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Center for Action and Contemplation

Receiving Mercy

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spirituality of Imperfection: Week 1

Receiving Mercy
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The French Catholic Church of Thérèse of Lisieux’s time (1873-1897) emphasized an ideal of human perfection, which took the forms of legalism and immense self-preoccupation. Yet Thérèse humbly trusted her own experience and taught the spirituality of imperfection instead. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, perhaps because I am an Enneagram Type One. The trap for the One is a self-created perfectionism, which makes us always dissatisfied and disappointed in just about everything, starting with ourselves. Our inner critic is quite well-trained and practiced, and it takes years of inner work to recognize how completely this critical worldview impairs our perception and keeps us from our natural compassion.

Thérèse has helped me in this process. As Brother Joseph Schmidt writes in our recent issue of Oneing:

Thérèse shifted her focus more and more from attaining perfection or acquiring holiness to the attitude of the publican (see Luke 18:9-14): She let God’s mercy be her perfection, her holiness. “I desire, in a word, to be a saint,” she prayed, “but I feel my helplessness and I beg you—Oh my God!—to be Yourself my Sanctity!” [All true holiness is mirrored and reflected, and Thérèse allowed herself to enjoy that.]

“Jesus, draw me into the flames of your love,” she wrote. “Unite me so closely with you that you live and act in me.” [1]

These prayerful sentiments expressed her solution to the problem of perfection. She came to a complete reversal of her original idea of what it means to be on the path of holiness, and single handedly undid centuries of Catholic legalism. Gospel holiness has little to do with moral achievements or the elimination of defects (that is an ego need). It is almost entirely about receiving God’s free gift of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. We know God by participation in God, not by trying to please God from afar. Please think long and happily about that! “Let the one who would boast, boast in God” (1 Corinthians 1:31). This alone is authentic wholeness, holiness, and the goodness that we all seek and admire.

Gateway to Silence:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” —Zechariah 4:6

[1] Joseph F. Schmidt, “Perfection: A Problem and a Solution,” “Perfection,” Oneing, Vol. 4, No. 1 (CAC: 2016). 29. Italics mine.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Trap of Perfectionism: Two Needed Vulnerabilities,” “Perfection,” Oneing, Vol. 4, No. 1 (CAC: 2016), 73.

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