In his book, What’s Wrong with the World, 20th century author G.K. Chesterton once wrote that: “it is not that Christian ideal has been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” The word ideal – as an adjective – describes a standard of excellence, something perfect, without equal. We use this word to say things like – “in an ideal world” or “in an ideal church, or parish”. An ideal can be subjective, according to one’s opinion of things and also based on objective truth, according to facts. Nevertheless, the ideal is that which is perfect – the most suitable.
It is rather interesting to me the manner in which St. Paul writes – particularly his words in the second reading today … He says: “test everything, retain what is good.” But the translation is off … really he says: retain the ideal – that which is the standard of excellence, the perfect. Now, in this part of his letter to the Thessalonians – one of the first communities that he founded in mid-first century – he is exhorting them to moral excellence … the imperatives of the Christian life that stem from a relationship with Christ. Moral conduct is the practical, personal expression of one’s Christian faith, love, and hope.
… “it is not that Christian ideal has been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” The Christian ideal … the Christian idea of perfection, of that standard of excellence that is expressed not just in belief but in moral rectitude seems too high to reach for many. And for many the Christian ideal is a dream, existing only in the imagination of those who set the standards … and so … they bail. They give up … it’s not worth the effort.
Notice the advice of St. Paul – retain the ideal, the good … absorb, to hold on to that which is good, the ideal … Remember last week I spoke of our preparations, devotions, prayers … that we ought not to neglect these things because in doing so it will propel us toward living out our Christian lives according to that moral excellence, to the imperatives and ideals that stem from a real relationship with Jesus Christ … all of these things that form us to be Christians moves us closer and closer to the ideal … advances us in the way of moral excellence. It is not unattainable … it’s an art – the art of living well, living right … Certainly, we are not perfect … but that doesn’t mean we ought not try.