“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt. 5:48

Sometimes the daily readings conspire to challenge us. Today’s readings do that to an almost impossible degree.

I am a recovering perfectionist, but one, nonetheless. For many years I misinterpreted this injunction of Jesus. I misunderstood this radical call to love as I am loved by God as a command to perfect myself. Perfectionists like me focus primarily on doing everything right, even flawlessly, so that I can be loved. I know in theory this I am loved as I am, but I operate under the oppressive mindset that I am loved only when I think and act perfectly. Someone wisely calls this “living under the tyranny of shoulds.”

Since Christus Ministries was launched six years ago, I have been stretched beyond imagination. Administrative and fundraising duties, tasks which I am ill-equipped, fall upon my shoulders. The struggle to balance self-care with generous service has been heightened beyond my capacity. I have made so many mistakes that I’ve stopped counting. At the same time, encounters with mercy abound. Experiencing God’s expansive and tender heart, other’s patience acceptance and willingness to walk with me, surprising kindness to myself, have also marked this incredible journey to bridge young adults and young families with the Church. In the process, the way I understand today’s Gospel shifts to its Lucan parallel: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). 

This change of mindset and behaving is fundamentally for me a shift beyond self-preoccupation and self-reliance.  To be stretched in willingness to love enemies and those who do evil significantly widens our circle of compassion. To pray for those who persecute us stretches our hearts way beyond self-regard and self-interests. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Jesus’ challenge for us to be perfectly merciful is also a beckoning to receive mercy in greater fulness from God.

Lent is a conspiracy of challenge to upgrade prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Perhaps it is also a conspiracy of grace – an invitation to receive and witness to grace that is deeply humbling as well as expansively freeing.

In what ways am I challenged to receive and offer mercy during these days of grace? To whom and from whom? 

Photo credit: jenmansafaris.com