If you’ve been following current events, you will know that Christians are the targets of the wrath of the Taliban, Isis, Boko Horam and even some nation states. Last year some 90,000 Christians (one every six minutes) were imprisoned, tortured or simply murdered for being Christian, and there is no sign that it will abate any time soon.There really is a new generation of martyrs. Meanwhile, in much of the west, the Christian faith is settling into irrelevance. Tesco, an English Supermarket chain ran this ad: “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better.” They eventually did apologize and retracted the ad.
And then, I read about a “YouGov” poll in England which posed this question: “What do you associate most with Easter?” Jesus came in 4th—proceeded by chocolate Easter eggs, bank holidays and hot cross buns. The report went on to say, that people associate the Easter Bunny with Easter, more than they do the Son of God.
Our task is to deal with all this honestly in a forthright manner without getting cynical. So we begin with this:
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!!!
St. Paul tells us in today’s epistle lesson:
Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.( Colossians 3:1-4)
This is a call to holiness in a world that is all too often either antagonistic or apathetic.
Holiness is possible by a combination of God’s Grace and Love and the exercise of our Free Will—our Good Will. We all know that holiness can only come about through prayer, participation in the sacramental life of the Church—outreach to the poor and needy—and living in Love and Charity with all those about us.
St. Peter writes in his first Epistle—quoting from Leviticus 11:42—“As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct—for it is written—‘You shall be holy as I am holy.” (I Peter 1:15) Only God knows what it means to be completely holy, but I’ve compiled a very incomplete list of what I think Holiness is—
A Holy Person is Virtuous. St. Gregory of Nyssa said that “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” The Catechism tells us that virtuous person has—“A habitual and firm disposition to do the good. The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by God’s Grace… [and] the theological [or Supernatural] virtues are gifts from God.”(CCC p. 903)
Again, The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by God’s Grace. They are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence directs all the other virtues—for prudence is the acquired ability to recognize what is right and what is wrong. Only a prudent person, a wise person, can properly apply the other moral virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance.
The Holy person knows that justice is based on the principle—“to each his due.” For example a child with a disability and a highly gifted child must be encouraged in different ways— so that each may fulfill her potential. Justice is concerned with equity and longs to see people get what they are entitled. Justice also instructs us on what we owe God—and to give him what he is entitled—specifically our love and our worship.
The holy person practices fortitude—it is the virtue of discerning by prudence what is right and good—and then firmly and constantly and courageously pursuing it—conquering fear—even to the point of death. For example—the martyrs in Nigeria who refuse to renounce Christ are practicing great fortitude—as is the husband who patiently tends his wife of 60 years— who is slowing sliding— into the darkness of dementia.
The Holy person embraces temperance or moderation. The immoderate person abandons himself to the rule of his impulses—he offends others by acting on his inordinate desires—and harms himself by his indiscretion. Conversely the obsessive and the compulsive are immoderate in the opposite direction—for they do not allow for the flexibility of Grace.
Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance are the acquired moral virtues that are aided by God which are present in the holy person.
The three supernatural or theological virtues are faith, hope and love and they are God given.
The Holy Person is a person of strong Faith. The author of Hebrews in Chapter 11 verse 1 tells us that on the one hand “faith is the assurance of things hoped for—the conviction of things not seen.”
On the other hand this faith has a definite content—which the Church professes in the Creeds and the holy person safeguards them with her life. Anyone who wants to receive this gift of faith—anyone who wants to truly believe—accepts—affirms—and joyously proclaims and shares the content of this faith that the Church has preserved through the millennia.
A Holy person is hopeful. The Catechism tells us that hope is “The Theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it.”(CCC p.882)
Above all a holy person loves—deeply, passionately, completely—unequivocally. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 13:13 “So faith, hope, love abide—these three—but the greatest of these is love.” When Jesus was confronted with the question—“What is the greatest commandment, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength—and the second is this—you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12:30-31) Those who are holy are constantly striving to find ways that they can grow in love and they instinctively are drawn to the words of Jesus —“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”(Jn. 14:15) A holy, loving person yearns to know and discern God’s will—and then does it. A holy person is virtuous.
I have some other thoughts about holiness.
A holy person knows that life is a continuous warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil—those great threefold sources of sin. The Apostle Paul wrote about his own difficulty with sin in Romans 7:15—“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” And St. Peter tells us in the 5th chapter of his first epistle “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion—seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Holy people also know that life is fraught with suffering. Again St. Peter tells us—“Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery ordeal which comes upon on you…But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, or a wrong doer, or a mischief maker—yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.” (I Peter 4:12ff) We Catholics know that our suffering can be redemptive—and we are called to “offer it up” for the glory of God.
The holy person has a sense of constantly dying to self. In Galatians 2:20, St. Paul writes—“I have been crucified with Christ—it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Among other things there is translucence in holiness—one of my former bishops used to admonish each of us to be “an alabaster vase through which divine light shines.” In true holiness there is a simplicity which takes one beyond fear and beyond vanity. A truly holy person has no hidden agendas. Using a psychological term—the holy person is fully integrated. She is “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.” (Mt. 10:16)
The holy person strives to have the mind of Christ. In I Cor. 2:16—St Paul states that he and his fellow Christians in Corinth had the ”mind of Christ.” It doesn’t mean that they knew every one of our Lord’s thoughts. But it does mean that they loved what Jesus loved—and they hated what Jesus hated. Above all—a holy person hates her own sin. She does not rationalize her behavior—she is constantly looking for those things done and left undone that separate her from God—for that is the essence of sin. It is when she has repented—and received the sacrament of reconciliation—and has returned fully to loving companionship with our Lord—then she can rest assured that her thoughts and Christ’s thoughts are united.
Holy people have childlikeness. Jesus tells us that in order to enter the Kingdom— we must become like a small child. A holy person is playful. This is where I got the great quote from G.K. Chesterton that we’ve embraced as a family motto—‘Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly’—the truly holy person does not take him or herself too seriously. The story is told of St. Seraphim of Sarov—Russian Orthodoxy’s greatest saint. Some ecclesiastical big wigs wanted to investigate him—to check out his alleged sanctity.
But when they went to his hut in the forest, they couldn’t find him anywhere. Finally someone spotted him. He was flat on his belly in the tall grass—playing “hide and go seek” with some of the neighboring farm kids.
The holy person has a reverence for life. This encompasses the biological life of all human beings—from conception to natural death—because we all have been created in the image of God. This means that there is a special concern for the most vulnerable—babies in the womb and the sick, the poor, the disabled and elderly infirm.
Finally, the Holy Person knows that he abides in Christ—knowing that this is a great spiritual mystery—and also knowing that this means being part of the Body of Christ—living in community—knowing that to be holy means to think “we instead of me,” knowing that Christ is found in the community—and especially in the broken and poor and downtrodden—as well as on the holy altar in the Eucharist—where we discern the “source and summit of our faith.”
What I have presented to you this morning is far from complete. Only God knows those who are truly holy—but there are indicators that I look for.
- The holy person is virtuous, choosing the Moral Virtues—God given, and yet things for which we have to work— prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance—and embracing God’s gift of the Theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.
- The holy person resists strongly the ever-present temptation to sin—and when they do sin, they flee to the confessional.
- The holy person is constantly dying to self
- The holy person strives to have the mind of Christ
- The holy person is childlike
- The holy person has a reverence for life
- Holy people rejoices that they abide in Christ—both spiritually and in community—always thinking “we instead of me.”
My hope is that this will prompt your own thinking about holiness—as we all await the fullness of the Glory of God.
I pray you a most holy Easter.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!!