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Perfectionism and the Transfiguration

Adrienne Murphy, Pastoral Council MemberAdrienne Murphy, Pastoral Council
August 4, 2023

I have a hunch that I’m not the only person in the Paulist Center community who identifies as a perfectionist. You know they type—those of us who tie ourselves up in knots trying to get an A+ on every task we attempt, chronically afraid to let anyone down, and loathe to forgive ourselves when we make a mistake, whether intentional or not.

Given these perfectionist tendencies, I cannot help but notice Peter’s response in this Sunday’s account of the Transfiguration from Matthew’s Gospel. Upon summiting the mountain and witnessing Jesus in all of his glowing splendor, Peter’s initial response is to offer to “make three tents here, one for [Jesus], one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4). At first, he does not understand. He misses the point. He equates the glowing figure of Jesus in front of him with the great prophets that appear alongside him. He fails to understand that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, whose coming these great prophets foretold. God quickly corrects Peter’s misunderstanding, speaking to him directly and revealing that “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).  All of a sudden, it “clicks,” as Peter, along with James and John, fall prostrate.

In reflecting on this exchange, I can’t help but notice that Peter—one of the most treasured saints, one of the three chosen to accompany Jesus in the Garden on his last days, the rock on which Christ built his Church—at first didn’t “get it.” He reacted in haste, without fully thinking things through. And yet, God gave him another chance. Instead of abandoning or punishing Peter, God recognized the source of his confusion and helped him to understand. I can’t help but think that if Peter can make mistakes and go on to be the rock upon which our Church was founded, we too can give ourselves the grace to fail. Jesus chose Peter to be among.the three to witness his miraculous Transfiguration not because Peter was without fault (I mean, we are talking about the same Peter who would go on to deny him 3 times!), but because he was committed to learning and growing in his discipleship. In this spirit, I’m going to challenge myself this week to remember—as I anxiously iterate on a document or decision for the thousandth time—to go with my gut, take a risk, and if it turns out to be unwise, to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. And I’d encourage my fellow perfectionists to do the same. In the end, isn’t that precisely what God calls each of us to—to learn and grow in our discipleship?