Featured Post

Dear Reader

I compose and post these articles with only one desire in my heart: to praise God and to offer modest help on your spiritual journey.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Holiness

Holiness and sainthood are for many people words from a "dark age," hidden in some dusty, discolored dictionary and they think it's good for them to stay there for they have a stale scent and they are scary. However, when one has the curiosity and the courage to consider them, will find that they are gates to a most wonderful world, they confer a meaning and a value to the human existence that nothing else can. Of course, to be totally understood, they have to be seen within the perimeter of faith. Holiness and sainthood are often misunderstood. They are considered to be the exclusive result of the human effort and thus often thought of being impossible to be reached by a fallen human being so much and so bitterly aware of his or her propensities to egotism, greed, and disorderly pleasure. Holiness though, as it is presented by the word of God, is primarily God's act. Saint Paul decidedly dynamites such a conception when he says "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Ephesians 1:4). Holiness is being chosen by God, set aside by him as his portion. It is the undeniable effect of God's grace. According to Saint Paul, all mankind from all times is called to be holy; it is chosen by God, as it is shown in the act of creation and the history of salvation.

For Israel to be "holy" meant to be loyal to the covenant God stipulated with his chosen people, to live according to the Torah, which is the light of God for her. For Christians holiness also means an election by God and the work of his grace. It is living in loyalty to the covenant established by God and Jesus Christ. Holiness is an "act" from God and a "reaction" of the human being supported by God's grace and in personal choice, in the freedom of one's will.  Holiness in the Christian perspective means to be united and conformed to Jesus Christ, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). Christian Mystics often talk about Christ as the "mirror" in which they look to see how much they identify to him. The conformity with him in thought, in action has to go to the point where one can say, "It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me!" (Galatians 2:20).

Christ is at the same time the source of holiness and the way to sainthood. Saint Catherine of Sienna uses a very daring image to illustrate this reality. She sees Jesus as a bridge flung between heaven and earth. There are three stairways. The first one leads to the feet of Christ. It is the phase of the purification of the Christian of his or her sins. The second one leads to the side of Christ. It is the stage where the Christian lives a virtuous life and practices love, charity. The third stairway leads to the mouth of Christ. It is the platform of which the Christian soul is in union with God in contemplation and supreme affection, in ecstasy. All three phases are available to each believer and often they intermix, overlap. They are not so separated as the image presents them. They are the work of the Holy Spirit and the human cooperation, in opening himself to God's grace and living the evangelical precepts.

Here it comes to my mind the episode described by Saint John Vianey. One day when the saint entered the church, he saw a farmer sitting quietly in a pew in front of the blessed sacrament. The saint asked him "What are you doing here?" Surprised that the farmer was not visibly praying. The man answered simply, "He looks at me and I look at him!" That simple man was contemplating and breathing the affective, the vital union with God.

The conformity with Christ is initiated in baptism when the human being is changed ontologically. He or she becomes a "new" human being and is set on the path of a "new" life, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4). The other sacraments will nourish this new life of Grace and increase his or her configuration with Christ. They will help him or her to live in his or her daily life the Beatitudes, the program, the precepts Christ has outlined for the son or daughter of the Kingdom of God. In other words, he or she will totally put his trust in God and not in human structures of power and means, sources of false security (By saying this, I do not intend to deny the importance of the human effort and enterprise. They are dangerous only when they are idolized). Living the beatitudes also means living in a spirit of mercy, of forgiveness, of compassion, of charity, fostering justice and peace, and being kind even to one's enemies for God's sake.

Holiness and sainthood are in no way, as it can be seen, a component of the "Ethos of the Extraordinary." Every human being is called to it and can be holy, be a saint. Even those with broken lives. Saint Augustin has a beautiful encouraging word for all. "There is no Saint who does not have a past, there is no sinner who does not have a future." He also helps us to synthesize the many words we said so far: Holiness is in one word, agape (love), towards God and the other human beings. The essence of holiness, of sainthood, is charity. "When you are silent, be silent out of love. When you speak, speak out of love. When you correct, correct out of Love. When you pardon, pardon out of love. Let love be rooted in you and from the root nothing but good can come!" Saint Augustin "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:14).

Holiness and sainthood are a wonderful path and state of life. They are available to all of us, and I think our only concern should be to not be only "half a saint", as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux used to pray.

No comments:

Post a Comment