How to be Perfect
IT is one of the most troubling if not discouraging Scriptures of all:
Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
A daily examination of conscience reveals anything but perfection in most of us. But that is because our definition of perfection is different from the Lord’s. That is, we cannot isolate that Scripture from the rest of the Gospel passage before it, where Jesus tells us how to be perfect:
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you… (Matthew 5:44)
Unless we set aside our own definition of “perfection” and take Jesus at His word, we will forever be discouraged. Let us see how loving our enemies really does perfect us, in spite of our faults.
The measure of authentic love is not how we serve our loved ones, but those who are our “enemies.” Scripture says:
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well… (Luke 6:27-29)
But who is my enemy?
Few of us have enemies, but we all have those who hurt us in one way or another, and we can be refusing our love to these. —Sr. Ruth Burrows, To Believe in Jesus, (Paulist Press); Magnificat, Feb. 2018, p. 357
Who are they? The ones who have criticized us, fairly or not. The ones who have been condescending. The ones who have not noticed our own needs or pain. The ones who have been blunt and insensitive, uncompassionate and dismissive. Yes, no poison on earth so penetrates the heart more than injustice. It is these people who test the measure of our love—the ones to whom we give a cold shoulder, or to whom we may be pleasant on the surface, but in private, we deconstruct their faults. We diminish them in our minds to make ourselves feel better. And if we are honest, we relish in their flaws and shortcomings to reduce the sting of truth—even small truth—that their words have brought us.
Few of us have real “enemies.” They are more like bees whose stings we rarely encounter. But it is the mosquitoes that most annoy us—those who manage to expose the areas in our lives where we are less than holy. And of these, St. Paul writes:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12:16-21)
If we love like this, we will indeed become perfect. How?
Let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
Jesus explains how Divine Justice will “cover” our faults:
Love your enemies and do good to them… and you will be children of the Most High… Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:35, 37)
Do you see now how loving others, as Christ loved us, is “perfection” in God’s eyes? By covering over the multitude of our sins. How you give is how you will receive from the Father.
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (Luke 6:38)
Perfection consists in loving as Christ loved us. And…
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
In truth, are we not critical, condescending, insensitive and uncompassionate as well? Whenever someone injures you, just call to mind your sins and follies and how frequently the Lord has forgiven you. In this way, you will find the mercy in your heart to overlook the faults of others and to bear another’s burdens.
And to become perfect.
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