Be Perfect…Be Whole…Be Pure in Heart
It’s no secret that every so often I battle with perfectionism and obsessive tendencies. Of course, those obsessions remind me that I’m not so ‘perfect’ after all. Recently, while out socializing with several of our diocesan priests, we were laughing about some of our imperfections and curious tendencies and, thankfully, I was reminded by one of my brothers that I was not the only one who suffered from perfectionism: sure I would often catch myself saying, “Any job, big or small—do it right, or not at all”, but it was Bishop Maginn (former bishop of Albany) who was always reminding his priests, “Good, better, best…never let it rest; till the good is better, and the better is best.”
This weekend’s gospel passage places this invitation on the lips of our Lord, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). In all of our dealings with all others, especially those in need, we are asked to exercise authentic justice in our generous stewardship; we are encouraged to act out of a severe and austere love, a love that abandons our own self interest and seeks to respond to the authentic need of others.
So, is this perfection achievable? If so, is it advisable? Although at first hearing it is potentially troublesome for people like me, Jesus is not speaking here of a perfection in the sense of absolute moral perfection, an impossible ideal for mere human beings to attain. On the contrary, our Lord is inviting us to be untarnished by concrete involvement in the material world. It is precisely amid the relativities and ambiguities of concrete action in our living, worldly existence that the disciple is called to be perfect. Moreover, we’re encouraged not to fulfill the law for the sake of the law, but rather for the sake of our “wholeness”, that goodness which involves both actions and right intentions, intentions that are not merely for our own wholeness, but the wholeness of others in our midst. Yes, to be perfect, is to serve God wholeheartedly; to be single-minded in our devotion to God.
So while I might be distracted by my obsessive need to be perfect (maybe I should let go of some of my old sayings…like, “measure twice, cut once!”)—something completely unattainable—I now find myself in need of something greater: the perfection of wholeness and holiness. And the only way I can ever attain that is by being open more and more to seeing the needs of all those around me and, by helping to alleviate suffering and injustice—all in the name of God—I might then reach the antithesis of Christ’s preaching: I might then, and only then, share in the blessings given to “the pure in heart” (Mt. 5:8).
God bless you and all whom you love,