~GK Chesterton: 'St. Thomas Aquinas
I came across this quote yesterday on facebook and the truth of the statement struck me, because so often the rallying cry I've heard since my conversion has been something about how Catholics are supposed to look and behave like everyone else and not be too extreme.
That always gives me pause because, while I know I'm a convert and have decades of catching up to do when it comes to knowledge, I've yet to read a story about a saint that struck me as someone who was "just like everyone else."
Another facebook meme that I saw going around this week spoke of how God doesn't expect us to try to love perfectly, and how he sent us here to love imperfectly and become the most imperfect version of ourselves. It goes on to say that love is supposed to be sweaty and messy and how we didn't come here to be perfected, because we already are, but that we came to be "flawed and fabulous."
While it's true that God doesn't expect us to be perfect, the logic of the quote, and the enthusiastic reaction to it from many of my friends, made me a little sick. Striving to be the flawed and fabulous version of who I'd be without God's hand in my life, and the grace giving power of the sacraments, would be a disaster. I've seen the train wreck that I am without God and while "messy" was a good adjective to describe it, it didn't feel all that fabulous. And I just couldn't figure out why, because I was "being me."
Can our faith truly be alive though, if we're mouthing the right words on Sundays, and living as if we're our own personal savior the rest of the week? Can we ignore our Savior's warnings about the effects of sin on our lives and his adamant statements that the path to salvation would not be easy? Certainly he loves us, but we have been created with free will and we are given the chance to say yes or no to him over and over again. Again and again we choose to draw nearer or turn away.
He knows that we will fail and fall short. But he doesn't expect us to embrace our shortcomings as "who we are" and go happily along on our merry way. He expects us to pick ourselves up out of the grim and dirt, dust ourselves off, and try again, reaching towards heaven... dreaming of heaven... longing for it with all our hearts and souls as our rightful home, and praying that we might be perfected in him.
We want to believe that we can be our imperfect selves and that we can turn away from God and tell him no with our every decision and that he'll hand us a prize at the end of the day, pat us on the back and tell us that he knows we did our best. But the truth is that he doesn't force his presence on us in that way. He lets us decide whether we're turning towards him, or towards the alternative. He loves us enough to let us choose, good or evil, heaven or hell.
And so we are free to embrace our imperfections and elevate them and say that they are "who we are." But they aren't truly who we are. We are souls struggling towards our maker and the shortcomings and failings that we encounter are not what makes us, although they might warp us and obscure the truth. They are hurdles to be overcome, through the grace of God. God does not want us to embrace our messy imperfections. He wants us to strive and long for him and keep our eyes focused on the heavenly goal that every soul longs for. He wants us to love him, and to live our lives so that that truth echoes through every fiber of our being and through every decision that we make, perfecting us for the day when we might stand in his presence and worship him with all the angels and saints.
That path is never easy... but it is what we were made for.