Saturday of the 1st week of Lent
“You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.“
I read an article recently about St Therese of Lisieux and her view on perfection. It was a very interesting take and I will include the link to it at the end of this reflection. St Therese essentially says that perfection is not so much doing everything perfectly, but rather to abandon oneself and submit to, and accept the will of God and to live it out accordingly. Sounds simple enough to hear it like this, but when I think about how I would go about doing this, I probably would miss the point. We do indeed tend to focus more on how good or virtuous we are, rather than how closely we are keeping to the task God calls us to.
The first reading was a passage full of instructions. There are an awful lot of instructions in the bible, to be honest, but it seems as if the commands keep getting whittled down as we proceed towards the New Testament, and through the Gospels. Then the command went all the way to “love your enemies”. So that is what is expected of us, in order for us to be perfect. To love our enemies, to love one another as Jesus loved us (yes, He loved those who had him killed). Not asking for much, is He, just a Perfect Love from us.
I for one took the words “be you therefore perfect” to mean “keep striving for perfection”. In any case, purgatory exists, where we will be washed into perfection, right? Yes, and no. Yes of course we do our very best to live a life of virtue, and yes, purgatory exists for the purification of our souls. But that is not how we attain perfection. We attain perfection when we allow ourselves to be supplemented by God. That really means to embrace our imperfections and weaknesses. While we continue to work on them, we should not try to suppress them or pretend they do not exist — this is impossible. We are all very fallible human beings. But we need to bring our imperfections to God, and to ask Him to use these imperfections for good. That is how we become perfect.
Understanding and accepting our weaknesses is the first step to loving as God does, that is to say, perfectly. We recognise that we and everyone else, are flawed. We are all terrible people. And God knows that, for He made us this way. He made us with the capacity to make decisions. Too bad we like to make bad decisions. But God loves us all the same despite it all. And we should love ourselves the same way. We should love our enemies the same way. If we can fully submit to God’s will and put aside our own desires, we too will be able to love freely.
During one of my family’s night prayers, I had read a passage from Matthew 11, verses 28 to 30. This prayer book’s version was an unusual one that made me see this passage in a different light: “Come to me, all of you, when you are tired and weary with cares, and I will help you. Carry out the task that I give you and learn from me how to do it, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Then your soul will find rest, for the task I give you is light and its fulfillment is easy.“
Oh my goodness! I had always just focussed on the first verse, and assumed it was only about Jesus taking over my yoke for me! But no, on top of that, Jesus is inviting us to take up HIS yoke instead, which is sweet, and his burden, which is light. Why? Because Jesus is meek and humble of heart, i.e., Jesus is perfect. And he shows us how to be perfect. So we can finally find rest, instead of exhausting ourselves running about trying to be perfect and do perfect things perfectly. No, we embrace our flaws, we embrace God’s will, and we let God work through us and our flaws.
Jesus is therefore the best example of how to become perfect. He was fully human too, with the same worries and fears. While he certainly did not relish the thought of his impending execution, he nonetheless submitted to the will of God and walked the path he was meant to. And while being tortured, he prayed for those torturing him. While hanging dying on the cross, he assured a repentant sinner of his place in Paradise. Through all of his ordeal, he never forgot what he was meant to do, what he was meant to say to comfort and heal all those he met, whether they were good or bad.
Mother Mary is someone else who is a good role model for us too. She readily said ‘yes’ to God even if she wondered how everything could have been possible. St Joseph too, obeyed God completely despite his initial misgivings, and then when his family was in danger. He listened and did what God told him to, instead of what he thought was right. St Therese herself lived a life of letting God work through her even as she felt herself to be unremarkable. It is maybe a bit much to compare ourselves to Jesus, Mary, and the Saints, but the idea here is that we must submit ourselves to God’s will and let Him work on us.
God’s perfection is absolute. Ours is not. But we are called to let ourselves be filled with His goodness, so we can become perfect as He is.
Link to article: https://aleteia.org/2023/02/18/why-perfection-seemed-simple-to-st-therese-and-how-we-get-it-all-wrong/
(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)
Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for the courage to abandon ourselves to Your will. We pray for the strength to shed our pride, and to let You work through us. Help us to be more loving, as You are loving.
Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, we thank You for all the love that You have lavished upon us so perfectly.
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