By Stephanie Landsem
Untitled By Comsavo (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0
“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
With these words, Jesus ends one of his most famous discourses to his disciples in the fifth chapter of Matthew. If this command from Jesus causes a twinge of anxiety in you, a little voice that says, “how am I supposed to do that?”, you aren’t alone.
When I hear these words, as well as those of the first reading “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy,” I’m a little bit overwhelmed. How can I be perfect? And I’m as far from holy as “the east is from the west”. So how can Jesus, who knows me better than I know myself, ask such an impossible task?
And then I think of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This little saint who lived a small life from 1873 to 1897, spent mostly in a convent in France, is a Doctor of the Church for a very good reason.
The Little Flower talked often of her littleness, her weakness, but she didn’t let it overwhelm her. She announced, “I can, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness.” She talked of the path to heaven as a rough staircase, one with steps far too big for someone as little as she to climb. She was too little to even climb the first step! But she did not despair. Instead she turned to Jesus and said, “The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus!”
Saint Thérèse says that in order for Jesus to stoop down and bring us to heaven—for him to make us holy—we must only do three things: acknowledge our own littleness, “raise your little foot to scale the stairway of holiness”, and trust in Jesus to do the rest.
That seems like something I can do.
In ten days we will receive the ashes on our foreheads to mark the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance where we acknowledge that we are not perfect as our heavenly father is perfect, that we are sinful and weak. That is the first step.
Then, like Saint Therese, we can raise our little foot to the stairway. It might be by committing to a daily prayer time or signing up for a holy hour. It might be by going to confession or reading scripture. Make that small step, then trust in Jesus to work in us, bringing us up that rough staircase to the heights of heaven.
On our own, we can’t be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. But with Jesus, all things are possible. Take that first step this Lent and trust in Jesus’ mercy.
About the Author:
Stephanie Landsem is a wife, mother, lifelong Catholic, and author of authentic biblical fiction. The Living Water series (The Well, The Thief, and The Tomb, A Novel of Martha) published by Simon & Schuster, is based on encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John.