First Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9
We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedo’nia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work. Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us — see that you excel in this gracious work also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:2, 5-9
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I must admit that I laughed out loud when I sat to write my devotional and saw today’s Gospel. If there is anything in the world that I do imperfectly every single day, it’s fighting the urge to be perfect.
I grew up believing perfection was the standard. I thought I couldn’t invite someone into my home unless it was perfectly clean. I thought I should be ashamed if I wasn’t a perfect weight. I even knew better than to leave for even an overnight trip without making sure that the bathmats were clean. I kid you not. The theory was that if something should happen while we were away, and the neighbors had to enter the house, they’d want to see perfection.
There is nothing quite like nine children to cure one of a childhood of perfectionism. In the beginning, I kept trying to write the perfect story in our home, and real, human people kept trashing the ideal. The more I struggled and clung to my habits of striving for perfection, the more I buckled under the weight of an unwieldy yoke.
By the grace of God, I came to understand that God doesn’t want or need my striving. He doesn’t want me or my house or my children to look magazine perfect. Instead, He wants me to look like Him. He wants me to live His story, not mine. And His story is the one of godly perfection unfolding, day by day, as I cooperate with grace.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ ” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
That’s an entirely new book.
The goal in life is not appearing to be perfect. The goal is sanctification. Sanctification is perfect holiness and that, my friend, is the only perfection to which we are called. The really great news? Unlike a perfectly clean house or maintaining the perfect weight throughout one’s lifetime, this holy perfection is attainable.
All by itself, salvation is a pretty amazing thing. Jesus redeemed us on the cross and opened the gates to heaven with His outstretched arms, but He didn’t stop there. Our Savior calls us to grow to be like Him here, in this life, and He gives us the means to answer the call.
He takes the poor, pitiable, least-perfect wreck of a woman and turns her into a radiant, immortal soul who exudes perfect love and joy. She becomes wholly—and holy—perfect.
Baptized, the Holy Spirit fills our souls and begins the work of a lifetime: transforming us into His likeness, for His glory. “His divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) It’s crazy grace. And all we have to do is cooperate with it.
Today, put aside your expectations for perfection. Take a deep breath and ask for the grace to be like Jesus. Repeat as necessary all day long.
Elizabeth Foss is a wife, the mother of nine, and a grandmother. She finds the cacophony of big family imperfection to be the perfect place to learn to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. You can learn more about her here.