2 Peter 1:2-7
Psalm 91:1-2, 14-16
For as much as Christians loved making lists of seven (the Seven Sacraments, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc.) that are passed down to us today, I am not aware of anyone ever using this list that St. Peter provides for us in the first reading today. It could be called the Seven Steps Beyond Faith.
He presumes that he is talking to people of faith, people who believe that Jesus is Lord. What more do they need? Well, to faith they need to add virtue. Virtue is the strength to do right that comes from doing what is right over and over.
Once someone has faith and virtue, what more do they need? They should add knowledge. Good holy reading, particularly of Scripture and the Catechism.
Once someone has faith, virtue, and knowledge, what more do they need? They should add self-control. This is the perfection of virtue. With the strength of virtue and the guidance of knowledge, a person ought to take command of their own life, no longer doing things and then saying, “I do not know why I did that.”
Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, and self-control, what more do they need? They should add endurance. A person who has progressed this far will be persecuted as a servant of God, just as Jesus says in the Gospel today. Once we have control over ourselves, we must be ready to confront a hostile world. Not with violence to cause suffering, but with endurance to accept suffering.
Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and endurance, what more do they need? They should add devotion. Devotion means kneeling down before the power and glory of Almighty God and acknowledging the truth about our place in the universe. If a person reaches this point of mastery over themselves, they might be in danger of pride, so they need the humility of devotion.
Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, and devotion, what more do they need? They should add brotherly love. The Christian life is not accomplished on my own, and it is not accomplished between me and God. If I do not love the brother whom I have seen, how can I love God whom I have not?
Once someone has faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, devotion, and brotherly love, what more do they need? They should add perfect love. If I love those who love me, what is surprising about that? I must love my enemy. I must love those who cause the suffering that I am enduring. I must love with the love of God because I am loved by God.
So are these stages in the spiritual life or do we work on all of them at once? Yes. Both. We cannot delay love until we have mastered the earlier stages, but we will never really love someone else until we have gotten control of ourselves.