It shouldn’t have surprised me to read in Colleen Carroll Campbell’s new book, The Heart of Perfection, that many saints were perfectionists.
After all, that’s exactly how we think of saints: they’re all perfect.
Of course, they’re not. Neither are we. So it also shouldn’t have surprised me to read that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect — at least, not in the ways that we expect ourselves to be perfect.
Colleen, who boasts a high-powered political and writing background, digs deep into the writing and life stories of saints, heretics, and prominent Catholics to outline the ways in which perfectionism became a spiritual stumbling block for many. She also shares what she has learned from saints such as Benedict of Nursia, Francis de Sales, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, and Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Perfectionism in one area of life can very easily spill over into others, and even though it seems like it might be a good thing professionally, it’s dangerous spiritually, within relationships, and for parents.
Each chapter of this beautifully written book contains episodes from Colleen’s life where her perfectionism became a problem. She intersperses these vignettes with reflections on Scripture and episodes from the lives of saints (and some well-known Catholics such as Flannery O’Connor). In one chapter, she focuses on the life of a woman whose desire for perfection here on earth led her — and many in her community — into heresy.
The saints (and others) are viewed within their historical context, which I always think is important. At the end of The Heart of Perfection, you’ll find recommended further reading, which is described as “books by and about recovering perfectionist saints.”
The key word there, for me, is “recovering” — because that’s where the hope lies.
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Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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