February 20, 2011 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
In a way, the whole of Holy Scripture is a commentary on the message God told Moses to give the Israelites: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2). The rest of the Bible can be viewed as an explanation of what it means for us human beings to be holy, how God’s people have failed in holiness, and how God has acted to restore us and make holy living possible.
And what does it mean to be holy? It means to have the character of God, although we know we have limits – God is creator; we are creatures. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The holiness of God is the inaccessible center of his eternal mystery” (2809). While we can never totally comprehend God’s nature, we know that his faithfulness to his promises, his purity, and his loving activity on behalf of his creation are all aspects of his holiness. St. Paul builds upon the idea of holiness for Christians in 1 Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? … the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
One example of what holy living looks like is found almost immediately after the general charge to be holy: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” familiar to us because Jesus coupled it with Deuteronomy 6:4-5 in the Summary of the Law. Then Jesus extends the concept of neighbor, and challenges us in the process, when he teaches, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Then, as he continues the Sermon on the Mount, he drops the bombshell, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This last should raise all sorts of objections in our minds: God is perfect; we are not. We are sinners. How can Jesus expect us to be perfect?
No, we are not perfect, and we will never be without sin in this life. And so, we know, we will never be completely holy, either. But, in order to be faithful servants of our Lord, we must do our best to be holy, to be perfect. When we fail, we need to seek forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance. And we must remember that we do not have to accomplish this on our own. God offers his abundant grace to help us on our journey.
However, it is not enough to have a general intention to live a life of holiness and work toward perfection. We have to take specific steps to achieve that goal. We can begin by loving our neighbors, including our enemies, and praying for them. And if we love them, we want what is best for them and so will help them as we are able. That may require that we use our talents and share our resources to meet their needs. A life of holiness includes spending time with God in prayer and worship. It includes forgiving those who have hurt us, so we can be forgiven. It means directing our lives toward good and turning our backs on evil, no matter how enticing.
In sum, we find that being holy means that we, because we are grateful for the blessings we have received from God, respond by dedicating a portion of the time, talent, and treasure entrusted to us back to God for his service and for the service of his people. And as we imitate that self-giving life that Jesus exemplified, others will see that his character is reflected in us and that we have grown in holiness.