My dad happened to be down in Daytona, FL this week and told me about all the race activities. It is amazing how much effort is put into the races. One thing that makes sports so popular is the competition and striving to be better than the other team, even risking injury and life to win. You just don’t hear of a team who works out and practices for countless hours with the goal to come in last place? It is part of the human spirit to strive for perfection, enjoy something more perfectly: more perfect weather, a more perfect grade, a more perfect home, car, job, husband, wife or a simple cup of coffee. But often the desire for perfect things pulls us away from what is more important in life: Perfect Love of God and neighbor. These are the only things that will allow us to win the greatest victory, the reward of Heaven.

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us to a much greater level of perfection. He says: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is a call to take our natural desire for perfection and allow God’s grace to elevate it to the level of love. Then that inner drive in each of us becomes a desire to show others perfect kindness, perfect respect, perfect attention, and to be the best Christian possible for the glory of God. So it is a challenge to love as God loves us and command to love our neighbor as our self. God loves us so much: He is always thinking about us, always speaking to us, always caring for our needs. And he desires that we share in his happiness. And even when we make mistakes or offend him in sinful ways, he doesn’t shout us or throw a temper tantrum, but shows us perfect patience and humility and gives us perfect mercy through Reconciliation. And so Jesus wants us to share in God’s perfection so that we can show perfect love to others.

This way of love is not so hard with those who we know. But it seems hard with those who are strangers, or even impossible with those who are our enemies, who have hurt us, who seem unlovable. I think of the poor dying people in the street and Mother Teresa helped them. I think of a doctor who helps a wounded enemy soldier. But sometimes those close to us become our enemies. I think of a wife whose husband doesn’t show her respect but yet she remains respectful and loving. This is what Jesus means when he says to “turn the other cheek.” It is not allowing someone’s evil action to pull you into evil. It is defeating evil with love. It is what Jesus did on the Cross. It hurts but it defeats the enemy in the end. I know a married couple who had a disagreement - the husband got upset and started screaming at his wife for not agreeing with his idea of the perfect paint color for their home. By her keeping calm and absorbing the rage he finally exhausted himself and came to realize his poor behavior and apologize. Her faith helped her to stay calm and collected despite the temptation to react with the same anger. Her love defeated the enemy’s evil attempt to break the marriage over paint color. Of course, this is not to say that turning the cheek means becoming a doormat or even less a punching bag. If someone has an anger problem, no spouse should put up with that, whether it is the husband or wife. And, of course, if there is any physical contact, any abuse, for example if a man hits his wife, then he earns a free ticket to jail. It is an act of love to send someone with a problem to counseling or to jail if violence is involved.

The message is that we are called to treat all with love and respect. To see them as temples of God where the Spirit dwells, even when people don’t see themselves that way. The popular mentality is “this is my body” and so many feel they have a right to disrespect it, from getting all kinds of tattoos to dressing immodestly, to improper relationships, to neglecting the poor. But as Christians we strive to love even these and respect their dignity even when they don’t respect themselves. It is following the law of loving neighbor as yourself. It is not misplaced tolerance but it is being God’s love to others in hopes that it might save them from self-destruction. And so love of neighbor is the one thing we should spend all our energy on perfecting in this life. And this is the theme of The Archbishops Annual Appeal this year: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” May this command of God help us to give from the heart and support the many ways our diocese tries to live out this command through the various ministries designed to win people over to Christ. And may our charity glorify our Heavenly Father who loves each one of us perfectly. May God bless you.

St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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