Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The saints were not always perfect

7th Sunday – homily*

Fr. Greg

Posted Monday, February 21, 2011


"Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The saints were not always perfect. You all know the stories of saints who were big-time sinners -like St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, and St Augustine. Here are two more who you might not know. The first is St Mary of Egypt who lived in the fifth century. During her teens and twenties, she didn't treat her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as we hear in today's second reading. She dressed immodestly and had many sexual encounters with men. One time, she even used a Church pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a way to hook up with men. It was on that pilgrimage, though, that she saw her sinful life for what it was. With the help of the blessed Mother, she gave her life to God and then lived the remaining years of her life in deep prayer and virtue.

The second is Venerable Matt Talbot who lived in Ireland in the early twentieth century. Matt was a real booze hound. He started drinking when he was 12 and would become the town drunk in his twenties. His alcoholism got so bad that he would sell the shirt off his back for a drink. He couldn't even quit drinking for a day, often. Finally, he made a three month pledge of sobriety that stuck for the last forty years of his life. Like St Mary of Egypt and all the saints, he lived heroic virtue on a regular basis.

So, the saints are not always perfect! Mary, the mother of God, is the only saint who was always perfect. If you're thinking, 'what about Jesus?', well, then, we have problems. Jesus is not a saint -He is God! He made all the saints. One kid in my last parish wanted to have Jesus as his Confirmation saint...oops… But, the saints are not always perfect. So, there is hope for us!

Now, we may not relate to the huge and dramatic sinners who became saints (some of us great sinners do). But, there is a famous quote about saints that could speak to us: "saints are sinners who never stop trying". Saints are sinners who never stop trying. That is us! We are sinners who never stop trying...to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

We need to have the correct wisdom in approaching this commandment of our Lord. If we approach "be perfect" with the wisdom of the world (which St Paul writes is foolishness to God), then it's just for us...it's just vanity. The world is trying so hard to make itself perfect. We see this all around us in newspapers, magazines, movies, and TV. People want the perfect body, the perfect face, perfect hair, perfect this, perfect that. And, it's all for them. "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain".

Our approach is with the wisdom of God which calls for us to become fools. We realize first and foremost that God is perfect and we can't be perfect like Him on our own. He is God! He is perfect! We can’t be perfect like Him unless He helps us. And, we only want to be perfect for His sake...not for our own. It's for His glory, not ours. This is foolishness to the world. We are fools for Christ's sake. An example of this in Matt Talbot’s life is the day he stopped by to pray in a church in Ireland. He was desperate for some Adoration as he had fallen in love with the Eucharist. This is true of all the saints. The Eucharist is how they became perfect! Well, Matt couldn't get into the church because the doors were locked. So, he knelt down on the sidewalk, and prayed in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament inside the church. He must have looked like a total fool to those passing by! He was a fool...for Christ's sake. He knew that he needed God to be perfect. And, God helped him to live a heroically virtuous life.

That is the other thing about our approach to "be perfect" - it's so much deeper than the world's approach. The world's perfection is superficial and shallow. The world swims in the shallow end of the pool; we swim in the deep end! We never stop trying to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect in regard to the virtues. We try to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. We try to be loving and kind and generous as He is loving and kind and generous. The Father has given us the Son as the model to follow. If we imitate the Son's virtues, we will be like the Father.

One of the best examples of imitating the mercy of the Son is St Stephen. He was the first Christian martyr. As he was being martyred, he said virtually the same words that Christ said as he was being crucified: "do not hold this sin against them". We all have examples in our lives of how God is calling us to be perfect and holy as He is perfect and holy. Maybe your roommate hasn't spoken to you in weeks; say hello and start a conversation. Maybe there's bad blood with a family member back home. If you need to apologize to them, apologize. If you need to forgive them, forgive. Maybe it's saying hi to people on campus or on the streets. This is what we do as Christians. Jesus wants us to be unusual. Striving for perfection and holiness means doing things that aren't usually done. We won't find perfection until Heaven, but we never stop trying to be perfect in this life.

Finally, the commandment to be perfect is the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount to this point. We've been hearing the Sermon the last several Sundays, starting with the Beatitudes. Jesus has laid out how we will be happy in this life. Happiness is fulfilled in being perfect...in living holiness. When we live perfection and holiness, we live happiness.

*Note: We appreciate homilists like Fr. Greg who include aspects of Matt Talbot’s life, both for those who know of him and those who do not.
We have added the title of this homily for posting purposes.