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Does the Lord Really Mean We Are to Be Perfect?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
6/18/2013 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The One through whom we were first created is re-creating us through His grace,as we live our lives in Him. We do not yet perceive who we are to become

The admonition from Jesus is clear. It is repeated in other Gospel accounts and developed in several New Testament Epistles. I suggest that our problem with understanding and responding to the passage is twofold; we misunderstand the meaning of the word and we have a limited our comprehension of the goal of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

Highlights

P>CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - The Gospel of today's Mass is challenging: "Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."

"For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (St. Matthew 5: 43-48)

Perfect?

The admonition from Jesus is clear. It is repeated in other Gospel accounts and developed in several New Testament Epistles. I suggest that our problem with understanding and responding to the passage is twofold; we misunderstand the meaning of the word and we have a limited our comprehension of the goal of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

The One through whom we were first created is re-creating us through His grace,as we live our lives in Him. We do not yet perceive who we are to become. The beloved dsiciple John explained in his first letter, "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. " (1 John 3:2)

It helps to consider the word translated perfect in English in order to grasp the call to participation contained in this invitation to conversion. Filtering this word through linguistic limitations, we might not even try to respond to the invitation and miss the grace of conversion needed to actually live the call to love.

In Greek, the word is telios.

Telios refers to something being completed, brought to its full purpose, potential and intended end and vocation. For example, in the world of objects, a hammer is telios or perfect when it is hammering a nail. In the world of subjects, things are telios or perfect when they are fulfilling their nature.

We were created in the Image of the God of Love who made us for love. In Jesus Christ, we are now capacitated, to use a term of the early father and Bishop Ireneaus of Lyons, made capable by the grace of His Redemption,  of loving as God loves. In fact we are called to love others with God's very love. "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16).

As we respond to this invitation with both our words and our actions, as we cooperate with grace, we are completed or perfected in Jesus christ. In our Western minds, we limit this word perfect and can  fail to grasp its promise and potential. We equate it with being sinless, in the sense of never again making a wrong choice. We think of it mathematically rather than relationally.

However, the concept is also applied to Jesus by the author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews in chapter 5 verses 8-9: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him."

He was made perfect through what He suffered? Yet, Jesus was without sin. How then was He perfected? He came into the world to redeem, to transform us all by a life, and a death, of perfect sacrificial love. He fulfilled His purpose when He presided over the new creation from the Altar of that Cross and robbed death of its victory.

We are called to be perfected - to love as He loved, to love with His love. By so doing we prove ourselves to be Sons and daughters of His Father, who, in Him, has become Our Father. When we follow Jesus -in both word and deed - a dynamic process happens within us, a process of ever deepening conversion and transformation.

We actually "participate in the Divine Nature", the Apostle Peter tells us, right now. (2 Peter 1:4). We are made complete, perfected in charity, by grace and our continued cooperation with grace.We begin to change into the very new men and women that Jesus Christ has now capacitated us to become.

We fulfill our purpose of carrying on His life of redemptive love by loving even those who do not love us. We also continue His great work of Redemption, which He will complete upon His return. Only then will the entire creation be reconstituted by love, made perfect, and handed back to the Father as a perfect gift of love.

So, let us be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect. 

I conclude with an excerpt from an explanation of Christian holiness in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which may be helpful:

CHRISTIAN HOLINESS

2012 "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him . . . For those whom he fore knew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified."

2013 "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity."All are called to holiness: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ's gift, so that doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.

2014 Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" - and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.

2015 The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes: He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.(Gregory of Nyssa) 

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