We have before us the opportunity to dedicate a new year to the Lord; and amidst all the worthy secular resolutions, I would also recommend embracing anew the highest of religious duties—the call to holiness. In all honesty, knowing how we stand before God and recalling our need for humility can easily confuse us about this obligation. Isn’t holiness something we should always shrink from calling ourselves, and even an epithet against people we find too churchy?
While humility is essential, so is holiness. Saint Paul writes, “It is in Christ that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight” (Eph 1:3-6). Indeed, we have just celebrated the coming of Christ, which took place precisely so that he could create a Church which would be “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). Thus if he came in order to cleanse us and make us holy, how can we embark on this journey without intending what he intended? It is through humility that we allow God to achieve in us what we cannot do without him, but to shrink from trying to be holy dooms us from the start. Let’s not make that mistake!
So what is holiness? It is complete perfection, goodness without alloy. We pray in the Gloria of Holy Mass: “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.” The Greek source for this word (hagios) literally means separate from earth, while the Hebrew word is related to the word for strength or stability. Combined, Aquinas notes, they lead to an other-worldly stability, which in turn is the two-fold meaning of the Latin word, Sanctus. The two dimensions, therefore, show us that true strength or well-being cannot be grounded in the passing world, nor can it be rooted in creation. It is found only naturally in God.
So how do we become holy? By taking seriously our adoption, and partaking in God’s holiness. Blessed Columba Marmion shows how profound that adoption is: “There is a profound difference between divine adoption and human adoption. The latter is only exterior, a fiction: it is established by a legal document, but it does not penetrate the nature of the one who is adopted. In adopting us, in giving us grace, God, on the contrary, penetrates the depth of our nature without changing what is essential in the order of this nature. He elevates it interiorly by grace, to the point that we are truly children of God.” Thus we are given the means to be lifted up into the divine nature, to step into the holiness of God!
What good is holiness to such a needy world? Isn’t this a private and personal affair that will help no one but ourselves? Wouldn’t it be better to prioritize corporal works of mercy or communal tasks that are more outward in scope? What good is “other worldliness” in such a dire time—aren’t we actually abandoning others for the sake of our own salvation?
The marvel of our faith is that the private and personal is also communal in the economy of grace. Just as the constant practice of a pianist in solitude allows him to shower his audience with the beauty of music well-played, the intense prayer and private communion of a believer transforms his every intention into a life-giving gesture. While we carry on all our normal activities to bring human, material, or spiritual goods to others, these gifts become sacrimentalised while we grow in prudence concerning their application. And most importantly, the Church through which we praise and adore the One and Holy God is transformed as he wishes, deepening our relationships, imbuing wisdom, and radiating divine life around us.
As the Church faces a challenging year—no doubt continuing on her path of a painful purification—our greatest contribution will be our dedication to our own holiness. Programs and policies surely have their place, but authentic renewal begins with the heart, and as we “lift our hearts to the Lord,” let the dross be washed away, the worldliness be cleansed, and our defects give way to the perfection God demands. And then will all things be made new. Happy New Year!
Mrs. Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.