In the first the reading the Lord tells Moses to tell to “tell the whole Israelite community to ‘be holy, for I , Lord your God , am holy.’” He then tells them how to be perfect, through charity; “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev.19:1-2)
In the St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he tells them, “…for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor. 3:17). They are holy because they belong to Christ.
The Gospel continues the same theme. Jesus tells his disciples not to seek revenge when they have been wronged, but instead to “… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” He concludes by saying, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
In telling us to be perfect, he is not telling us to be perfectionist.
“Perfectionism refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high unrealistic goals. Perfectionism is often mistakenly seen in our society as desirable or even necessary for success. However, recent studies have shown that perfectionistic attitudes actually interfere with success. The desire to be perfect can both rob you of a sense of personal satisfaction and cause you to fail to achieve as much as people who have more realistic goals.” (source)
The perfection that Jesus calls us to is the life we experience in our relationship with God, by participating in His own perfection. With the help of his grace we are able to be charitable, humble and faithful. We must look more at Jesus and less at ourselves. Often we are overwhelmed because we are focused exclusively on our selves and our circumstances and have failed to surrender everything to Our Lord, drawing our strength from Him.
God has made it quite clear what is expected of us during our time on earth. We must love God above everything else and keep His commandments and love our neighbor as our self. We must even love our enemies and those who persecute us. We can only do this and the many more things that He asks of us by being in relationship with Him and receiving the graces He offers us through the sacraments.
St. Irenaeus famously said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” God has great plans for humanity, but they can only be realized in relationship with Him. We are fully alive when we are intimately connected to God and have a consuming desire to discover His will for our life. It is in this way that we become a “light to the world” because the choices we make reflect the desire of our heart and the joy of our life with Him.
Of course this intimate life with God is not without its trials and difficulties. As a matter of fact the trials are necessary because they purify us and deepen our faith and our trust in God. When we read the lives of the saints we see how they grew through their struggles and their lives became a testimony of their heroic love of God. The trials are never the end. They lead to great joy in time and in eternity.
We call this the “Good News” because it is the living Gospel and every person has the capacity to experience it. An outward sign of living the “Good News” is called the fruit of the Holy Spirit, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Gal 5:22-23). This is not from us, it is from God and a consequence of our relationship with Him.
To strive for holiness does not mean that you will never sin. It does mean that we refuse to remain in sin and allow sin to shape our lives. Christ has given us the tools we need to overcome sin through His Church and the Sacraments; we must have the humility to use them.
Our readings today tell us we must be holy that we are the temple of God which is holy and that we must be perfect. Our first thought might be that this is not possible and it isn’t, unless we are in communion with God, because He makes it possible.
This intimacy with God is what moved people like Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, Maximilian Kolbe and all the saints to live not for themselves, but for God, and they made a difference in the world in which they lived. If you really want to make a difference in the world in which you live, read the Bible and read the lives of the saints. You will see that all things are possible with God. You can become holy and perfect in God and help to change the world in which you live. You will be glad you did.