by Will Wright
This post was inspired by Doug Tooke’s Talk: “The Perfection of Imperfection.” This Talk is featured in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church.
All Sin and All Need a Savior
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says clearly that through Adam sin entered the world and because of it, all sin. The only humans that it has been revealed have never sinned once were the Blessed Mother and our Lord Jesus. For the rest of us, sin is part of our fallen state. We miss the mark and fall short of God’s glory.
There was a heresy that began in the late 4th Century called Pelagianism which taught that we could pick ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps, so to speak, and save ourselves by willing it so. This heresy claims that we just are not trying hard enough if we are falling into sin. This, of course, flies in the face of the Letter to the Romans and Sacred Scripture as a whole. All sin and fall short. We all need grace. We need to be saved from our sins. We need a Savior. We all need Jesus.
Not Saved By Ourselves
The ways in which God could have saved us are infinite. Yet, what did He choose? He chose to become one of us and share in our humanity two thousand years ago. And then, He went to the cross to die for us, in our place. He who was without sin became our sin and nailed it to the new tree of life, the cross. As God, His offering was perfect and infinite. As man, His offering was offered in our place. He is our Savior.
Then, after He gloriously rose from the dead and entered into Heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to guide and guard the Church. Even before He ascended into Heaven, He gave the task to His disciples to share the Good News. From the very beginning, the work of Jesus given to the Church is social. We are not saved by ourselves. We cannot be saved by ourselves.
Vertical and Horizontal
Think of the image of the cross. There is a horizontal beam and a vertical beam. From the cross, our Savior showed His love for the world. He was raised up in offering to the Father and He extended His arms to embrace the whole world in unthinkable love.
What would a cross be without a vertical beam? Well, it would just be a large stick on the ground. What would a cross be without a horizontal beam? It would just be a post, a stationary marker. So, too, the cross shows us the Church.
Like the vertical beam, we must offer ourselves to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. This is the basis of the life of grace in prayer and practice of the Sacraments. Like the horizontal beam, we are lifted up by the Church, positioned to embrace the whole world. The grace of God is found in the personal relationship of sinner seeking a Savior, but it is also found in the gathered assembly, the community, the Family of God. We need the horizontal and the vertical.
Mess in the Middle of Mission
None of this will not be neat and tidy because people are messy. We are all a mess. We all sin and we all need grace. And we all need each other. As human beings interact, there are bound to be prickly social interactions, miscommunications, imperfect actions, misguided intentions, backbiting, and a whole host of vices. Nonetheless, we are sent on mission by our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite quotes from the Second Vatican Council is from the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes: “…man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself (GS, 24).” By giving of ourselves in love, mess and all, we become who God made us to be.
In the mission of the love of God, we must embrace the messy moments as a grace. In the bad things that will come, we accept that God allowed these moments to happen. We trust also in the truth revealed by Him: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).” If we love God and cooperate with His grace, in the middle of the mess, He will work all things for the good.
The Indispensable Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
We find perfection in the imperfection of life by allowing ourselves to be in union with Jesus Christ, to the glory of the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the glory of every single Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. From the Cross, the Son of God offers Himself to the Father in the Holy Spirit. At Mass, this saving reality comes present once again, outside of space and time. Therefore, we could say that the Mass is the offering of the Son to the Father in the Spirit in which we are invited to freely take part. So, when we offer ourselves, in all of our imperfections, the perfection of Jesus Christ makes up for what is lacking in our offering.
Perfection in the Imperfection
The astounding reality of salvation, goodness, and eternal life is the mystery of Jesus Christ. We trust in His promise: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).” This gift of eternal life does not begin in Heaven, it begins when God calls us, and this call began before we were made: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you… (Jer. 1:5).” In Baptism, we enter this saving reality as through a doorway.
This gift of Baptism, strengthened and amplified in Confirmation, and renewed in the Sacrament of Penance, is ordered to the Most Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ Himself. If we strive for holiness and achieve it, it is anything that we have done. It is God who moves first and we react. It is God who calls and we respond. It is God who gives and we who receive and share.
As we strive for holiness, may we never settle for anything less than full perfection of unity with God. Most importantly, may we never forget that this is God’s work in us and not something that we will ever be able to offer on our own. All He desires of us is an open heart offered in love to Him. He will do the rest, as messy as it might get.