I’ve been hearing a lot recently about being called to be holy and about holiness. But I don’t know what it means to be holy. I know the saints are holy. I’ve heard that God tells people in the Bible to be holy because He is holy. But what does that mean? Am I supposed to be holy too? I don’t want to walk around with my hands clasped in prayer and my eyes looking up to heaven. I’d look like a fool! Is that what God wants?
With some hesitation,
First of all, relax. You don’t have to walk around with your hands clasped in prayer and looking up to the heavens. For one thing, you’d probably trip and you would definitely look foolish. Besides that, you’d miss seeing all the smiles of God’s presence in the people and world around you.
So, what does it mean to be holy?
Holiness is a state of being that is characterized by being whole. In Old English, the root word that became our word holy referred to a state of completeness, without injury or blemish. In the religious sense, we think of holiness as characteristic of the divine, of God. God alone is truly holy (complete, whole, unblemished). As the people of God, we are also called to share in God’s holiness. We are to become more like God through the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives. Ultimately, the goal of our lives is to return to a state of union with God. That’s what it means to go to Heaven. The imperfections of our lives will gradually be polished through the bumps and troubles of life so that we become more like beautiful polished stones or refined silver and gold, ready to shine in the light of God’s love.
Sharing in God’s life
For humans, becoming holy is a process. It takes a lifetime. As Christians, we believe that God shares divine life with each person through our Baptism. This divine life (also known as grace), comes to us as a free gift and continues to grow within us through the experiences of our lives. Through the sacraments, through our lives as family, through friends, through the activities of our daily life, we encounter the presence and goodness of God. We make choices, with God’s help, to do what is good. In each of these times, God’s life continues to grow within us.
God would like each one of us to become holy. Bishop Bernard Topel of Spokane used to tell people that becoming a saint should be the goal of their lives. He was serious about it. We tend to think that the life of a saint is out of our league. Only a few people can do such heroic things. But doing heroic things is not what holiness is all about. It’s about doing ordinary things with much love and attention. Imagine receiving a meal from a person who is attentive, joyful, and happy to serve you. Then think what it would be like if the food came from someone who is angry, hurried, and wanting to be somewhere else doing anything else but serve you. The food has not changed, but the quality of the experience for both persons in the encounter is totally different.
Our call to be holy is the call to be present in each moment of our lives so we can meet our God there. Remember, God doesn’t deal with past or future. God exists in eternity, so every moment for God is now. And now is the time we will meet God. To the extent that we consciously choose to live in the present, to accept the joys and the sorrows of life as they come, we will grow in holiness and wisdom.
So saints don’t blow it and sin?
Saints are humans. Only God does not sin. Saints are the ones who recognized when they have made a wrong decision or acted badly and turn back to God to ask forgiveness. They learn from their mistakes. They keep trying. They do what they can to make amends for the wrong they have done. In many ways, the closer a person comes to God, the more aware they become of the times they fail to act lovingly. The important thing is to run quickly back to God when we mess up. God will always be there waiting with open arms to love and forgive. And in that moment, we grow in holiness again.
And life will be easy if I decide to be holy …
Well … I wish I could say that, but it would not be true. Life is not easy for anyone. Each of us has things we have to learn. We all have gifts and strengths, we all have weaknesses and failings. We’re human, not divine. But God became a human and that human lived the most perfect human life that could ever be lived. He paid a high price for His integrity and willingness to be fully human. Yet in the process, He conquered death and destruction for all of us.
Trouble and pain will come with life. The choice is ours how we will deal with it. We can take it as the water and sand in a rock polisher’s tumbler, trusting that we’ll be more beautiful in the long run. Or we can fight against it and resist with all our might. Regardless of which response we choose, troubles will come to us. As we choose to learn and grow from and through the difficulties of life, we will become holy. And with God’s grace, one day we will be welcomed into Eternity as one of those who became holy as the Father is holy.
Blessings be yours along the way,