Perfection Is Found In Love

Perfection Is Found In Love April 6, 2022

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Our faith should lead us to being active, looking for and seeking after perfection. But what kind of perfection should we seek? We learn this from listening to and heeding the teachings of Christ:  “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 RSV). And what is it we learn from Chris? That God is love, and so our perfection is found in and through love:

You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48 RSV).

We are to be perfect, and to be perfect is to love. We should love everyone, even those who wish us and do us harm. With such love, we will seek after the common good, a good meant for everyone, and not just our close friends and associates. If we love all, we will hope for the salvation of all, because who would wish someone we love to suffer perdition? Likewise, if we love all, we should also desire everyone’s earthly needs are met, doing what we can to make sure they are. Love, therefore, will not have us cut off from the rest of the world, seeking our own private good, our own spiritual elevation, at the expense of others, as Julianus Pomerius explained:

In view of this one should consider whether they act justly who, removing themselves from all occupations and devoting themselves to spiritual pursuits, do nothing for human society, and, preferring their own desires to the advantage of all, disregard the common good by choosing a welcome freedom. For, to be unwilling to help the afflicted when you can, to wish to enjoy restful quiet without regard for the common good is surely not equity. Those who respect this equity of all life for the good of all and, as though born for another, guard and love one another’s salvation. [1]

To seek after perfection requires us to act in and through love. God shows us what this means through the life and teachings of Christ. Love goes to those who are in need and helps them instead of staying distant from them. Love is not isolationistic, it is not quietest, it is active. We can get so caught up in the pleasure we receive from our own spiritual engagement that we seek to hold onto it and keep it at the expense of others. When we do so, when we isolate ourselves from others to try to hold onto what spiritual glory we have experienced, we find ourselves going away from the perfection we are expected to attain. Our isolation, our attempt to turn our backs on the world and its need so as to focus on ourselves and our own personal peace turns us away from love. Even if we were to try to engage such isolation from the world, not individually, but as a small community, trying to create as it were a new, better, indeed, perfect community separate from the rest of the world, the problem which lies behind individualistic isolationism remains here. The community holds itself apart from others and in doing so rejects the dictates of love.

We must listen to Christ, heed what he has told us: we are to find perfection in love, and that means, our actions should be reflective of that love. We must do more than speak about perfection, we must do more than speak about and decry our sins, we must act. The more we act out of true love, the more we will resemble God and so find ourselves moving closer and closer to perfection. This will be the way we prove we love God, for how can we truly love God if we do not love our neighbor? We have been given grace by God, and through it, we experience God’s love; the more we embrace it, the more we take on love for ourselves, the more we should share what we have with others, especially with those in need:

For in him each one ought to be so ready to give what he has received, as to appear to have received it for no other reason but to give ; that in the giving there may be set forth the receiving, and the love of God in the love of our neighbour ; since we then declare that we love Him, if, as St. John teaches in his Epistle, we love our neighbour. ” If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” [2]

If we say we love God, if we say we love our neighbor, but our actions indicate otherwise, we show we know how to talk about perfection but have yet to do little to actually achieve it; this is something very common, as Abba Poemen indicated:

He also said, ‘Men speak to perfection but they do previous little about it.’ [3]

This is not to say speaking about perfection is without benefits. Those who speak of it helps those who listen discern what they should do. The more we speak of love and its dictates, the more we should truly understand how far we are from perfection, and hopefully, by that realization we will come to long for it and begin to act as we should. Indeed, when we truly listen, we should come to understand that perfection is not established by legalism, by trying to follow particular rules. Our holiness lies in being doers of the word, doers of love. Love does not lord it over others, it does not divide but unites, while those who like to follow and create endless numbers of rules tend to create division based upon such rules:

Those who make a schism from love of rule undergo this thing: they are not satisfied with having made a schism, but they want to introduce some novelty in teaching, so that, through the novelty, scouring away things associated with the Church, they lord it over those who have been led astray by an imagined truth. [4]

If we convince people that our rules, our ideologies, are more important than love, we truly have directed them away from perfection, and thus, we create fractures in our community, fractures which, if they are left to fester and not be healed, end up creating schisms in society (and the institutional church). This is how sin works. Sin is always the work of unlove, promoting destruction and division through its unbalanced engagement of the good. This is why those who ridicule the mercy which comes out of love, though they often do so under the guise of justice, morality, or ethics, only present a simulacrum of the good, one which in the end is insufficient and will never bring those who follow it to perfection. Only the proper presentation of the absolute good, a good which is not other than love and so is to be known and experience by love, is able to transcend this divisiveness and bring people together. On love can lead to the perfection which God wants from us and which we should want for ourselves.


[1] Julianus Pomerius, The Contemplative Life. Trans. Mary Josephine Suelzer, PhD (Westminster, MD: The Newman Bookshop, 1947), 155-6.

[2] John Colet, “Celestial Hierarchy” in Two Treatises on the Hierarchies of Dionysius. Trans. Joseph Hirst Lupton (London: Chiswick Press, 1869), 51.

[3] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 174 [Saying of Abba Poemen 56]

[4] Origen, Homilies on the Psalms: Codex Monacensis Graecus 314. Trans. Joseph W. Trigg (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2020), 306 [Homily 2 on Psalm 77].

 

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