him, willing to endure all things that God ordains. . . . Generosity makes us seek opportunities of doing good, seize them with avidity, and produce a perfect work.”

Fervor is affection in the service of God. What generosity is in disposition that fervor is in action. St. Basil calls fervor an efficacious desire of pleasing God in all things. When a good will has blossomed into holy desires and matured into a practical resolution, it stimulates the affections of a generous soul and makes them glow with fervor. . . . Fervor imparts that facility and sweetness to the service of God which accelerates and insures our progress in perfection.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Striving for Perfection – Part 5 of 10

Father Geiermann continues his discussion of striving for perfection by stating that a person who is determined to attain perfection will cultivate within himself a spirit of prayer. He writes: “By our daily prayers and frequentation of the sacraments we ordinarily do not submit ourselves sufficiently to the influence of grace to progress with the full liberty of children of God. For this a spirit of prayer is necessary. Three pious practices combine to form a spirit of prayer: (1) the habit of recollection, or living in the presence of God; (2) the habit of devotion, or inclining to God with childlike confidence; (3) the habit of ejaculatory prayer and interior communion with God.” Ejaculatory prayer “consists in fervently invoking the holy names of Jesus and Mary, or in making other pious aspirations that keep us united to God.” It is “an efficacious means of invoking the divine aid in time of temptation, and of cultivating the habit of prayer during the busy hours of the day.”

A person seeking perfection should do so with sincerity. He writes: “Sincerity is that attitude of our mind which, being free from ignorance or bias, enables us to grasp the excellence of the Christian ideal, and begets the desire and the resolution to attain it. . . . Sincerity enables us to view life from the true, eternal, immutable standpoint of almighty God. . . . It was this sincere apprehension of the relative value of temporal and eternal things that made St. Paul exclaim: ‘I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ’ (Phil 3:8).”

A person seeking perfection should have holy desires. “The desire of perfection is a longing to please God and to make the necessary sacrifices to do His holy will in all things. ‘Holy desires are the blessed wings,’ says St. Alphonsus, ‘on which the saints fly to the mountain of perfection.’ . . . Holy desires inspire us (1) with the courage to enter resolutely on the narrow way, (2) with the strength to surmount all obstacles, (3) with the fortitude to face the temptations and trials of life.” Father Geiermann adds: “It is specially useful, besides meditating on the eternal truths and the life of our blessed Saviour, to study the lives of those saints who at one time had been great sinners, or who lived and sanctified themselves in our own circumstances.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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