Blog # 382 Holiness
In Leviticus, Chapter 19: 1, 2 Moses is told by the Lord: "Tell the whole community: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy." Then a series of commandments are given to fill out the expression "Be holy".
What comes spontaneously to your mind when I mention the word holy ? If we do not have some definite clear content or meaning for the concept of holiness how could we expect to have the motivation we need to desire and make the efforts required in achieving holiness in our everyday experiences? If I said to you "Ellos trabajan juntos en la tienda", and you didn't know any Spanish, what would I have said to you? It would have been mere sound, or in terms of being of any use to you, nothing.
Why would it be any different with the word holy. If we did not see any application for it in our everyday experience of life it would be of little or no use for us to hear it. So we begin our Blog today seeking to identify or put some personal practical meaning and content for ourselves into the word holy
During the course of the years I have wondered why it was that, almost any time I suggested to someone he or she should be striving for holiness or was actually holy, the person would respond with something like: "Oh, no, I can't be holy", or "Oh, no, not I. I am not holy." Answers like this have always been intriguing, challenging, and disappointing to me.
If we are not consciously striving to be holy, growing in holiness, and achieving some significant degree of holiness, then what has been the purpose of our attending church services all these years, of all the prayer that has been ours, of the sermons and homilies we have heard , of the Mass and of receiving Holy Communion? Certainly the purpose and accomplishment of it all has not been to do God some favor, to come into the presence of the Lord in prayer from time to time, or kneel in thanks before the tabernacle so the Lord would not have to be 'lonely' there, or to 'pay' for our salvation and eventually enter Heaven. What, then, are we trying to do in church, in prayer, in obedience? Is there a plan?
A couple of Scripture texts might help us and give us some direction at this point. In 1 Cor. 3:16 - 23 we have: Are you not aware that you are temples of God, and the Spirit of God wells within you?...the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple." Then, in Mat. 5:33 - 48 Jesus proclaims how our Christian holiness perfects that which Moses commanded his followers to achieve. v. 33 " You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers "Do not take a false oath...What I tell you is: do not swear at all." Jesus fills in some of the details of what it means as a Baptized person to be holy, to have God dwell within us. The plan is simply that, to be holy as our God is holy. cf. Lev. above.
Some famous person, I forgot who it was, is supposed to have said: "If we can imagine something, we can accomplish it." An insight like that has made inventors, adventurers, discoverers, record breakers, patriots, poets, great athletes, and Saints out of people. In most categories it is not too difficult to understand and apply that axiom, but in the category of Christian holiness there is a special difficulty. We are to be holy as God is holy. But that is unimaginable.
The solution to the problem comes from several sources or directions. First of all from God. The Bible tells us God is holy. God has told us to be holy. As a result we know it can be done.
Because the holiness of God is infinitely or unmeasureably above all of creation, including ourselves, it is for us unimaginable. Our only logical response is to see our holiness as something we receive
rather than as something we achieve. In God's plan for our holiness, in Jesus through faith and Baptism, we are actually gifted with a new relationship with God, a limited human share in God's own life in a similar way a branch might be grafted to a vine. The term we traditionally use to identify this gift is Sanctifying Grace. The term has three Latin roots that clarify its meaning: sanctus, which is the word used by the angels around the throne of God in the vision of Isaiah (Is. 6:3); faciens, the Latin word for making, the root of our English factory, a place where things are made; and the Latin word gratia, the root of our English word gift. In Sanctifying Grace, we have the gift that makes us holy or like to God.
To identify holiness as a gift makes a very big difference in our perception and carrying out of the plan and command of God that we should be holy. We worry less, and 'join hands with God' in prayer more frequently and significantly. We are in less danger of being proud of our holiness. We are more deeply thankful for it, and more appreciative of its richness, beauty, and value. We do not feel so determined beforehand to know what it should look like, sound like, or do. We see sin more clearly as the tragedy and the betrayal that it is.