Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Perfect as I Am?

"The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need..." 

~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."

Sin has always been sin, and while there's nothing new under the sun, there seem to be times in history when certain sins have been publicly embraced rather than shunned as a trap to be avoided.  The normalization of certain sins can make any attempt to avoid that sin by others feel like a slap in the face.  Practicing virtue when we're told we can do whatever we want and "it's all good" isn't all that appealing... after all, virtues are hard to master and are seldom as much immediate fun as indulging in vice.  Being reminded that maybe we should be working on overcoming a particular flaw can be downright annoying, especially when the world tells us that we can do whatever we want to do and that our opinions and interpretations of good are actually the highest good we can attain.

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."

The easy road that might seem immediately gratifying, but it leads to destruction at a varying pace depending on our choices.  The mentality that's so popular these days that tells us that we don't need to change at all, but that everyone should love us for our quirky wonderfulness, even when we're selfish and self destructive and we hurt others.  But we're just being ourselves and that's great, right?

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.

Saints are often hated because they show us what we should be and we realize that what we should be isn't what we are.  No one likes that.  It's easier to avoid the mirror and ignore our own shortcomings, than to actively work to overcome them and seek God's will in our lives.

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.


  1. Well put! I agree very much. I've been blogging on vocation and it has been a struggle for me all along since, by the standards of Aristotle (whose evaluation of virtue and the difficulties of getting there is very useful), I am NOT virtuous yet! And friends were discussing Proverbs 31 and so much of what is out there would put every woman into the same box and that isn't right either. Ah, the struggles for holiness!

  2. "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5-48

  3. Well said Cam! I have been following your blog for some time.
    Just wanted to let you know that an 'Irish hermit' is praying
    for you and your family.
    May the Lord bless you and keep you and your lovely family
    safe. Best wishes from Ireland.

  4. I think there is a difference between accepting someone's "quirks" and personality, and accepting their sinful behavior. Life would be boring if we were all exactly the same, and I embrace and am fascinated by the different minds, personalities, tastes and skills that people have. The variety of life on Earth is amazing and a true tribute to a creative God. Having said that, when we start to accept and celebrate people's poor choices as "part of who they are" - that's when we get into trouble. What we ARE and what we CHOOSE are two very different things! I love that I am funny, and so does my husband - but sometimes my humor can turn toward mockery or rudeness. I have to watch that.

  5. Anonymous #1- Thank you for your prayers and for saying hello!

    Anonymous #2- I don't think quirks would fall into this category at all (and hopefully you didn't get that that was what I was writing about here! It wasn't). I agree whole heartedly that we're all different. We're all given different gifts and personalities. Hopefully we bring these strengths to the Church and to serve God.

    I think the problem is that many have embraced what they "choose" as part of "who they are" these days and believe that life being "messy" is simply an extension of "who they are" when it's really a result of very poor decision making and fleeing from God's will in their lives.

  6. I really don't like comments that merely say "well done," but I have to say, Cam, this is one of your best posts, ever.

  7. You really hit it out of the park with this post.

  8. Well said!

    I think that this is one of the things that bothers be about what I like to call "choose your own adventure" churches that break off from protestant churches that have broken away from the Catholic church. People begin throwing out teachings that are hard and interpreting things in ways that are convenient for whatever way they want to live. They say "this is how I am so there must not be anything sinful in it".

    I'd like to eat a gallon of icecream every day--"its just how I am"--but that does not mean it would be healthy for me to do so.

  9. True dat - and important for everyone to separate the sin from the sinner - even for the non-religious, as they might start feeling more whole...

  10. I lurk on your blog every now and again, as a fellow Catholic woman who veils. I'm also a revert, so the Chesterton quote struck me, also.

    "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?"

    Well said!

    It's funny that you should write what you did about the saints, because I'd posted something to the Catholic Pinterest board on the Litany of the Saints-- and about how it ends with the Agnus Dei: the saints are the work of the Lamb of God and His Wedding Feast. They are holy because He is holy.

    - Sursum Corda.


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