In the Gospel, Jesus tells us “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. so we have to reach perfection…?
In the last century, this word of the Gospel was very much misunderstood. And even now, many Christians have fallen away from the faith because of this misunderstood word. Some preachers, in their sermons, have provoked the faithful to dislike religion.
a misunderstood word?
The God of Love became an intractable and guilty God: the liberating word of Jesus became a word impossible to live. The idea that was imposed was that of perfection: Jesus on the cross suffered, he sacrificed everything for me. And I cannot imitate him. I will never sacrifice enough, I will never be good enough. I don’t deserve to be loved by Him. God cannot love me because I do not love Him as He loves me.
As a priest, I went to confession a lot: I saw Christians (especially Christian women) come to confession three times a week, always accusing themselves of not knowing how to love. In marriage, any sexual union was a mortal sin: “I kissed my son’s friends; I shouldn’t have done it! It is a sin”. At the same time, the penitents themselves accused themselves of not feeling affection for them; these Christians lived in mortifying confinement. I told them that God loves us above all else. That it is not because we love God that he loves us, but because he loves us infinitely that we try to love him in our own way.
One day I went to see a mother in hospital to bring her communion. She was the mother of six children, including a nun and a priest, and she was a devout, generous and intelligent woman. This woman, who would never have missed a mass, said to me as soon as she arrived: “Don’t talk to me about God any more: it’s over! She was very distressed and angry, she was suffocating! This God who should have made her happy had ruined her life. He had made her repress all her human feelings and first of all her sexuality. And now it all popped like a champagne cork. And, with the God who had taken away her humanity, I waited for calm to return. I kissed her, stroked her forehead: she smiled faintly. A few days later she was calmer; she was my mother!
Gospel perfection has been confused with moral perfection. In the Gospel, perfection is mercy. To be perfect” is immediately followed by “to be merciful”.
Knowing that I am imperfect, I no longer judge, but try to be merciful. “Do not judge and you will not be judged”, “Be merciful to one another and bear with one another” says Paul.
Instead of aspiring to some impossible and daunting idea of perfection, the smallest act of love, true and selfless, brings me closer to perfection. Pope Francis likes to say “take small steps forward. A word, a gesture, that brings others a little happiness: that gives glory to God.
Pierre Salmon, PCJ
Priest of the diocese of Saint-Denis