Although occurring in the icy grip of winter, the celebration of the New Year stimulates both mind and spirit with the warm glow of renewal. Ideas of personal improvement and even perfection are entertained. Who is to tell us exactly what constitutes the image we wish to attain? The cultural trend setters are all too happy to oblige. Documentary filmmaker Jesse Epstein investigated one treasured icon of human endeavor – the perfect body. She visited the Patina V Mannequin Factory in City of Industry, California where the staff pondered what they would call the ideal female form. All of their female mannequins would be created with these measurements. They, by some mysterious method, conjured up the winning measurements of the perfect female figure to be 34x25x36. As an "innocent celibate," I can presume that fashion designers felt that their creations would look best on a mannequin – or woman – possessing these precise measurements. This standard resulted in terrifying many a behavioral scientist into grave concerns about young girls and women, cursed by not having these indications of the tape measure, becoming depressed and compelled to following a starvation regimen or pursuing cosmetic surgery. Yet, there is merit to examining the state of one's life and to determining to correct faults and moral weakness. Again, the question arises: From what source do we derive the criteria for perfection?
Filmmaker Jesse Epstein
Paradigms of perfection may be left to one's fancy in every area but the spiritual. In that context we have the absolute model in Jesus Christ. Is that figure of spiritual perfection unfair? Jesus was the exemplar of the best in human nature, but he also was divine. How can we mere humans attain such heights? The affirmative answers to these questions are framed within the recognition of our limitations, but also within our potential. We cannot be Christ, but we can be Christ-like. We are capable of expanding our sense of awe before God and of exploring the depths of what it means to be human. Jesus calls us to follow him in a lifetime of joy and sorrow, wonder and doubt, strength and weakness, and victory and defeat with a willingness to bear life's crosses and ultimately to be transfigured through God's grace and mercy into a perfect being. Our hope of a heavenly end finds its seed in our earthly beginning. If that beginning includes the sacrament of Baptism, we are well on our way to that heavenly end. Baptism is a life-changing event. This entrance into the family of the Church marks an entrance into a world of new meanings and directions, values and goals different from the world's and a view of our role in life that is more demanding and more loving. All of those grace-filled encounters with Christ – called sacraments – light the path to the kingdom. Albert Einstein spoke this warning, "A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem." Throughout history, humanity has been very efficient in perfecting new technologies, but somewhat deficient in defining the moral application of these discoveries. What a "perfect" place for the presence of Christ-like men and women.
By its very nature, faith beckons us to the pursuit of the perfect. As a human experience, faith defines the essence of what it is to be human. As mystery, faith challenges our essential self to find its full reality in the immersion of our being in the realm of God. Acceptance of this reality awakens our efforts to strive to reach the heights of virtue, goodness, and love.
A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.
– Lewis Mumford
If the end of our road to perfection is the Kingdom of God, seeking perfection is a most worthwhile quest. Improvements made on our formers selves often come slowly, but each growth spurt can be immensely important for the legacy we leave to life and the destiny we attain through living. Even as the body disintegrates, the soul of the faithful integrates all life's experiences toward a spiritual awakening. In addition, the mind could arrive at a port of wisdom from which the past can be sifted for those golden nuggets of understanding that provide assurance and confidence in the journey ahead. In his poem, Andrea del Sarto, Robert Browning wrote, "Man's reach should exceed his grasp." We long for something more, something better, or rather something BEST. In the newness of this year, be encouraged to seek perfection in those things that lead to a life ultimately pleasing to the God who gave it to you.