“Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48
That’s a tall order. Are we really called to be perfect, like God, the Creator of the Universe, the all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal God is perfect? Yikes!
I’ve tried to be perfect, what I think perfection is. But I think my definition is more aligned with Webster than Jesus.
per·fect adj. 1 a: being entirely without fault or defect : FLAWLESSb: meeting all requirements : ACCURATE,EXACT <a perfect circle> <a perfect copy> c: PURE 3, total <perfect stillness> d: 1COMPLETE 1, whole
When I try to be flawless and exact, I fail every time. Then I start kicking myself and remain in a state of frustration for . . . the rest of my life. No, really. Why try? I’ll just fail again and frustrate myself, thus becoming even less perfect than when I began. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, is it? It’s just the cross I must bear, wretched sinner that I am. Or maybe I’m just misunderstanding the words of Jesus.
You see, if I try to understand Jesus all by myself, I’ll mess everything up. His disciples did the same thing, and they were physically with Him, living with Him on a daily basis, hearing Him preach. I’m fooling myself to think I know any better than the disciples. So what recourse do I have? Jesus knew this would be a problem. He left us the Holy Spirit and His Church to guide and direct us. And the Church has clarified the definition of perfection to remove the paralysis that inevitably comes when we try to be perfect in our own strength.
“‘All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.’ All are called to holiness; ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'”
“In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2013)
Hold on. Okay, so perfection is basically holiness in Christian charity, relying on Christ to attain it. But it looks like I’m still called to perfect charity – loving everyone always and perfectly. How am I supposed to do that? Even with God’s help, I still sin and fall.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, who I’m liking more and more, puts it plainly. “Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none.” (CCC 2028) Now THAT I can wrap my mind around. Since God alone is perfect, we will never be perfect until completely united with Him in Heaven, yet somehow we are still to try to be perfect in this life. This leads me to share a breakthrough I had about a week ago.
‘Better is better than perfection is perfect.’ That’s my take on Matthew 5:48. To prevent perfection paralysis. I KNOW I can’t be perfect here on earth. My initial response is, ‘why try?’ But that’s the devil’s lie creeping in. He so easily takes God’s Word and tweeks it to serve his evil purposes. If the devil can do this with Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he can certainly do it with me. I still can try to be perfect, knowing that Christ will help me, but also knowing I will never get there. But that sounds rather dismal. Imagine running a race that you’ll never finish. Sounds pretty exhausting, even if someone is carrying me. But what if I look at it differently? What if I focus on the journey, rather than the destination?
It’s similar to driving in the fog. You can’t see where you’re going, so you hesitate going forward. But if you stop, you could get rear-ended. If you focus on the part of the road that you CAN see, and note how you move forward, you will eventually get to your destination. By evaluating your progress toward holiness, noting that you are getting better, or making corrections when you make mistakes, then eventually you will get to Heaven, reaching perfection through God’s grace.
I can always do better. That’s easy. So why should I focus on perfection, which paralyzes me and prevents me from doing the very thing I’m called to? For me, the perfect way to holiness is by doing better, each moment, each day, walking with Jesus all the way.
“Better is better than perfection is perfect.”