Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 26, 2020 | St. Mary’s – Richmond, VA
We are each on a quest for perfection.
St. Augustine once said: “We search for the good and perfect Pearl and find none — until we find Christ.”
In other words: On this quest for perfection that every single human soul is on, we will be disappointed over and over again — until we find Jesus. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, when everything and everyone else lets us down.
Perhaps Augustine’s quote can help us better understand what we’ve all come to know and hate: the so-called “Cancel Culture.”
At its heart, the Cancel Culture is a kind of misguided quest for “perfection.” We tear people down for disappointing us — For not being pristine and sinless according to our modern fashionable ideas and narratives.
Because human beings rightly want Perfection. They rightly desire Truth. They rightly desire Goodness. They rightly desire Beauty. And yet, in a hyper-secularized world where there is no hope of forgiveness or redemption — and where God is barely an afterthought — the only possible response to imperfection is swift rejection and elimination. Disappointment cannot be tolerated.
We do this to others, yes, but we also do this to ourselves! So often, we see our own failings and hang-ups as impossible obstacles — things that we either need to reject and hate ourselves for, or that we need to fully embrace in a kind of reactionary, fist-shaking pride. Anyone who dares to suggest we are wrong, we “cancel” — “Either you accept me on my terms, or you get deleted!”
This is a spiraling, confused quest for perfection that’s doomed to be disappointed over and over and over…
Until, that is, we find Christ.
Jesus is actually perfect.
He is the Treasure in the field we are digging for.
He is the spotless, untarnished Pearl of great price that, deep down, we are looking to sell everything in order to buy.
When we find Him (or rather, when HE FINDS US!) we can let go of absolutely everything else. Rather than canceling people, we can show mercy to others AND ourselves — Why? Because we no longer need to restlessly pursue perfection anywhere else. We don’t have to justify ourselves or anyone else. Christ is our justification, our righteousness, our salvation, our perfect peace that surpasses all understanding! He understands that we are imperfect, clay vessels filled with holes — He pours His mercy into us anyways, and guess what? Those holes become fountains of mercy for others!
The bottom line is this: Jesus Christ doesn’t cancel anyone. He cancels our sins. He looks at human imperfection with the utmost patience and He tirelessly heals us. He makes us perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect — but by the quiet unfolding of grace, not the anxious virtue-signaling and rage we see on the news and social media. What a desperate and ill-fated search for perfection that is! It will never make us happy.
Brothers and sisters: Jesus is the cure to “Cancel Culture” because He IS the Perfection that we are looking for. Indeed, he was even willing to be canceled himself and strung up on a Cross to reveal that Perfection and draw us to Himself.
Now, we are called to share this beautiful, liberating truth with the world. We get to help others find Jesus, the one and only perfect Treasure, the one and only perfect Pearl.
How do we do that?
It begins in the waters of baptism. By our Baptism, Jesus is found in us. Now His Divine Life — the Life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit — dwells in us. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives through us — revealing His perfection in us!
People can now find Jesus when they find us. They discover the Treasure — buried in us. They find the Pearl of Great Price — in us.
Now, at this point maybe you’re sitting there thinking: “But Fr Anthony… I’m so imperfect. I’m not very holy. How can Jesus be found in me? Won’t people find out I’m a fake? Won’t I just be a hypocrite?”
To that, I say: Take courage! When someone finds out you are imperfect, you can simply respond through your words and actions with something like this:
“Yea, I know I’m not perfect. I am sure to disappoint you. But I want you to know that the Lord will never disappoint you. He’s perfect. I’ve been washed by the Perfect Blood of the Lamb, but I’m still a work in progress. I’m growing in virtue, I’m growing in my relationship with the Lord — but I still fail a lot. I go to confession when that happens. But I can tell you in all sincerity: I have joy and peace because of His unconditional love for me. Jesus lives in me. My imperfection is not an obstacle to His grace.”
Each of us needs to come to terms with the fact that we’re not perfect — but Jesus is, and He is revealing Himself through our weakness.
I have be ok with the fact that I’ll never be able to live up to the Priesthood that Jesus Christ has created in me. Like King Solomon in our first reading, I need to stand before God and pray: “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.” In other words: I’m out of my league. I don’t know what I’m doing! I’m imperfect and I’m sure to disappoint! And yet despite all that, I have to trust that Jesus can be found in my inadequacy.
I can only dare to speak those divine words over the Bread and Wine — “This is My Body, this is My Blood” — because I know it’s not me, but Jesus saying them through me! I can only say “I absolve you” because it’s Christ they find sitting in the confessional — NOT me…
At the end of the day, I don’t want people to find “me.” Father Anthony can’t save anyone. Father Mike can’t save anyone. I want you to find Jesus. I want you to unearth Christ — the true Treasure. I want you to discover the Lord, the one and only Pearl of greatest value. I want you to be caught in the net of God’s perfect love.
That’s why I became a priest — To help you find Jesus over and over in your life.
But please don’t forget — This is also true for every baptized believer.
Your mission is to allow your family, your co-workers, your friends, yes everyone you meet — to find Jesus in you. If it wasn’t, then your life would only amount to a pointless self-help project. If it’s up to us, our talents, our ideas, our opinions, our moral performance to make ourselves and everybody else in our lives happy— then this is a total waste of time. We will end up being miserable.
BUT — If we find Jesus Christ — the Treasure, the Pearl, the True Wisdom of God made flesh for us — if we allow Him to define our lives and then help others to find him as well, we will find happiness. We will find pardon and peace. We will find a God who is absolutely Perfect towards His beloved, imperfect people.
The climax of this perfect love is the Eucharist, the Perfect, Once-for-all Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
At every Mass, we come together and offer to God our Father the gifts He has given us — simple bread and wine. We bring Him our imperfect offerings, our imperfect lives, and through the anointed hands of the priest, God gives us the Pearl of greatest value — the Hidden Treasure — the foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven: Nothing less than the Body and Blood of His Son Jesus. Really and truly, here on this altar, we find the One who canceled our sins and made us fully alive.
Go and sell everything for this Pearl — this matchless treasure of the Holy Eucharist. Here, you have found what all the world is desperately looking for. Here you have found Perfection Himself.