I have a picture of Jeff Pierce that has moved with me from place to place over the last 35 years or so. You probably have never heard of Jeff. He was a professional bicycle racer. He rode for the 7-Eleven team back in the late 1980s when they were the first American team to race in Europe. In the 1987 Tour de France, Jeff was a domestique, a rider whose principle task was to be a support. To carry the water bottles, protect the top riders from the ravages of wind, and at the end of the day to struggle across the finish line well after the leaders. Against all odds Jeff won the grand finale, the last stage in Paris on the Champs Elysees. Won against the greatest riders of his day. An American in Paris. The picture on my wall captures that perfect moment. One gendarme in the background of the photograph stares in disbelief, the other looks back down the road looking for the race leaders. Jeff is alone. Crossing the finish line, arms raised in unbelieving triumph. To say that Jeff is ecstatic is simply an understatement. I just have to glance up to know that perfect moments are possible.
There are some moments in our world, not our own, that in their own way are so captivating that people pause, watch, and wait, until the moment unleashes this almost mystical power upon the world.
- A miracle on ice when a bunch of U.S. college kids defeated the best hockey team in the world – and a nation collectively exploded in joy.
- A fairy tale love story – Kate Middelton marries Prince William – and the world was a little more hopeful, a little more sure that love was unbounded.
- A miraculous return from the brink of death – Capt. Sully Sullenburger safely crash lands his USAir flight on the Hudson River, everyone lives to tell the story, we know we can be saved.
- When we hear the words habemus papam – we have a pope and a new era of grace begins.
Great moments for all to share. There are also great moments closer to home. Think about some of the best moments in your life. Moments that are forever seared in memory, an immortal picture. Maybe it is a moment that took your breath away back then, and can almost bring you to a stop today. Maybe a quieter moment that makes you smile, laugh, cry, or celebrate. A moment that you want to cherish forever; a moment you share with those you love. A moment that is just for you.
A moment that seems to be a glimpse into perfect. Do you have a moment that is a journey to the edge of perfect? Maybe it was the most intimate of moments – a first kiss; the quiet satisfaction of finishing your first race, your first marathon; a night of solitude, alone with the desert night sky and a billion stars. The first time you held your child in your arms.
The great thing about perfect moments – you can have more than one. You can look inward and recall your own moment(s) that was nearly perfect. None of them are moments that are without flaws – they are not perfect in that sense. They are perfect in that we feel, if just for a moment, whole, complete, fulfilled. And we know, in the moment, what is possible.
Not only possible – commanded by Christ: “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Be perfect, telios, the Greek word which speaks of wholeness, a completeness, a certain end point, goal or destiny that is ours. “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Our destiny, our divine calling – a project for this lifetime. A project that with the grace of God is ours in the here and now – and forever.
The words of today’s gospel call us to perfection. They are from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Lessons on going the extra mile, giving to those who ask, and more. All lessons in learning to be a disciple, to be whole, complete, compassionate, kind, gentle, forbearing, forgiving and, above all, loving – to be perfect.
Perfection is only with the grace of God. But we can be intentional in seeking that grace. Most of Lent stil lays ahead of us. A wonderful time to be intentional. Experience the forgiveness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Know the mercy of God’s love and forgiveness. And at absolution’s final words, know that in that moment you are whole, complete, and loved. Take the grace of Eucharist into our today and tomorrow to practice being perfect. We already know it is possible. We have felt it, experienced it. We remember its closeness if only for a moment. “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is our calling, our destiny. And not in some distant future. We are called this day, tomorrow, every day to be disciples, to practice, to experience what is possible with God. What we remember now as just a moment is a lifetime that awaits us. Be perfect.