A Short Road to Perfection

"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48 RSV



In the month or so since returning from my overseas travel I have started Spiritual Direction. There are great benefits to this, so I would encourage anyone considering it to speak to their Priest to determine if they should explore it.

In our last catch-up, one of the things suggested to me by my Spiritual Director was ‘A Short Road to Perfection’, by Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. This article contains a list that my Spiritual Director has suggested I work towards and use as a daily examination of conscience for the time being, to see how I am making progress on my path to holiness.

I have included the list as follows. My Spiritual Director made this into a table for my personal use, suggesting for me personally that I focus on prioritising a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament. I have replicated this table for you should you be interested in doing the same. You can find this here.

I hope you find this as useful as I am finding it to be.

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A Short Road to Perfection
September 27, 1856

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection – short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.

I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.

We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic – not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings – but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has o flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound – we mean the opposite of imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, as we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.

I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim.

If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first:

Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • Give your first thoughts to God;
  • Make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • Say the Angelus devoutly;
  • Eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • Say the Rosary well;
  • Be recollected;
  • Keep out bad thoughts;
  • Make your evening meditation well;
  • Examine yourself daily;
  • Go to bed in good time,
And you are already perfect.


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Postscript - A reflection on perfection in art

The Catholic Church believes that the search for God usually manifests in a search for one of the following: the true, the good and / or the beautiful.  Based on the latter point, the church has always defended the use of icons and artwork (which is a discussion for a future post).

The picture at the top of this post is one I took of a work known as, 'The Belvedere Torso'.  The Belvedere Torso is located within the Vatican Museum.  The Museum is full of works of art, but the Belvedere Torso is an interesting one, as it has influenced and inspired many people, including Pope Francis, but most especially Michelangelo (its influence on his work can be seen in the Sistene Chapel).

When Michelangelo was asked by Pope Julius II to repair the Belvedere Torso with arms, legs and a face, he declined.  "It is perfect as it is", he explained, "and to add to it could only take away."

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