In the Sermon on the Mount, we hear Jesus say, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus knows each of us intimately. He knows our shortcomings and our fallen nature but in His unfathomable love for us, He calls us to strive towards spiritual perfection. Because we are called to perfection by God himself, should we not pursue it with all that we have?

But what is perfection?

From the early days of our childhood, society offers us a steady stream of images of perfection that carry a promise of happiness and fulfillment. With enthusiastic encouragement from parents, these images of perfection often motivate children to dedicate themselves to years of intense training and practice of sports to improve the chance of earning a college scholarship or making it to the big leagues. Others are driven to study around the clock to gain acceptance into a prestigious university.

After college, adults find themselves working tirelessly, not just to make ends meet, but to climb the ladder and enjoy the prestige and riches that come in the higher ranks. For many of our teens and young adults, the image of perfection is to become rich and famous, the easy way, by amassing social media followers.

In my 51 years of life, I have come to truly appreciate the joy of sports, the life changing effects of academic pursuits, the meaningful connections through modern communication platforms and the fruits of hard work. These aspects of life are good and often necessary, but by the Grace of God, I have come to know that on their own, they do not represent perfection.

Even if we secure that dream position or move into the home of our dreams, we realize that without God at our center, we will remain restless and unfulfilled.

Like St. Peter after the miraculous catch, we discover that the true image of success, happiness and fulfillment lies not in worldly accomplishments, but rather, in God Himself. We discover that Jesus Christ offers us the path to perfection through His life, passion, death and resurrection. In this most wonderful discovery, we fall to our knees, we are moved to tears and we confess that Jesus is our Lord and our God. With transformed hearts, our lives are reoriented, and we begin a completely new course. What is the course? Jesus begins to describe it when he says to Matthew the tax collector, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9).

In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains what it means to “Follow me.” From the mountaintop, He gives specific instructions, a complete study guide and a practice regimen to make perfection a reality in our lives:

■ Be poor in spirit, recognizing our dependence on God
■ Be mournful of sin
■ Be meek
■ Hunger and thirst for righteousness
■ Show mercy to others
■ Be clean of heart
■ Be a peacemaker
■ Pursue righteousness, even under the threat of persecution
■ Proclaim the Good News of Jesus, even when insulted or persecuted

In this sermon of all sermons, Jesus reminds us that as baptized Christians we are granted a share in His divine life. We are salt and light, and we have a purpose. As salt, we are to preserve, to protect and to serve our neighbors. As light, we are called to illuminate the darkness of the world by radiating the light of Christ. We do this by not only keeping the commandments but by rising to greatness through an interior adoption of a radical way of life; going the extra mile for our neighbor, loving our enemies and forgiving those who seek to harm us. This means imitating Jesus through the way of the cross; loving others as Jesus loves us. At times this way of life may seem irrational, unreasonable, or unjust, but it is in this way of life that we honor our call to be salt and light. It’s in this extraordinary way of life that we become peacemakers and proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world.

Should we not allow these simple but challenging instructions to be inscribed in our hearts? The answer lies in knowing who God is. God is love and His love for us places true happiness, lasting joy and profound peace within our reach today. Let the message of the Sermon on the Mount, the path to perfection, be inscribed in our hearts!

Friends, Lent is just a few days away. As we enter this sacred period of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, let us recall the times we have loved others as God wants us to love, and give thanks. Let us reflect on the occasions we have fallen short and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. Let us ask for the grace to understand and overcome the obstacles in our hearts that prevent us from loving as God loves us. Let us receive the supernatural nourishment of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, so that we may be converted, reoriented and rededicated to the call to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God bless you.