There are times in life when we are met with the truth, a truth that can be hard to hear and harder to imitate. Sometimes, the truth is meant to lead us to become something or someone more, someone better, someone more perfect... or not.
|Many (many) years ago, I graduated from college, Magna Cum Laude. It was an achievement of which I should have been proud. I should have been grateful that I attended college and graduated with honors, grateful that I graduated at all. As one of the few people in my family who had gone to college at that time, I should have given myself some credit. Instead, I celebrated with a smile on my face and bitterness in my heart.
I am ashamed to say that I felt robbed. My GPA was 3.49. A 3.5 would have earned me Summa Cum Laude, and I was really angry with the school for not bumping me up to, what I felt, was a much-deserved ranking. I worked hard to get those grades. I went to school full-time for four years, holding a double major in demanding studies (history and political science) with an even more demanding concentration (American military experience). I worked full-time for the last two years I was in school, taking every shift I could, waitressing at busy restaurants all day or late into the night, on weekdays and weekends. I wrote four major thesis papers, for crying out loud!
I was angry with the school, but I was angrier with myself. Why hadn’t I pushed just a little harder? Why had I taken the research paper-only option (no exams – just a 50-page paper) for the toughest professor? Why hadn’t I skipped a few social gatherings and stayed home to study instead?
These questions plagued me for days, until…
The weekend after I graduated, I attended Mass with my family as usual. When Mass was over, the wonderful priest who would celebrate my marriage a year later, Monsignor Paul Dudziak, gave me a hug and congratulated me on my graduation. I thanked him but told him I was actually disappointed in myself because I had missed Summa Cum Laude by one-hundredth of a decimal. Monsignor Paul shook his head and asked me to follow him. We walked back through the church and onto the altar. Monsignor Paul pointed to the rug and asked me what I thought of it.
I’m sure you can imagine that I was perplexed, even a little irritated. He hadn’t said a word to me about my GPA. He hadn’t agreed that I should have studied harder, nor did he tell me that I had done a good job even if it wasn’t the honors I wanted. Instead, he asked me what I thought of the oriental rug. I was at a loss for words. I may have mumbled something to the likes of, “It looks nice,” or “It’s really pretty.” I really don’t remember. What I do remember is what he said next.
Monsignor Paul told me that the rug had been handmade by a group of monks. He said that it was long, arduous labor and took many years to produce just one rug. He said the monks worked extremely hard to get every detail right except in one corner. He walked to the corner and pointed to a small place where the pattern was not quite right.
“Do you see that?” he asked.
I nodded, still not understanding.
“That is where the monks purposely made a mistake.” He stopped talking and looked at me, waiting for me to meet his eyes. When I raised my gaze to meet his, he asked. “Why do you think they did that?”
I thought about it then shook my head. Why had they done that? Why purposely create a mistake?
With a sympathetic smile, Father quietly said the words I have never forgotten. “Only God is perfect.”
With blush-stained cheeks and tears threatening to fall, I nodded and thanked Father, then quietly left the church. My parents asked me what he said, but I couldn’t answer. Later that day, I shared the story with my mother. I hate to admit that there have been many other times in my life when Mom has had to remind of this.
Only God is perfect.
That’s so easy to forget in this world of high demand where all women are encouraged to look like models; men are supposed to be made in the mold of a Greek God with the wit and ingenuity of James Bond; and children are supposed to achieve straight As while being the star player in at least three sports amid aiming for Ivy League educations. It’s so hard just to be enough. Why do we have to be more than that?
This journey of life that we all are on is hard. We are constantly reminded of our own inadequacies, and we, in turn, remind others of theirs. We are not perfect creatures born into a perfect world. We are all on a journey toward heavenly perfection, and only when we reach our final destination, will we have achieved that rank of perfection for which we strive.
Only twice in the Gospels do we hear the word “perfect”– once in Matthew 5:48 and once in Matthew 19:21. In both instances, the Greek word used for perfect is teleios, defined as completeness or the state of being whole or fully grown. Perfection, according to Jesus’s teaching, is not something that happens in a day or a year or even four years of college. Perfection is achieved in the wholeness of time, over the course of a lifetime. It is not what we obtain at the end of the journey; it is what we become through making the journey. We achieve perfection only after becoming complete, being fully grown in mind, body, and spirit. Nobody on earth can or should be expected to be perfect.
Except for God.
Only God is perfect.
This is the same God who tells us to be perfect like He is, like His heavenly Father is. Jesus said, “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 the on 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 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” (Matt. 5:43-48).
|How is this perfection achieved? It’s not achieved by being the best at something. We can’t study ourselves to perfection. We won’t earn a degree or be given honors in the subject of Perfection.
We achieve perfection by working throughout our lives to love our enemies as well as our neighbors, to pray for our persecutors, and to respect everyone around us. We need to love others and to show them our love by acknowledging that none of us is perfect; but we all are enough. In doing these things, in following the teachings of Christ, we put ourselves on the road to perfection.
“Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
When we build up our treasure in Heaven, we will be perfect. We cannot build it overnight. We must build it as we go along, walking side-by-side, holding hands, holding each other up, giving what we have, and loving one another throughout our lives. Ultimate perfection cannot be found on earth.
For the rest of this year, I propose we all make the effort to show appreciation to those in our lives who are enough. Let’s be less demanding, less critical, and less judgmental. Let us show others they don’t have to be perfect to be loved and accepted. Join me in doing our best to treat others with love and respect. Let’s work, for the remainder of the year, to change the way we view perfection.
There is but one among us who is perfect, who loves perfectly. When we go to Mass this Sunday and gaze upon the image of perfect love, let us vow to be a little kinder to ourselves and each other. Let us walk this journey with the faith that we are walking toward perfection, a heavenly perfection that can’t be found on earth. Remind yourself that you are a work in progress, a being heading toward perfection, but for now, you don’t have to be perfect.
Only God is perfect.
Parts of this article first appeared in Amy's blog, The Perfect Rug, on her website, 2 March 2022.