“Nobody is perfect.” How glibly we say that, but some of us have difficulty realizing that “nobody” includes us. Most of us, however, wake every morning to find we are our same weak, sinful selves. Seen in the proper perspective, having faults is not so horrible. In fact, just as St. Augustine referred to original sin as a “happy fault,” we can view our weaknesses as special graces. In nature, imperfection can have a certain charm. Dimples are weak muscles. Four-leaf clovers are biological mistakes. Pearls used to be grit trapped in an oyster. Yet these three things are treasures.
Imperfections make life interesting. How dull conversations would be if we never had occasion to laugh at ourselves. If we made a basket every time we shot for it, who would play? Perfection leaves nothing to strive for; it removes challenge from life and deprives us of a hard-fought victory.
We all have bad points. The person with the lovely voice has illegible handwriting. The intellectual is encouraged to stay out of the kitchen. The witty person may also be a braggart. One beauty of the Mystical Body is that when we are united, we compensate for one another. Our very faults may make us lovely. In a movie, Mr. or Ms. Perfect invites jeers, while we sympathize with Charlie Brown and Ziggy. With faults, we are more approachable. Just as we find comfort in a mug with a flaw or an old chair with lumps and squeaks, people feel secure with us. Also, it is our faults and struggles that make us excellent empathizers for people who have similar problems.
Jesus lived in the company of bungling humans. He prefers the lowly, those who recognize their poverty and powerlessness. Just as a doctor comes for the sick, Christ ministered to sinners: the adulterous woman, the good thief, and us. He spoke of seeking out stray sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. When we are at our worst, Jesus pays the most attention to us, drawing us to experience forgiving love. When God forgives our sins, our guilt is wiped away. Clinging to fear and shame means we do not trust God’s mercy enough. St. Therese of Lisieux remarked, “How happy I am to find myself imperfect and so much in need of the good Gods mercy at my time of death.”
With Paul we can say, “I do not do what I want to do but what I hate.” When we ask Why in the world did I do such a thing? What’s wrong with me? we cringe.
God’s power is more clearly at work when we are weak. “It is when I am weak,” Paul says, “that I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). The poorer we are in skills, talents, and charisma, the more dependent we are on God to fill us with grace. If we can mange only 10%, that leaves 90% for God to do. That way our accomplishments are not be so much to our credit as to God’s glory. He often uses the weak to confound the strong. There was the carpenter’s son from the hick town of Nazareth, the “dumb ox” who wrote the “Summa Theologica” and the tiny old Sister who worked with the poor in India.
Our culture gears us to act in competition, but with maturity, perfection comes to be seen not as a matter of firsts, mosts, and bests at all, but a matter of love. And love is emptiness, openness, and honesty.
When we love ourselves with our limitations, we are more apt to love others along with theirs. We tend to think the worst of ourselves. When people compliment us, we think they are just practicing charity or they don’t really know what wretched creature we are. When someone criticizes us, we tend to swallow their comments wholesale. But a poor self-concept paralyzes us and deters us from doing good. The way we perceive ourselves is the way we act.
Self-knowledge is a realistic picture of ourselves. It is as God sees us: with no features, good or bad magnified. With grace we an accept the unique image of God that we are—we can cope with our faults and capitalize on our strengths. We thank God for our good points that make us more like him and for our bad points that God somehow uses to build his kingdom in us and in the world. We are all saints in the making. In the end we will be judged not on our conquests, but on our struggles.
What saint do you know of who had “a tilted halo”?
Today’s paper reported that 300 animals are being eaten into extinction, air pollution is a contributing factor in the death of about 600,00 children per year, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has spiked even as far away as Antarctica. The number of men, women, and children killed in Mideast wars and as they flee their countries is staggering. In the face of this senseless destruction, Pope Francis has made the care for creation a top priority. Repeatedly he has reminded humankind about our responsibility for the gift of creation in homilies, speeches and most extensively and powerfully in his encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You).
“Caring for Creation” is a compilation of the highlights of the Holy Father’s messages exhorting us to curb our self-centeredness and greed for the sake of the poor and future generations. In the carefully chosen selections, Pope Francis exhorts us to care for and share our beautiful planet and its resources.
That fact that the book contains many important passages from “Laudato Si” is a boon for those who find reading the entire document quite daunting. Interspersed with these passages are quotations from homilies and speeches concerning what the pope does not shrink from calling our “environmental crisis.” An interesting feature of the book are the pope’s tweets like the following: “When the world slumbers in comfort and selfishness, our Christian mission is to help it rouse from sleep” and “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
Like a prophet, Pope Francis opens our eyes to truth and calls us to conversion. He urges us to change our culture of consumption and waste and our thirst for possessions and profit. He points out that we are to provide the rights of land, lodging and labor for all. He makes us realize that as we destroy the environment we are also destroying the human race. Reading this book spurs one on to join the revolution to restore our planet home and protect all its inhabitants.