What’s Perfect, What Isn’t?
For me, sixty-eight is the perfect temperature. I joke that I’m going to retire in San Francisco, where the average yearly temperature hovers around fifty-eight (according to usclimatedata.com), with the annual high seldom exceeding seventy and the low rarely dipping below fifty. Sounds perfect, yes? Especially when temperatures in my Midwest home hit the mid-eighties to low nineties during most of September.
The notion of perfection—whether it be something simple like the weather or complicated like one’s faith—is a problem. For evidence, do an internet search for “The Problem With Perfection.” You’ll find pages of articles on the subject from sources like CNN and Psychology Today.
It’s important to note that the perfection referred to on those pages typically refers to superficial perfection, the kind that’s often perpetuated by our social-media-laden world and that really isn’t perfect at all. Consider the portrayal of “perfectly presented” families, meals, vacations, and events that pervade Facebook and Instagram. Rarely do the imperfect realities of everyday life—like red-eyed children with runny noses recovering from a temper tantrum, or an overcooked meal, or a disheveled mom with sunken eyes from lack of sleep—ever grace the social-media feed. It’s no wonder, whether consciously or not, we feel compelled to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Here’s how this relates to faith. As Christians, we are called to perfection, but not that which refers to appearance, social status, and worldly talents. Rather, as related by Fr. Robert Hater in his theological reflection “Embracing Our Universal Call to Holiness,” God’s invitation to holiness relates to “the ordinariness of life; the holiness of God, Jesus, and the Church; and finally our personal call to holiness through prayer, worship and the actions of our life.” In short, we’re called to the perfection of love.
According to Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium): “All Christians…are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more humane manner of life is fostered also in earthly society” (LG 40). Consider the positive impact of that missive if it was applied in our world. What would a “more humane manner of life” look like? Think no more threats of war, issues about migration and refugees, the political divide. The word humane encompasses compassion, benevolence, sympathy, and tolerance, to name a few—in short perfect love: simple and very profound.