I have this really weird habit that when I do something that makes me feel unsettled, (ever so slightly) like doing my make up a little different, or (in a more major way) like doing something stupid and sinful, I always end up telling people.
I’ve been obsessing over why I do this. I mean, it’s not like I want people to know these habits of mine (sometimes awful) and these occasions of sin that I fall into, so why do I let it all out when I am with them. I even coach myself ahead of time to not say anything and plan on confessing those more serious sins instead, but then I get in a group situation and spill all of my dirty and rotten beans on the floor.
I think I finally figured it out: I want reassurance. I want to hear in their voices, and see on their faces that even though I did something different, or weird, or stupid and sinful that I am still alright. What’s more than that, I want to hear that they approve of what I have done by relating to what I have done. I want to hear that my friends and family have also done similar stupid things and laugh together at our weaknesses. This makes me feel like I am not the only flawed and imperfect human being on the planet.
Yet, today I read in scripture Jesus saying: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
I think this is one of the most overlooked passages in scripture. For the most part I believe it’s because all of us want what I described above. We want to share in each other’s flaws and imperfections. We are cool with settling in the reality that we are just “alright.” “Yeah sure, I mess up. But who doesn’t! Que, sera sera!”
This isn’t what God wants for our lives. Jesus finished telling us to be perfect after one of the hardest teachings in scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon, Jesus tells us that we are to be poor in spirit, mournful, and meek. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, and be clean of heart. We are to be peacemakers, and because of our thirst for righteousness we are to be persecuted. We will be insulted, slandered and attacked; yet we are to rejoice and be glad.
No. Not easy. If I am truly honest, I am but a tiny fraction of each of these things. I am proud and content with myself in my life. I desire righteousness but spend my day desiring and actually watching Netflix, the Real Housewives of New York City, and worrying about my appetite more than I do cultivating my spiritual life and my relationship with God. I would like to think that I am clean of heart, but I have no problem watching (sometimes binge watching) tv shows that promote salacious sexuality, immorality, and violence, all the while judging the sometimes very real and broken people in these shows. I am anything but righteous and I run from confrontations where I will be put down for the sake of my beliefs.
It’s a hard reality to admit our true flaws, and admit that we are anything but what God calls us to be. It’s a hard reality to swallow the fact that most of us would rather stew in our own “alrightness” than actively and daily seek righteousness so much so that we go out of our way to be uncomfortable in our own spirits: to mourn and pray for those who are suffering, to actively avoid those things that pull us away from God, to put our own selfish desires down so that we can lift up others and their needs before our own.
Our world tells us a grand lie, everyday: that holiness is not attainable. Most of us reserve this title for those special set apart people, like Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint John Paul II. We look at these people as if they have been gifted with “extra-special” graces to accomplish grand and truly holy things for God. But listen to what these two saintly people say about holiness itself:
Mother Teresa said,
We must have a real living determination to reach holiness. I will be a saint means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God.
Saint John Paul II said,
Holiness is to raise one’s eyes to the summits. It is intimacy with God the Father who is in heaven. In this intimacy, each one of us is aware of our nature with all its limitations.
They’re saying exactly what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount: that holiness is possible, and it is possible through a sincere detachment from the self and a real attachment to Jesus Christ. We are capable of truly “raising our eyes to the summits”; raising them above our very flawed and imperfect world that we live and act in every day. Ultimately, this is what true perfection really is: living out our lives striving to be exactly who God calls us to be.
I love what Saint Augustine has to say about this: “Wherever you begin to be please with yourself, there you stop. If you say: ‘That is enough; I am not interested in going any further,’ you are lost.” If each of us could wake up each day, and try desperately to rise above our own “alrightness”, through Christ, I think this is the beginning that we all hope for. This is the “change” we want to see in the world.
The change begins at home.
(The image up top is by Yongsung Kim )