A while back I wrote a piece on the lie of worthlessness. More recently I wrote about the early seeds of my Jesuit vocation and how I came to realize that we’re meant to be exactly who we are. I received many heartfelt expressions of gratitude for those pieces. Many wrote these or similar words: “Thanks for letting me know that I’m okay. I really needed to hear that.”
But I say more.
There is a problem with merely knowing that “I already am who I am meant to be.” It’s incomplete. Perhaps your moral character is more robust than mine, but as soon as someone tells me that I’m fine “just the way I am” a kind of moral inertia sets in and I start acting like no further growth were needed. Sometimes I don’t want to change, to grow, or to learn. Sometimes I’d rather just keep on keepin’ on. You know, I’m okay you’re okay. Right? Well, maybe not.
The question that must be asked is this: knowing who I am (the beloved), am I living how I am meant to live? Am I doing what I am meant to do? If I have been loved, and was created in love, am I becoming what I was created to become? In other words, is God finished with me or is God perfecting me?
In the Church of Pop, Our Lady Gaga points to an important truth (and, perhaps unknowingly, affirms the teaching of the Catholic Church and the example of Our Lady Mary) when she reminds us “That God makes no mistakes” and “Baby, [we were] born this way!” As she says, there is no sin in being who we are as God made us, whether gay or straight, tall or short, black or white, and anywhere in between. But it is not enough to stop there. Life is not only about who we are but how we are; it is about the quality of our loving. This also needs to be addressed if we are ever to truly love, honor, and cherish the many people who are born all kinds of ways, if we are ever to love the ones we forget, the ones we exclude, and even the ones we hate.
That we are created perfectly in the sight of God, that we are born this way, is quite a gift, one that is all too often forgotten, ignored or denied. Many among us, especially the marginalized and the oppressed, are right to assert their loveliness, to celebrate it! But our perfection is incomplete (and, in that sense, imperfect) until we appropriate the loving perfection of God’s moral character, the perfection God intends for us. What does that look like? What does it mean to be perfect? Well, here is where it gets tough because Jesus is pretty clear on this one: we have to love our enemies.1
So we were born this way? Great! But life after infancy presents us with choices, challenges and moments of growth and development. As Anne Lamott likes to say about God’s grace, “it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Christian perfection is rooted in love and love is rooted in action. This is not just about being. This is about becoming.
We are created perfectly in the eyes of God and we live out that perfection in the choices we make and in the things we do. Our creation is fulfilled not just in who we are (our being beloved) but also in how we live (our becoming lovers). We fulfill our creation as lovers.
Aristotle said that God is “thought thinking itself.”
My spiritual director prefers to say that God is love loving.
I say this: You are beloved. So, go and be love. Better yet, be perfect like your heavenly Father is perfect—become love loving.
— — — — —
- “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,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (MT 5:43-48) ↩