Perfection Reconsidered

This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, March 20, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

Last Saturday, my bride and I went to morning Mass together. In the gospel, Jesus admonishes His disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

I’ve always taken this to be a tall order—impossible, in fact, for anyone but God alone. It almost always makes me feel small, weak, and inadequate to the task. These feelings may be true, but do not seem particularly helpful when it comes to striving for sainthood.

But Father Joe tweaked my thinking with his homily Saturday morning.

“Notice,” he said, “that the Lord doesn’t say, ‘Do everything perfectly,’ but ‘Be perfect.’”

He went on to explain that, with our fallen nature, we cannot expect never to make mistakes—but that we should do the best we can in every circumstance, striving to love as God loves.

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A Long Time Comfortable

This post appeared as a column in the January 16 bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church. It was written during the cold snap the week before.

As I write this morning, it’s -24 outdoors. That people work outdoors in this weather—expanding our church facilities, for example—is amazing. That people sleep and starve outdoors in this weather while I sit comfortably typing away is tragic and humbling.

The daily readings for the week after Epiphany focus on the love of God, in concept (Saint John’s first letter, explaining that God is love, and all that implies) and in deed (examples of Jesus’ teaching, feeding, healing, and other miracles from Saints Mark and Luke.

The gospel for January 5 was Mark’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Jesus walking on water and calming the sea. Once Jesus joins His disciples in the boat, Mark ends with this:

They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

Mark 6:52

My first thought reading this was, “What’s not to understand? How could Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000-plus people harden the hearts of His followers?”

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Learning to Live with Myself

In July of 2019, our family caravanned with friends from Michigan out to Glacier National Park to camp and hike and see the sites. It was a wonderful trip, and for the first time, Brendan’s fiancée (now wife) Becky joined us as well.

One of the characteristics of our family that Becky had to adjust to is the constant crackle of wordplay, sarcasm, and verbal violence dealt out among our members. I remember distinctly the first shot I fired across her bow at the dinner table during one of our first few visits with her. She took it well, with a wry smile and a very deliberate “Wow.”—as in, “Okay, so it’s like that now.”

This is not about that, however. This is about the first real shot she fired back.

We were standing around the firepit at the campground at Glacier, and Brendan was complimenting something he had eaten with Becky’s family: venison meat sticks, I think. I was standing just behind Becky, and as Brendan gushed, I stooped to rest my chin on Becky’s shoulder and gave her my best sideways puppy-dog eyes to indicate how much her future father-in-law would appreciate such delicacies.

She took evasive action, as one might in such a circumstance, and with the same wry smile, said, “You know, you’re basically Bruno in human form.”

I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again.

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Love Is Necessary

It’s still dark outside, early Monday morning, and I’ve just read today’s gospel. Jesus once again performs a healing miracle on the sabbath, for a woman who has been crippled and unable to straighten her back for 18 years. Once again, the synagogue leader is outraged that the Lord is “working” on the Sabbath, and once again, He sets him straight:

Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering?  This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?

Luke 13:15-16

I close my eyes to reflect: He’s telling them they take time to certain things, even on the Sabbath. They do what they need to do so their animals don’t die. They do what is necessary—but they won’t help this woman. They won’t love this woman, so He calls them hypocrites.

What is He telling them? What is He telling me?

Love IS necessary.

In our current culture, we are less inclined to strictly observe the Lord’s Day by resting from work. But might we abstain from love?

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Growing Younger

This post appeared in the Sunday, September 25, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

I don’t know if this is typical for adult Christians as they try to follow Jesus more and more closely—but I often feel as though I am regressing spiritually.

It is certainly true that I don’t struggle with the more serious or habitual sins I did as a younger man, before my reversion to the faith—that is real progress. But most of sins I bring to Confession today are things any child or teen might share: short-temperedness, impatience, ingratitude, laziness, vulgarity, jealousy—smaller things deeply rooted in my heart and habits. I struggle to confess these sins, either because they are so frequent and reflexive as to defy counting, or so subtle and ingrained that I don’t perceive them at all without careful hindsight.

Many of these sins are rooted in vanity and insecurity: I become preoccupied with myself and my own needs at the expense of those around me. As a result, I am also a slave to sins of omission (good things not done), another category of wrongs it can be difficult count.

So I’ve been praying to God for an influx of charity—a stretching of my heart—so that I might better see and respond to the needs of others, when and where they exist.

Guess what? God is obliging…and it hurts.

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