Sunday, February 21, 2016

In Pursuit of Perfection

“[The Lord Jesus Christ] will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” (Phil 3:21)

Yesterday morning, I woke up for Mass and read that day’s gospel, and the last verse of has been with me in thought and prayer ever since: “Be perfect, just like your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).”  I thought about this verse in light of todays gospel of the Transfiguration because this Jesus transfigured is and must be the perfection that we as Christians must aspire to.  Yet we hear the word perfect and think it is something beyond our grasp.  Think carefully about our defeatist view of perfection: Why would our Lord tell us to be perfect if he did not think we were capable of reaching it?  As is the case with most of us, our Lord thinks more highly of us than we do.  He sees the potential that each of us has, and he sees beyond our lowliness and sees something glorious.  We are offered the account of the Transfiguration to remind us that this Lenten journey is going to end in the beauty of Christ glorified after the resurrection.  In the meantime, we strive to perfect our lives and to grow closer to Christ.  But boy is it hard to be perfect.

Going all the way back to when I was a child, I already knew that I was a frustrated perfectionist.  One day in fourth or fifth grade, I remember going to the school library and one particular book caught my eye: “How To Be a Perfect Person In Just Three Days.”  I immediately checked it out.  It was a very clever book and I don’t want to spoil how the author reaches his conclusion, but as I look back on this childhood experience, it only emphasizes the need that we all have in our hearts to be perfect just our heavenly Father is perfect.  So how do we achieve this?  Well the end of the gospel tells us quite clearly and directly from the voice of the Father:  listen to Jesus.  We have a long way to go, but if we listen to the Lord, if we center our lives on the Lord, and if we continue practicing our faith in a devout and disciplined way, then perfection and holiness are very much within our grasp. 

In regards to “practicing” our faith, Father Paul Scalia during the homily at the Funeral Mass of his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said the following yesterday: “[My father] was a practicing Catholic, "practicing" in the sense that he hadn't perfected it yet. Or rather, Christ was not yet perfected in him.” (Father Paul and I were on the same wavelength because I didn’t see or read his homily until Sunday afternoon and was able to insert this gem into the homily of my evening Mass.)  We haven’t perfected our faith because Christ has not yet been perfected in us, so we continue “practicing” and we continue looking up at the glorified and transfigured Christ with the same wonder and awe that the three disciples did.  And we also know that we are slowly brought to perfection through our celebration of these Sacred Mysteries, for it is here in the Mass that we experience a bit of Mount Tabor every Sunday.  As Dr. Scott Hahn puts it so eloquently, “Mass is heaven on earth.”  This weekend I shared a picture that Dr. Hahn posted on his Facebook page that you can see below.  We may look up at the altar and only see a priest elevating a host, but what is really happening is all the angels and heavenly hosts surrounding the presence of Christ who dares to come down and touch us and feed us in the Eucharist.  Yes, we have a long way to go to attain perfection, but there’s no harm in practicing as we continue our journey until Christ is brought to perfection in us.  Until then, heed the voice of the Father this Lent: look to our Lord, his Chosen One, and listen to him!