In a Perfect World
Every so often we may hear a statement prefaced with the phrase “in a perfect world” indicating that what is to follow is not possible in this one. We know that this world, beautiful as it is, is nowhere near perfect, but even with that understanding we sometimes act as if somehow it can be made so. The world will never be perfect, and to think it could be is not only a false expectation, but it implies that we do not need the goal of Heaven since it can be perfect here. This is not our final destination; however, we are here now and so it is important to appreciate the gift of life while keeping our hearts oriented toward Heaven. Rather than throwing our hands up in despair or futility because of the suffering and darkness present in the world, we need to bring the light of Christ into this world to help people prepare for the next. Living the gospels calls us to do what we can to overcome evil and resist the degradation of Christian morals and values, to work at helping the poor, visiting the lonely, assisting the marginalized, welcoming the stranger, and bringing justice where it is absent. But expecting perfection will only bring about frustration and burnout. Only God can perfect anything, and our role is to work with Him remembering that we are not the source of grace and wisdom, but that He is. Therefore, it is better to work at being a blessing to others during our time in the world, while still keeping our eyes turned toward our true home in the perfect ‘world’ for which we yearn, that is, Heaven.
Expectations aimed at ourselves can be dangerous if they are unrealistic, especially if we ‘beat ourselves up’ when we fall short. Indeed we are to work towards perfection, but the operative word here is “towards.” Pursuit of growth in holiness is realistic, and it is our call, but perfection is for the next life, not this one. Once we get over false expectations for personal perfection and our subsequent belief that this life should be perfect, we are freer to work on getting to the life that is. In other words, we have to let go of that nagging set of expectations we have for ourselves and accept who we are with the same mercy that the Lord does. God will reveal the areas on which we need to work, and He will give us the needed graces. Our cooperation with Him will open us to greater freedom as we grow into the person He has created us to be. To be holy is to be free, and it is in this freedom that we best bring Christ into the world.
By holding ourselves hostage to unrealistic expectations we run the risk of (unintentionally) adopting a judgmental and/or condescending attitude toward others. If we do not measure up, they never will either. This was exactly what Jesus experienced during His ministry: His family and friends from Nazareth thought He had lost His mind, while others claimed He was possessed. They expected Jesus to be ordinary because they were ordinary. Some of the Jewish religious authorities expected a military leader like David. Even one of His own (future) apostles expressed a form of expectation when he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Nathaniel, in John 1:46) No one expected Jesus in the way He came; their expectations led them into narrow-mindedness and spiritual blindness. Thus, they rejected the One for whom they had waited because He did not ‘fit the bill.’
In order to prevent ourselves from falling into the same mistaken thinking, it is important to continually work on our relationship with God. He reveals Himself to us as He sees fit; He never changes, but our understanding of Him and what He desires for us will continue to grow. If we expect Him to only act in a certain way based on past experience, misinformation, or on what the enemy tries to imply is ‘true’ about Him using the pull of our secular culture to lure us away, then we will not find Him. Therefore, it is important to learn to recognize the presence of God as He has revealed Himself throughout history and how He comes to us in this present moment. It is through study of the Bible and of our faith that we can learn more about Him, and it is in our prayer that we best come to know Him. Note the distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. Both are essentially important, but it is in prayer that we cultivate our relationship with Him; we learn to recognize Him, to discern His will more clearly, experience His mercy and love more intimately, and in turn, fall more deeply in love with Him. If we actively seek the Lord, we will find Him, although not always in the ways we expect. He has promised this, saying, “When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord, and I will change your lot.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14) To desire the perfect world of the next life is our goal, but it means that in the ‘here and now’ we heed the call to grow in holiness, that is, to grow in love and mercy. If we align ourselves to Jesus and the Truth He reveals, all things are possible.
May we seek the Lord all the days of our life! May we strive for holiness and the freedom that it brings! May we work to better the world by being a blessing to others, revealing Christ’s love and mercy! And may we never take our eyes off Jesus, the Savior! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: As a spiritual director I must suggest a great way to get in touch with what leads to greater interior freedom: to receive spiritual direction. Because we are bogged down with a lifetime of experiences filled with perceptions both real and presumed, all of us are quite biased in how we see ourselves and consequently, how we see God. A spiritual director observes from outside those biases, and so the director can help the directee become aware of these things, helping them come to greater freedom and insight as to how God is working in them. The directee grows in greater intimacy with God through their prayer; they develop a greater understanding of God’s love and mercy extended to them, and grow in deeper love for Him accompanied by a greater desire to serve Him in order to express that love. Therefore, the person grows as a disciple, learning to discern what leads to God and what moves them away. They often begin to see God’s presence in everything, while simultaneously becoming more acutely aware of the power of sin in the world. Spiritual direction can help us to have a clearer understanding of how we are called to be His disciple in the midst of our present circumstances so as to withstand the power of evil and work toward the perfection for which we yearn.
- A song I really love kept coming to mind when I was writing this, Where I Belong by Building 429. Here is a link to a video of them performing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he32vwlKQPY
1. My photo, taken in Dunedin, New Zealand.
2. Oil painting, Portrait of Dr. Gachet (first version) by Vincent van Gogh (1890) Of this the artist said, "I've done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it."
(Vincent in a letter to his brother Theo)
3. Painting, Jesus Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue, by James Tissot. Jesus was not accepted in Nazareth after he did this in the synagogue there.
4. My photo, the Alps near Chamanix, France.
5. Icon, El Buen Pastor by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/el-buen-pastor-188-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
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