The Journey to Perfection

January 29, 2023
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Readings for Today

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When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1–3

The Sermon on the Mount begins with today’s reading in Chapter Five of Matthew’s Gospel and continues through Chapter Seven. This beautiful sermon presents us with many familiar teachings of Jesus, such as the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule. Jesus begins His sermon by going up a mountain and sitting down. The mountain is believed to be just north of the Sea of Galilee, just a few miles from Capernaum where Jesus often stayed during His public ministry. Today’s Gospel presents us with the glorious and very high calling of the Beatitudes. This teaching on the Beatitudes sets the stage for the many other lessons Jesus taught.

The Beatitudes are certainly a teaching about morality, but the lessons are not the same as many of the moral teachings that the people were familiar with. Up until that time, morality was primarily seen as a list of forbidden practices. “Thou shall not…” was the general tone. However, the Beatitudes take morality to a much higher level. In this new teaching, Jesus did not start with that which was forbidden or that which was a violation of God’s Law. Instead, He explained that reaching for these ideals brought forth the greatest fulfillment in life. Morality was not only a list of regulations one needed to avoid. At the heart, morality was now presented by our Lord as a glorious journey to perfection. The result of this journey was the attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven.

When you consider the moral life, how do you look at it? Do you see it more as a list of things you can’t do? Or do you see it as a journey up the mountain of true holiness and fulfillment? The Christian life certainly forbids us to engage in many forms of sin and violations of God’s Law. But unless we understand that the highest form of morality is given to fulfill us on the deepest level, then it will be easy to become discouraged by our calling.

Reflect, today, upon Jesus calling you to follow Him up the mountain of the Beatitudes. As you do, begin by considering this journey first from a physical point of view. It would have been much easier for His first hearers of this sermon to simply stay in Capernaum and recline at table, listening to Jesus speak. But the physical journey up the mountain gives insight into the high calling of the moral life. It requires effort and determination. From there, try to imagine yourself listening to Jesus preach. Remind yourself that the Christian life is one of perfection in every way. This is our calling. But the fruit of perfection is the fulfillment in which God wants us to share. The easy life of sin leaves us dry and interiorly dead, but the hard journey to perfection leads us to the deepest fulfillment we could ever attain. Commit yourself to the journey and do not hesitate on the way, and you, too, will be rewarded with the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lord of perfection, You call me to journey with You up the high mountain of holiness. May I always see this journey as one that is glorious and fulfilling. I choose the life of perfection to which I am called and pray that I will always be open to the deepest moral truths You wish me to live. Jesus, I trust in You!

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Featured image above: The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch, via Wikimedia Commons