The segment of Curlew Road in front of the church property has begun to look like a calico cat. Some of the storm drain gutters have been replaced, and some of the roadway has been re-paved, leaving a patchwork of the old and the new, the improved and the abandoned. This construction project began early in the summer months, but shows no sign of drawing to a close.
A couple of weeks ago workers began to remove some of the new pavement in order to place roadbed sensors under the traffic lanes. Did no one think of this before the new pavement was laid down? Last week, when it looked like the work was finished, crews began drilling holes in the concrete median strips. At this point, I think they’re just making up excuses to prolong the project.
Unlike road construction in Florida, there is the possibility of completion for human existence. This Sunday’s second reading is an example of the promise of completion for human life that is made in the Scriptures. St. Paul wrote, “I am confident that the one who began good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) The “good work” to which Paul refers is the process of growth in holiness that occurs when one lives up to one’s Baptismal promises.
The completion of God’s “good work” in us is often confused with a secular notion of perfection. Holiness is often described in the abstract terms of philosophy, but this is not a realistic description of human life. Curlew Road will never be perfect, but it can come to completion (though, perhaps not in my lifetime). By comparison, human life doesn’t need to be perfect; it needs only to come to the completed state of loving God as God deserves to be loved.
We live in a culture that tells us to hope for, expect, even demand perfection. The secular celebration of Christmas is an excellent (I almost said “perfect”), example of the delusions that our culture espouses. Retailers, advertisers and service providers proclaim the possibility of finding the perfect gift, having the perfect holiday celebration or being the perfect party host. These are pipe-dreams and self-deception. We do not live in a world where perfection is possible.
To hope for perfection is a short route to distress and self-destruction. Is it any wonder that so many people find the Christmas holidays to be stressful or depressing? Any attempt to find perfection in this world is doomed to failure. On the other hand, it is possible to be faithful, to be holy, to have the good work that God began in us at Baptism come to completion.
Paul described how he saw God’s “good work” coming to completion in the church community at Philippi. He wrote, “I give thanks, . . . for your partnership with me in the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:3,5) Paul described his friends in Philippi as partners in the Gospel. He meant two things by this statement. First, and most obvious, the members of the church at Philippi had come to faith in response to Paul’s preaching; they shared with him the trust that Jesus would save them from their sins. Secondly, they had offered him help and consolation while he was imprisoned in Ephesus. Paul’s former converts were partners with him in the Faith and partners in his suffering for the Faith.
The Philippians’ partnership (the word can also mean community or communion), with Paul was a visible manifestation of God working in their hearts. The power of God’s spirit was expressed and made manifest in both the Philippians’ faithfulness to the Gospel message and in their loving concern for Paul’s welfare.
If you feel inclined to pursue the perfect holiday season this year, do yourself a favor, and designate someone to talk you down from the ledge when everything ends up being merely normal. However, if you want something more than this imperfect world can promise, look for the signs of God bringing to completion the good work that God began in your life at Baptism.
We should be able to see in our lives the same signs of the completion of that good work that Paul saw in the church community at Philippi. Their congregation was facing internal divisions as the result of some itinerant preachers who denied the Gospel of Jesus. Paul counseled them to remain steadfast in faith, and to be humble in their dealings with one another. In the midst of their own problems, the Philippians were always mindful of Paul and the troubles he faced.
The church community at Philippi gives us an example of how to conduct our lives (and our holidays). Think of how peaceful your Christmas holidays would be if you opted to treat everyone you meet with humility and loving concern. Think of how blessed your Christmas celebration would be if you treated all the obligatory conspicuous consumption as a mere footnote to, or a faint reflection of, the overwhelming abundance of Divine solicitude poured out for us in Jesus.
I’m very grateful for the upcoming holidays. I consider myself greatly blessed to be here, among this church community at All Saints. I am humbled by our parish’s concern for the poor, expressed through our support of FEAST, Pinellas Hope, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Annual Pastoral Appeal. Let us pray together that God’s good work continues to grow to completion in us.