Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

Reflecting on Perfectionism

For the Third Sunday of Advent, we reflect on perfectionism.

A married couple was returning from the funeral of Uncle George, who had lived with them for twenty years and had been such a nuisance that he almost succeeded in ruining their marriage.  “There is something I have to say to you, dear,” said the husband.  “If it hadn’t been for my love for you, I wouldn’t have put up with your Uncle George for a single day.”  “My Uncle George!” she exclaimed in horror.  “I thought he was your Uncle George!”  Assumptions and expectations make our lives harder than they need to be.

Maybe the holidays are such a trying time because of all the expectations that come with them.  Family expects a big meal on Christmas.  Children expect the exact toys they asked for to be sitting under the tree come Christmas morning.  Employees expect a holiday bonus.  Friends and relatives expect Christmas cards.  Then, there are the everyday expectations like assuming we arrive at work on time, have a nice lunch, or get a chance to unwind before bed.  We expect so much. 

Like us, the ancient Judeans had their own expectations and assumptions.  They expected the messiah, and assumed he would be a prodigious military hero like their greatest king, David.  Others thought of the prophet Elijah.  Based on how John the Baptist was acting, the people thought he might be the messiah, or at least the Prophet Elijah.  John denied both expectations and said he was but a witness to the Light.  The ancient Judeans may have missed the Light because they were so caught up in their assumptions and expectations.

There is one insidious expectation most people seem to hold.  We expect perfection.  This seems particularly relevant during the holidays.  Because there are so many different people, not everyone expects perfection in the same way.  It is subject to culture, family, religion, and each individual.  Still, it is a phenomenon in most families.  We expect Christmas morning to be just so.  Everyone supposes Christmas has to be one way, the way it’s always been celebrated.

Even when we commit to God, we transfer this perfectionism to the spiritual life.  One expectation is that we should practice perfectly.  We presume God expects perfection from us, a life without mistakes.  Our idea about how life is supposed to be is what ends up hurting us most.  It is an expectation, a craving for what we think will make us happy.  Hence, it is an attachment.  All we have to do is relax into God, drop the attachment, and move on.

The light in John’s Gospel, the light to which John testifies, is the Light already here in the world deep within us all.  It is the Light of Christ, the Light of Awakening.  It is the Divine Light and Love always already embracing each and every one of us.  Attachments block our awareness of this Light.  An expectation is another word for an attachment, a supposition that something not yet in existence will give us happiness.  John the Baptist testifies to the need to clear our lives of these blocks to the Light.

“Make straight the way of the Lord,” means clear the obstacles to his coming.  It means detachment and letting go.  Meister Eckhart says, “true detachment is nothing else than for the spirit to stand as immovable against whatever may chance to it of joy and sorrow, honor, shame and disgrace, as a mountain of lead stands before a little breath of wind.”  One is so rooted in God, rejoicing in God alone, that there is no upset in life.  Evagrius Ponticus compares the soul in its oneness with God to the sapphire sky.  Our attachments are like the weather passing through the sky.  They don’t last; they will pass.  Unfortunately, we make them stay.  We don’t let them pass.

Each one of us is the mountain, not the small wind.  We are the blue sky, not the passing weather.  We don’t need to be perfect; we don’t need to achieve happiness because it’s within us.  We are not our thoughts.  Thoughts come and go.  That’s where our attachments, our expectations, reside.  They are in our thoughts.  If we but allow them to pass through us without clinging to them, then we are practicing detachment.  Evagrius says, "It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions."  Letting go of thoughts enables us to be present to God here and now.  Then, we wake up and realize divine joy.