Fr. Glenn: Imperfection

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

All of you “trekkies” out there will recall the episode “Changeling” in the original Star Trek series: Nomad, the altered deep space probe would destroy whole planets and civilizations because it would find inevitable “imperfections” in the “biological units”. “Must sterilize!” was its corrupted programming mantra and directive.

So … all of you impeccable people—you perfect biological units—please stand up, for we can see all of you from here. All none of you!

It seems that no one is safe from the slings and arrows of those who … perhaps? … see themselves as perfect … maybe not realizing that a hyper-critical attitude is itself glaring imperfection. For instance, last Sunday brought a headline: “Gandhi statue removed from African university over claims of racism”. Now, the younger generation may not remember, but we who are a bit older recall when Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest heroes of the world—a champion of peace and interracial dialogue and respect.

If you read the story, there IS some basis for umbrage toward Gandhi: the statue was located at a school in Ghana, and Gandhi purportedly made some rather derogatory statements about Africans. But … should we not make some allowance for ingrained culture, rearing and even ignorance—not in any one person, but in all … not to mention simply growing in one’s understanding of the overall brotherhood of humanity? Civilization develops gradually; it does not pop out fully formed from us very flawed human beings.

To their great credit, that university in Ghana is reconsidering and there are reports that Gandhi will be returned to at least some place on the university grounds … apparently realizing that they were, as the adage goes, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. The ideals of Gandhi were laudable in the extreme, though he himself was imperfect in some of his perceptions … just as all of us are … and doubtless will always be.

No, no person is perfect, especially in the 20/20 hindsight of history and ever-changing societal norms and ideals. Who is to know what people a century from now will look back on and say:  “How could they!?” After all, it’s only 70-ish years ago—a blink in human history—that the world endured a pursuit of a master race by seemingly otherwise reasonable people, resulting in a war that killed tens of millions.

And so we come to our present day … racism, hatred, division, persecution, slavery, etc., still rife in our world. Will we ever learn, many of us wonder. In a bit of self-examination, it is good to review our own visceral perceptions of the black, the white, the brown … the native, the foreigner … the rich, the poor … and, yes, the Democrat or the Republican, liberal or conservative … Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist … Hindu, Muslim, atheist. We will likely find that each of us still has a long road to travel.

We Christians love to tout the unity of humanity—the coming together of Jew and Gentile as the Bible so adamantly foretells and encourages … most perfectly advanced by the One who lived 2000 years ago—a literal nobody … who seemed nothing but a common workman of a vassal state … and yet whose teaching and works so unlikely led to one of the greatest religious upheavals and most widespread religions in all the world. Time and space in a news column fail for a listing of the very tangible and historical reasons for our belief in the divinity of this Messiah … the One whose birth we Christians rejoice in remembering at this time each year … a remembrance also eliciting our anticipation at His promised second coming. 

And yet, O Christian, following the theme we have presented today: how well are you living that ideal of His to “Love thy neighbor?” Are you the disdaining priest/Levite in the parable (Luke 10), or are you the Good Samaritan? … the self-important, arrogant, self-admiring Pharisee who went unheard, or the humble and thereby justified tax collector (Luke 18)? What is it Jesus said about those who exalt themselves? (Luke 18:14) Are we wary of—or perhaps even the object of—St. Paul’s warning: “…you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself…You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:21-24)

Christmas and Easter are most perfect times to re-evaluate our own discipleship, and thus our true humanity—to recognize the brotherhood of all men and women. For Jesus did not say: “Go out to the people of your own race, social status and political bent”, but rather: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) … the goal—the mission—being St. John’s vision of Heaven: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

So, instead of “sterilize imperfection” by elitist and pompous exclusion, let us rather strive—however imperfectly our efforts—to be “changelings” ourselves, becoming ever improving reflections of Christ’s humility and love in this Christmas season and always—thereby (hopefully) influencing others to do the same—remembering again St. Paul: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) A very blessed and joyful Christmas season to you all.