Disappointment on the Road to Perfection

It’s not hard for us to feel discouraged like the rich young man we hear of in the Gospel today. We think we’re on the right track and then we hear something in a homily, read something or come across a Scripture passage which questions whether we’re on the right track at all.  Anything and everything we do for God as we try to live a good and holy life and follow His commandments and the precepts and teachings of the Church is good.  But we can always do better.

As a confessor (and a penitent as well) I certainly encounter the struggle many of us (most of us maybe) share.  We try pretty hard, and yet we fall short.  This is the essence of the Christian journey – we are all a work in progress.  That means we’re on the road to perfection, but we’re not perfect.  The great failure, which happens is that we allow any frustration we have with our imperfection to lead us to quit trying or to rationalize away our struggle.  Both can happen.  I have met many who struggle with their weaknesses and failings to the point that they just quit because they believe that God has quit on them.  I have met others, and we can look to fairly significant figures in Church history too who have convinced themselves the sins and weaknesses they struggle with are not sins or shortcomings at all, because they see or know too many others who struggle with the same things and believe a loving God would not allow this to continue if it were really a problem to Him.  Although these kinds of struggles and “disappointments” in our faith life extend far beyond the confessional, I experience it there most often and believe the act of humility which is made manifest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation can powerfully counteract the disappointment we feel.

I look to St. Paul for this.  In 2 Cor 12:7-10, we hear St. Paul speak of an encounter that he has with Jesus.  He wants to be perfect and yet he struggles.  He asks the Lord to take the “thorn from his flesh” and Jesus replies “My Grace is enough”.  Paul is on the road to becoming a saint by the time he writes this letter, and wanting to be holy, it seems he’s frustrated and discouraged by the “thorn” (whatever he struggles with).  Instead of taking it away, Jesus tells Paul that He has given him His Grace…isn’t that enough?  I have revisited and reflected on this passage for years.

I think we benefit from not being perfect because we know that we need Jesus.  We can’t become holy, perfect or reach the ultimate expression of our creation without Jesus.  We are all given grace, and while we must cooperate as best we can with that grace, we are not merely fallen from grace because we struggle.  Disappointment as the rich young man experienced can be a game-changer.  We shouldn’t let it be such that we give up, but that we realize the joy of the Christian life is to keep going, knowing with the Lord’s help, we are going to get closer and closer to God and heaven if we do.

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