AND SO BE PERFECT AS YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT. Jesus did not hesitate to preach hard truths. One of the paradoxes of his personality is that he could be so demanding of others and at the same time inspire love and even enthusiasm for his person and the cause he preached. He did not curry favor by diluting his message, though he often concealed its deeper meaning except to his chosen disciples. He showed little concern for popularity. His whole energy went into carrying out the mandate received from his Father in heaven. Naturally this caused many to fall away and reject him. But others received his teaching with joy, and adhered to him with an enthusiasm that only grew stronger after his resurrection. They imparted that spirit of total dedication from the heart to succeeding generations. That process initiated by our Lord continues to this day, and remains centered on his person and his words.
Jesus explains here what he means by the perfection he sets before his followers: it is a love that is strong and selfless. Strong enough to look behind the suffering inflicted deliberately by an enemy or oppressor and see a potential child of the same heavenly Father. A love selfless enough to enable us to wish well to those who make our life difficult even painful. Each of us is confronted rather regularly with incidents that offer opportunities for strengthening these attitudes dictated by a determined benevolence. The major condition for acting from this motivation is to overcome our disordered passions. This in turn requires that we examine ourselves attentively and frequently to assess our reactions to others. Becoming aware of our irritability, negativism, aloofness, unfeeling uninvolvement with others and evaluating it objectively is the first step toward overcoming those passions that limit love. Blind passion is selfish and in some measure resistant to true charity. All efforts to free ourselves of it contribute to the capacity to love in spirit and in truth.
The meditation and contemplation of the passion and death of our Lord undertaken out of love for us and for all God's human creatures is the other condition for attaining to the perfection of love that Jesus commends to us in this passage. We derive confidence needed to go out of ourselves in order to be just and loving to others only in the sure knowledge that God's love is given us. He offers it to us in his word, in the sacraments, in his providential care for us. We can love consistently in all the events of our lives, even the painful ones, only when sustained by the assurance that we have him with us because he has first loved us.
At this first week of Lent, then, this is the message of the Gospel that confronts us. It is intended to be programmatic. We are so to work at our Lenten observance that we grow in this strong, hard love. This is what we are born to do, whatever our vocation in life might be. Each of us is to be perfect, that is fully human, rooted in a benevolent love for all those we deal with. Only in union with the Lord Jesus whom we receive in this Eucharist can we hope to find the grace and force we need to attain to this fulfillment, and thus be made worthy to be children of our Heavenly Father for all eternity.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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