The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions
"Pt. 1: Research in the sources of revelation - Ch. 10: The obligation of striving for perfection"
163. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said:1 "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
We note the broadness of the words of Christ: the perfection He calls for is not just that of some great Saint, but that of the heavenly Father Himself. It is clear that no creature could actually reach that perfection. One can only never cease trying, for he never will arrive at the perfection of the Father so that he would finally be justified in not trying to go farther.
But we must ask: Do these words of Christ contain a command or a counsel? We have an official interpretation in the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, written for the third centenary of St. Francis de Sales in 1923:2 "'Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.' But let no one think that this pertains to a few specially chosen ones, and that the rest are permitted to stop at a lower level of virtue. As is evident, absolutely all, with no exception, are bound by this law. . . ."
So it is clear that we have more than a mere counsel in the words of Christ: for all "are bound by this law." And we note that the Pope stressed that the law refers to all without exception.
Now whenever God imposes an obligation, He owes it to Himself to give likewise the needed means to fulfil the obligation. Therefore, since He commands all to strive towards the perfection of the heavenly Father Himself, it is obvious that He is also ready to give to all the required means of rising always higher and higher in holiness. But if He does this, then He cannot simultaneously desert3 anyone with only such means that it would be metaphysically inconceivable for the deserted one to reach even the minimum degree of salvation, since such a man could not4 "distinguish himself" in regard to reprobation. Therefore, God gives much more than what is needed for salvation. Or, in the words we have often quoted from Pius XII,5 ". . . the heavenly Father . . . will at all times send down upon all men a rich abundance of divine graces."
164. Very similar statements on attaining sanctity are found in other documents of the Magisterium. For example, Leo XIII in his Rerum novarum taught that 6"virtue however is the common patrimony of all mortals, [and is] equally obtainable by high and low, rich and proletariat. . . ." Pius XI, in his Encyclical on Christian marriage, tells us:7 "All, of whatever condition, and whatsoever their mode of life, can and must imitate the most absolute model of all sanctity proposed to men by God, that is, Christ the Lord; and, with the help of God [they can and must] also arrive at the highest peak of Christian perfection, as is shown by the examples of very many Saints."
Therefore, if virtue is the common patrimony of all men, and is equally obtainable to all, it is obvious that there is given to all a rich abundance of grace. No one is given only such a grace that it would be metaphysically inconceivable for him to be saved-not to mention the attainment of highest perfection. Again, if all, in every state and vocation "can and must imitate the most absolute model of all sanctity," that is, Christ Himself, it is again evident that all receive truly abundant graces.
165. Conclusion: To all men there is sent grace so abundant that they not only can be saved, but they can and must tend to the highest perfection. Therefore there is no negative reprobation before consideration of demerits.
166. Objection: But God offers the graces of perfection not proximately but remotely.
Answer: We must distinguish. God does not offer immediately and at once to each man the graces that will be needed when he reaches the highest level of sanctity, e.g., the unitive way. He offers these immediately only at the time when they are needed. But He does offer to each one immediately the graces needed for the level of spiritual development at which he is at a given time. This care is immediate and proximate.8