As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you – Luke 17:11-19
One can get a bit overwhelmed in trying to identify the means by which one becomes perfect. By perfect I also mean a saint. Being perfect is only accomplished by grace, however, grace can be more or less effective depending how we respond to it. Afterall, it is grace that enables us to do all things: pray, fast, give alms, love God, etc. On our own part, we can choose to respond to this grace perfectly, but more often than not we respond very imperfectly. An example of this is like being given the grace to pray the rosary but this is done half-heartily and full of distractions. A saint in one sense is someone who responds to the graces of the Lord perfectly, and consequently does the will of the Heavenly Father perfectly.
Now, if we say that to be perfect is a matter of grace but by our sin and weakness we may fail to respond perfectly to that grace, what on earth can we do to grow in perfection? The answer lies in the questions posed: we have to remove sin. Sin is what causes us to be tepid in our spiritual exercises, distracted in prayer, hardened to admonishment and the list goes on. If this sounds obvious to you, you are on a great start but it wasn’t always so obvious to me. I honestly don’t recall much motivation or guidance when it came to being perfect growing up. I don’t blame anyone for any imperfection in my life today but there is a huge gap in this understanding, both with the laity and the clergy. It is very rare for anyone to talk to you about being perfect or a saint. To be honest, this is likely because those that we expect to guide us are also confused about how to be perfect. A lot of people will talk to you about being an intentional or missionary disciple but that is not enough for me. Afterall, Judas was a disciple of Jesus Christ for some time but he did not come close to reach the heroic perfection of the Blessed Mother, St. Paul, St. Peter and all the other saints.
As I have responded to the grace of God to remove sin in my life, the call to perfection is making more sense. It is achievable. I do not have to wallow in sin and imperfection. I can be perfect like Jesus Christ. Do I still wallow in sin and imperfection? You betcha but the amazing thing is that the sin and imperfections are being remedied. I can look back only a few years to see where I was and where I am today and sometimes I am shocked by how grace has transformed me. As I look ahead, it feels like I have barely left the start line but that is fine because by grace I can reach the finish line but this will be at God’s pace and in His way.
With the recent explosion in the Charismatic movement, there is a great attention given to the Holy Spirit and the great, positive experiences that are at times attributed to this movement, whether in prayer groups, conferences, etc. I would say that none of this is bad because a greater love for the most misunderstood person of the Trinity is a good thing. I do just have one caution. If we are blessed to witness or experience one these great experience such as a healing but fail to make a firm resolution to use that grace to work on our imperfection, we have wasted that grace. Here is a passage from scripture that summarizes my point well:
When I read the passage above from Luke, to me Jesus Christ is trying to teach us something very important and that is that the human experience is always of secondary importance to the primary reason that the grace was received and that is for spiritual conversion. The human experience, in this case the healing of leprosy, is a wonderful grace that should have led all 10 of the lepers to grow in perfection, but as we read above in Luke, only one leper responds correctly to the grace received and the words of the Lord to him are, “…Your faith has saved you.”
We have to be weary in this regard. Our goal is not for the healing or the human experience, such as an emotional “high” but rather for the spiritual conversion. At times, the Lord does use these wonderful means to bring people to him but unfortunately this is where many people stop. To most, the Holy Spirit is merely someone who heals us, makes us shake, excites us, ignites us but the graces He distributes are required for more than that. All of these human experiences are a grace for us to be made perfect. And what does perfection consist of? No sin and growth in virtue. The grace that we receive from these experiences should remove sin in our lives: lust, anger, pride, gluttony, vanity. The grace should create an increase in virtue in us: chastity, meekness, humility, temperance, wisdom, charity. If we find ourselves being drawn over and over to the human experience but fail to see any spiritual conversion on our own part, we are missing the mark. This is also the means by which we can test whether we are receiving the right fruits of the grace, which is always associated with an increase in virtue within our lives. Not acquired virtue but infused virtue, the kind that makes us more like Jesus Christ.
The call to be perfect is a universal call. It is equivalent to the call to be a saint. We can only do this through grace and the better we respond to grace, the more fruit it will bear in our lives, namely an increase in virtue. In order for us to do respond better, we have to eliminate sin in our lives. Let us respond like the leper and when blessed with grace, let us use it as means to be perfect like Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, save us!