As Catholic Christians we often hear God is calling us to do extraordinary things, to a life of magnanimity (greatness of soul). We hear stories of saints who did miraculous things and have been lifted up as heroes receiving tremendous honor. Our spiritual masters have written much about the perfection we experience in the life of faith. Finally, we hear we too are called to be new saints for this present age.
I am pretty Type A, and I like this call to greatness. It stirs a good desire in me and provides motivation for the spiritual life. However, I have found that I never get too far with this before experiencing humiliation. Whether public or private, my own limitations and weaknesses remind me that magnanimity and humility are tethered together. They are two sides of the same coin, like truth & charity and justice & mercy. You cannot have one without the other.
This paradox is part of the greater mystery which plays out between humanity and divinity. “God became man, so that man might become God.” This famous quote by St. Athanasius captures the tremendous call that Catholicism preaches to the world. And Jesus, Himself said, “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5). However, it is vital to remember He also said, “without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15).
Grace is the key to unlocking perfection. It is God’s own life and He freely gives it. Grace sustains us in a way that our own powers and abilities cannot, and it’s required for us to experience freedom from sin. Whenever we try to become perfect & great without God, we inevitably lose our way. He alone is perfect, and so we must pursue Him first.
This brings me to family life. Ideally, our family is where we experience love and support, where we learn about God, and where we are equipped to live our faith in the world. That is the ideal, the smooth side. And regardless if our family is close to that (obviously many are not), there will also be the real, the rough side. By this I mean tension, chaos, and imperfection. Surprisingly, if embraced in the right way, this rough side can help smooth us out and make us better.
There is nothing which brings out imperfections more than spending lots of time in close proximity with other humans. A family is that par excellence. God has created the family to help us feel love, but even more importantly to help us give love. In order to do this we must face imperfection, within ourselves and within our loved ones. This is not a one time event, but a lifelong process.
Whenever we choose to reject this challenge, we are setting ourselves up to experience greater frustration and discouragement at a later time. Whenever we think we are going to fix imperfection primarily by our own effort, we are also setting ourselves up for failure. These tendencies are driven by a false view of perfection called perfectionism. It occurs when we try to be magnanimous without humility and grace.
This tendency, like all vices, comes from pride. With the rise of social media the desire for us and our families to appear perfect is at an all-time high. The world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly trying to pull us away from God. We must be aware of this and learn how to foster authentic virtues in our families.
The good news is that God is still perfect and eager to share His life with us! I have attached a homily from a priest friend of mine, Fr. Mark Bernhard, which touches on this topic of perfectionism. Fr. Mark uses a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews in order to unpack how God sympathizes with us in our weaknesses. He preaches about the compassion of Jesus and how necessary it is to our spiritual well-being.
May we let this powerful truth resonate in our families and "let us approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help" (Heb. 4:16).