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Be PERFECT? Can’t I just be pretty good?

I’ve been trying to spend more time reading the Bible lately and have been noticing that various passages — often passages that I’ve heard many times over the years — will just jump out at me with new meaning. For example, in Leviticus, we read, “You shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy.” (Lv 11:44) Jesus reiterates this in Matthew, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perfection is a pretty high standard. I know I’m not there, and I don’t see myself getting there any time soon. I can imagine the response Jesus would get if he were to appear on a modern-day talk show and say those same words:

“Oh, come on! You don’t really expect people to be perfect do you? Isn’t it enough that they try their best?”

“Aren’t you concerned that you’ll make people feel guilty when they can’t live up to this standard? Isn’t this a form of imperfection-shaming?”

“Don’t you think this will alienate imperfect people?”

“Why do they need to be perfect if God loves them no matter what?”

“Who’s version of perfect do you mean, anyway?”

While this verse sets a bar that none of us can achieve on our own, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t lower the bar. It challenges us to try to rise up to it until we can reach it. To the extent that we fail, we rely on God’s love and mercy to take us the rest of the way. Nevertheless, spiritual perfection is to be our aim, and our lives a constant journey in that direction. We don’t measure ourselves against the standards of our time, the sins of others or the sins we could have committed but didn’t, but against the standard of perfection.

This verse also implies that, to the extent we are imperfect, it by our own choice. (“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!”) There would have been no point in telling us to be something we can’t be. Jesus doesn’t ask us to be perfect students or perfect business managers or perfect drivers, but he commands us to aspire to the spiritual perfection of our Father. We must detach ourselves from whatever imperfections come between us and God and be willing to let the Holy Spirit perfect us.

It is worth noting that the statement is not, “Aspire to perfection.” It is, “Be perfect.” Here in this present moment, we are called to perfection, to turn away from all that is sinful, all that is not of God, and turn back to holiness. What is holding us back in this moment? What graces do we need to ask for and receive? What temptations are holding us back?

Moreover, this verse reminds us that there really is a standard of perfection toward which we can strive. Perfection is not a moving target; it is we who move in relation to that target. We might get closer in one way but further away in another, the bull’s-eye of the target remains in the same spot. We are not told, “Be perfect, as you define perfection for yourself,” but, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is God’s standard of perfection that matters; not ours.

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How I hope Pope Francis approaches the environment issue

It has been well publicized that Pope Francis is planning to issue an encyclical on creation and respect for the environment at some point this year. My hope is that the Holy Father will take this as an opportunity to unite people in finding practical or even not-so-practical ways to address environmental concerns, reminding people of their role as stewards of the planet and the need to be aware of the impact individual lifestyles and large-scale operations can have on various regions of the world.

What I hope he does not do is create further division, demonizing some based on their personal opinions based on their own readings about environmental issues. An example of this approach was seen recently when Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi spoke recently at the Climate and Health 68th World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The archbishop stated that the religious leaders and technical experts who participated in a recent event held by the Holy See “left no further room for denial under the mistaken guise of so-called religious belief when they declared that human-induced climate change is a scientific reality.”

So, because a bunch of people who were already in agreement got together and agreed with each other, there is no room for anyone who disagrees. Pretending that there is no one who disagrees with you doesn’t make you more right, and there is evidence that many scientists disagree with the view “that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

In 2008, WND reported that more than 31,000 scientists signed a petition stating that “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Even among scientists who believe that that the earth is getting warmer and that human activity is a contributing factor, there is disagreement about whether we are the primary cause and how much difference behavioral changes could make, and on how much damage global warming will actually cause.

My point is not that these scientists are necessarily right, just that there seems to still be significant disagreement within the scientific community on the subject. And arguing that those who disagree with one’s position don’t count isn’t going to persuade anyone that you are right. If that’s the approach Pope Francis takes, the only people his encyclical influences will be those who already agree with him.

There are ways in which an encyclical on environmental stewardship could be play an important role. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on global warming, understand that air and water pollution are bad things, for example. The problem is that we tend to look at the air and water in our own region and ignore it everywhere else.

For example, according to this pollution index, the U.S. ranks on the lower end of the scale 118th out of the 135 listed countries. But some of our biggest oil suppliers besides ourselves and Canada do not fair so well. Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, all have pollution index scores twice that of ours. China, from whom we import so many products, is the 10th worst polluter on the planet. Doesn’t our consumption of these exports confer some kind of responsibility upon us for the pollution generated in the process of making those resources available.

And our own score of 31.45 is at least twice that of any of the countries in the top six.

There are definitely opportunities for improvement here, and we should be considering whether our consumption habits may be hurting the environment, and thereby hurting other people. Maybe it’s a matter of finding new ways of doing things. Maybe it’s a matter of consuming less. Spreading awareness of the impact of our everyday choices could be an important step.

But demonizing people who disagree on a matter of science is not going get people listening.

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