You are called to perfection.
For a long time I have believed this to be true because I think if we want to live a happy life – the life Jesus calls us to – His life – we need to strive for perfection. Our flawed human nature, which causes us to be weak, inconsistent and even sinful, seems always to whisper in our ear – “there is no way you can ever even get close to perfection” – and thus discourages us, drags us down and keeps us bound in the travails and troubles of this world.
Thinking maybe I was way off track with this idea – we should strive to be perfect – I went to the Bible and was amazed at what I found. In the early beginning of our relationship with the Divine, God said to Abraham: “I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be perfect. I will make my covenant between you and me, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Genesis 17:1-2 Well the ‘exceedingly’, today, refers to you and me and all believers, so what God said to Abraham applies to us. Traveling on in the Bible, I came to direct quotes from Jesus in Matthew 5:48. “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This was spoken in the context of, “love your enemies”, “do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you”, and “turn the other cheek”, some of the most difficult teachings of Jesus.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, in II Corinthians 12:9, I found St. Paul relating that God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.” And yet again in II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice: that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work.”
These quotes were extracted from “The Holy Bible with the Confraternity Text” published in 1963, but you may find in newer translations of the Bible the word perfect is watered down to read correct or right. I prefer the word perfect and the fact that all us mortals are referred to as man has never caused me any gender sensitivity problems as I interpret it speaking to me equally as woman.
Contemplating traveling down this road to perfection, I realized what a gargantuan task it would be for me. After all I was constantly fighting a losing battle to curb my appetite so I could look sleek and slender, and I was only succeeding in remembering, about fifty percent of the time, that I should be praying. So I realized if I was going to advocate to all of you, and try myself, to by-pass mediocrity and strive for perfection, I owed it to all of us, not to mention the Almighty, to find every help and aid available to enable us to reach the goal.
I found some help from St. John of the Cross. He lived in the 1500’s, was the spiritual advisor and confessor to St. Teresa of Avila, wrote masterpieces of Spanish literature and Catholic mysticism and after his death was declared a Doctor of the Church. A quote from him is: “If you do not learn to deny yourself, you can make no progress in perfection.”
Deny yourself, I knew, meant discipline yourself so that was a course to pursue, and I also remember that in every instance of The Blessed Mother’s Church approved apparitions, her message was “pray and do penance”. The children of Fatima and young Bernadette of Lourdes did extraordinary acts of denial and self discipline as well as prayed evermore diligently after hearing the words of Mary, so if those children could make such giant strides, surely I could make some minimal progress.
Knowing a habit is the hardest thing there is to break, I decided to begin trying to make dents in my bad habits and offering it up to the Lord. Things I focused on were not nibbling between meals or taking second helpings and instead of sitting down so often watching TV, doing some chore, especially something that benefited another person. Not letting my mind wander while praying was another thing I began struggling to overcome. These are such trivial, almost laughable denials on the road to perfection, I should be embarrassed to even mention them, but I have the wonderful example of St. Therese, The Little Flower, who lived an obscure life in a secluded convent and spent her 24 years here on earth offering every trivial, insignificant act she did to Jesus. After being judged a saint her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul”, was circulated and her “little way” of searching for simplicity and perfection in all everyday tasks became a model for ordinary people. A few years ago she was declared a Doctor of the Church only the third woman in history to receive such an honor. So St. Therese is a great example for us of the value of doing just simple things, day by day, and offering them up to God.
As I was writing this commentary and at Mass last Sunday my ears really perked up when my pastor said during his homily: “Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying: “There’s a great difference between perfection and progress.” His talk wasn’t anything about striving for perfection but it really made me think. Maybe I was approaching the impossible and should just scrap this whole idea but, then again, I realized that any amount of progress is a wonderful thing and my years of experience has taught me that whenever I try something, and then suggest it to other people, they seem to take off and advance in progress much further than I do. So with total optimism, I will encourage each of you to “shoot for the stars” and try to make your life a “perfect gift to God” and I’ll keep trying the best I can so that some day we will all meet in Heaven.