So did you make it? Did you arrive at the end of Lent having stayed true to your Lenten commitments?
Unfortunately, I suspect that many of us didn’t keep our commitment for the full 40 days. I know I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. What about you? So did you fall short of perfection? Were you aiming for perfection? Even with the best of intentions, we often fall short of our spiritual goals. Certainly it was the intent of the Apostles to stay awake with our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane but even they fell short of their goal which only required a commitment of just a few hours.
I have observed first hand, and in addition, I have read many of your emails and I am convinced that many if not most Christians beat themselves up over their sins and short comings. Personally I believe God is more interested in our intentions to avoid sin, our intentions to follow His commands, and in our contrite heart than He is in our perfectionism. He wants to see that our efforts are directed towards Him. Here is what is written in Psalm 51:19: “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.”
Does God really expect us to achieve perfection in this life? Let’s examine several passages together. The one verse that I believe gives us consternation and reason for pause is this one:
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This perfection too often becomes a seemingly unattainable objective and a measuring gauge that leads to profound guilt. But before we get overly caught up in our own understanding of what is meant by “perfect” as used in this verse, lets investigate what some Bible scholars have pointed out.
“Perfect” as used in the verse above appears in just two places,both are in Matthew’s Gospel. A similar verse, with a different word isin Luke. Perchance could it be that what is meant by perfect in Mt. 5:48 is revealed in the other two passages? Notice what is written in Mt 19:21. Here “perfect” is somewhat defined for us. Mt.19:21: “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Here “perfect” refers to a charitable act for the poor.
Luke seems to offer up something similar but not exactly the same The Lucan verse reads like this: Luke 6:36 “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful”.
I will leave the theology of perfection to the Bible scholars to debate, but from my perspective, perfection for the Christian, consists of his or her attempt to imitate the life of Christ. Jesus Christ is the model. He was, and is, perfect in every virtue. He, as God, is both charitable and merciful. He tells us, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29).
So is perfection attainable for us weak human beings? As I understand it, the theological answer is: “yes,” but only with the grace of God, universal charity, the practice of the Beatitudes, and letting the Holy Spirit work in us through His gifts. No doubt as we draw close to this perfection, the light of Christ will radiate through us to others, allowing us to demonstrate both love of God and love of neighbor.
The pursuit of perfection is our goal and we should pray every day for the grace to achieve it. There is nothing in this life more important than imitating the life of Christ Our Lord.
Practically speaking the answer to the question; “is perfection possible in this life” is “No.” In reality, none of us will be perfectly free from sin in this lifetime. We must constantly fight against the concupiscence (bias toward sin) we inherit through original sin. But if perfectionism is defined as being full of charity and mercy towards others, rather than defined as being sinless, then there is at least a chance for us to be perfect.
In Phil 3:12, St. Paul gives us a glimpse of his attitude towards being perfect.
Phil 3:12 “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus].”
Clearly Paul knew he had strived for it and we see that in what is written in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
Maybe in addition to charity and mercy being our standards for perfection, we can also add to the mix bearing witness of the Gospel. Acts 20:24 gives us this: “Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.”
With charity, mercy and bearing witness to the Gospels as the measure, when we examine our conscience we most likely will have to acknowledge that we have fallen short of perfection. Should we despair? To help answer this question I am reminded of a quote from Ignatius of Loyola. He said “Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.”
My friends, despite our pursuit of perfection, and despite all of our kind and charitable actions, we still all remain sinners. Romans 3:23-25 says this: “ All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed.”
Now with Holy week underway and as we draw closer to Easter we must first pass through Good Friday.Perfection is not possible on our own. It is only possible through Jesus. Therefore there was no other choice…..the cross was necessary. God knew we would sin, and fall short in charity and mercy, but He loves us so much that He sent His son to pay the price for our shortfalls. We must never forget that the agony and cross of Christ point to a happier and more joyous day.
Yes we will most likely fall short of perfection, but don’t beat yourself up. On Easter the despairof Good Friday gives way to joy. Our joy is in the knowledge that on the third day HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD. Hallelujah!!
Dear Father in Heaven, we strive for perfection and yet we fall short, your Son does all of the heavy lifting we could not. He carried the cross. But, He also rose from the dead! Thank you Jesus, Amen!