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By Way of Imperfection

Many of us chase the lure of perfectionism.

Rich HarterGood News All the Way

A blog by Rich Harter
Director of Evangelization
Archdiocese of Milwaukee


Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”* But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man. (Luke 2: 41-52)

Many of us chase the lure of perfectionism. We try to be the perfect student, friend, sibling, spouse, parent, and co-worker. It’s as if life is a never ending collection of really big exams and we are trying to get straight “A’s.” With the bar of acceptability set so high, we inevitably tend toward one of two paths. Either we live in constant discontent as we reach for the unreachable, or we just give up the pursuit altogether in frustration and failure.

The same thing can happen in our spiritual lives. We hear Jesus saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and so we aim for the moon. But soon we encounter the fork in the road to holiness that splits between the realm of saints and the path of apathy. One way is unattainable and the other is unacceptable. Faced with these two extremes, we are tempted to give up the pursuit of holiness altogether.

Thankfully Mary and Joseph show us a third way. They journey to holiness by way of imperfection. They have entertained angels, responded to God’s call, and are faithfully raising the Messiah in the ways of Judaism. But even these marvelous saints lose track of Jesus on their Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They cannot seem to grasp the full nature of his identity and his mission. They are imperfectly perfect.

Mary and Joseph teach the Good News that the way of holiness and discipleship is open to all of us. We may lose track of Jesus in our daily lives. We may not fully grasp his mission. We may be confused at times about what he expects from us. But all is not lost. When we recognize that Jesus is missing, we do what Mary and Joseph did. We get back on the road to holiness and go looking for him with intensity and passion. 

Mary and Joseph remind us that we reach deep holiness and faithful discipleship by way of imperfection. That’s Good News! Like them, we are imperfectly perfect!

Let us keep all these things in our hearts!

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