August 13, 2019
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) on August 11, 2019 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; and Luke 12:32-48.
In today’s gospel, Jesus makes some references to ancient social customs that can distract us. Jesus tells us to “gird your loins”: an equivalent phrase today would be, “put on your work clothes.” More disturbingly, Jesus mentions a master’s authority to beat slaves who do not carry out their responsibilities… but to dwell on that is to miss the main point of the gospel.
The main point is this: to succeed in the life of faith, all we need to do is trust in God, even when we don’t receive big lights-in-the-sky revelations to reassure us. Our other readings pick up this theme. Wisdom tells that the Israelites began carrying out God’s instructions for the Passover even before God delivered them from their captivity in Egypt. Hebrews gives a detailed account about how Abraham was faithful to God’s promise of land and descendents decades before God began to fulfill the promise.
At every moment of our lives, God has shown us mercy beyond our comprehension. Let’s celebrate that!
If you’re asked in a job interview to name your biggest weakness, you’re supposed to lower your eyes, blush if you can, and say, very humbly, “Oh, I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I just want to do the absolute best job possible.”
At our moments of greatest clarity, we know that a perfectionistic mindset will make us crazy. God created us as finite human beings, and we will make mistakes. And yet, most of us buy into the American narrative that insists that if we just concentrate a little more, power through until we get our second wind, and give 110 per cent at all times, we could be perfect. In her latest book, author Colleen Carroll Campbell defined perfectionism as, “an addiction to control and a refusal to accept imperfection in some human endeavor.” She goes on to suggest many cultural trends that are probably at least partially influenced by perfectionism: people who don’t take their vacation days, people who go to the gym 7 days a week, Tiger Moms, Helicopter Dads, and increased levels of eating disorders, prescription drug addictions, anxiety, depression, credit card debt, and cosmetic surgery. 1
When I arrived at the seminary, the other students thought I was a perfectionistic freak. As an engineer, it had been my job to think of everything that could possibly go wrong, and then stop it from happening. In my free time, I had performed classical music, gathering with friends for months of rehearsals so that we would make the right sounds, at exactly the right time. Even though my various spiritual directors have spent fourteen years helping me let go of my perfectionistic tendencies, those tendencies still get the better of me far more often than I care to admit.
I’m telling about you my issues, but I’m guessing that 99% of you have similar challenges!
That internal critic of mine gets in my head and tells me that God would love me more if I did more things… or if I did them better… or if I did them with less effort. The problem is: my critic is NEVER satisfied, because human perfection is an elusive. I need to confront that perfectionistic voice whenever he speaks up. He steals my joy, and he makes me second-guess my choices, my priorities, and my motivations.
There’s a way for us to avoid the rat race of human perfectionism: we simply need to be Christian disciples. To be a perfectionist is to be addicted to control and to refuse the possibility of error. To be a Christian disciple, on the other hand, is to recognize that God is in charge, that God will take care of everything. There is no need to have the right material objects to handle all contingencies; there is no need to have cash reserves for every emergency. God loves us as we are. We simply need to trust in God’s promises, promises even greater than those God made to Abraham before he left the land of the Chaldeans, greater than those made to the Israelites before the Passover.
Is it is easy as that? Are we calling for replacing spiritual perfectionism with spiritual laxity? No. Trusting in God’s promises – when the promises are delayed like a master returning at an unexpected hour – is constant work. We need to put on our work clothes and be vigilant. But there’s no need to worry if we make an occasional mistake. We’re human beings, not spiritual automatons. Our treasure in heaven is such that no thief can reach it nor any moth destroy it.
Instead of allowing a perfectionist critic to invade our heads, let’s allow Jesus’ love and mercy to pervade our hearts.
- Colleen Carroll Campbell, The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s (New York: Howard Books, 2018), p. 10. ↩