I fear that these are questions being secretly held captive in the modern mind without being adequately answered. As fallible self-conscious humans we can be tempted to see the potential perfection of self as wishful thinking especially when we constantly find ourselves tangled up in habitual “ways of imperfection”. Truly it can be a hard task to find ourselves even remotely satisfied in our agonizing attempt to become mighty saints of God, especially when our seemingly minimal progress appears to be heavily outweighed by our many backslides into sinful behaviour.
Formula of all Formulas
Man’s achievement of holy perfection seems impossible because it is! That is, unless you operate within the right formula: man + God. You need not be a mathematician to bring this problem to its perfect completion. You do, however, need to be a faithful child of God. Any person pursuing perfection under his own steam only leaves him with an incomplete and imperfect order of operations. We know with the assurance of the inerrancy of the Scriptures that with God all things are possible (yes, God said it Himself). Therefore there is only one formula which can lead us to the grand total of saintly perfection: 1 + 3 to the power of infinity.
Father of All Fathers
God, our Eternal Father, believes in our grand potential more than we believe in ourselves. George MacDonald, who both C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton greatly admired, rightly pointed out that like a loving father God is “easy to please and hard to satisfy.” No matter how skewed our own view of ourselves may become He never “lowers the bar” for us in pity. He never lowers His standard for us as a cautious response to our past faults which have surely exposed our inevitable propensity for failure. Our fallen nature is no secret to our Father. God will never dwell on our imperfect past because He is a Father that is eternally in the present. He knows what you have done, are doing and will do – now. What truly matters is what you do now, think now, say now. Being perfect is as simple as doing what is right in every moment, the next right thing, one moment at a time, beginning right now.
Word of all Words
Our Lord, the eternal Word, endlessly labors to turn us “right-side-up” encouraging us to pull our heads out of the grisly sand of self-pity where His loving voice is muffled and incoherent and into the clear skies of self-knowledge where He can ever-so-gently yet firmly speak truth to us in the intimacy of a loving Father-son relationship. He whispers into our weary and broken hearts, “Come to me.. for my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).” He never undermines our potential for greatness, but upholds it faithfully as the saints who are holy icons of perseverance cheer us upwards and onwards from their place in the heavens (Heb 12:1). As He did the saints, God too affirms us of our dignity stemming from our origin in Him and challenges us, His adopted sons, through His Word:
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
Jesus was the perfect example in Gospels (and He still is). As Perfection embodied, He preached what He practiced. After He challenged the crowd of disciples to “be perfect” in the Sermon on the Mount, He followed up by showing exactly what He meant by being perfect in day to day affairs and finally, at Calvary, He gave His life for the world in a perfect act of love. The perfect Act.
Now Christ calls us to the same perfection. We must die to ourselves. He calls us to the confessional; and His cross has made the confessional possible (see Jn 20:21-23). Since His death and resurrection the cross has become for the world the sign of Christian perfection with “a collision and contradiction at its heart and four arms extending forever without altering its shape,” as Chesterton so poetically described. Calvary—the place of the skull—was the site of Christ’s physical death and the defeat of the sin of Man. The confessional—the place of Reconciliation—is the site of man’s death to himself and the defeat of his own sin. The confessional is the room where saints are made.
True and total perfection is steady and unconditional, a pure and total thrust of limitless Love in crystallized yet perpetually active form. It is unchanging and eternal. Perfection is our Origin and our Destiny, and His name is Jesus. Only when we die to ourselves and achieve perfect union with Christ will we be perfect. We are striving for holy communion so that we can echo St. Paul and profess with absolute confidence: “I have been crucified with Christ; It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). So as Christ is one with the Father, we also must be one with Christ (Jn 14:20). Now.
Symbol of All Symbols
The crucifix, often hung over our chest, is commonly considered a Catholic “thing”. Non-Catholics have often asked why we “keep Christ on the cross?” Its a fair question that deserves a good answer. Why then do we keep this symbol so close to our heart? Because Christ Crucified is the Archetype of human perfection (read chapters 2 & 3 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians). Jesus’ body on the cross is the ultimate sign of sacrifice, love and unity. The atonement is an invitation to be “at one” with He alone that satisfies.
As the great Catholic apologist and author Frank Sheed would say, the effect of the atonement was and is “at-one-ment” of man and God. Thus the crucifix is a sign of the way to Truth and Life. It is also a reminder of how much we are loved by “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:16). Christ Crucified is a metaphysical billboard that screams in love and agony to the world: “Imitate me!” It is a call to practice what He has preached (Rom 2:13). We must become a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). We must become “little Christs” (2 Pet 1:3-4). For that is ultimately why we exist.