Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 15, 2017)
Some folks claim that president Jimmy Carter is the best “former president” we have ever had. He travelled the world to try to bring peaceful solutions to international trouble spots, and tried to ensure fair elections in foreign lands. He also built dozens of houses for Habitat for Humanity. All the while he continued to conduct a regular Sunday morning Bible study in his church. I never heard any critic say that he is not a good person; many would call him “holy.”
All three readings touch on a curious topic: holiness. Holiness anticipated in Israel in the first reading; holiness initiated by Jesus in the third; holiness, the call, to the Corinthians and us by St. Paul in the second reading.
Holiness is a mystery. But, as always, we can penetrate mystery to some extent. It becomes somewhat easier to approach if we talk about friendship -- and the form of presence it brings. We have friends; we have some especially close friends. What we have in our mutual presence to one another is wonderful. Holiness is what happens when we become especially close friends with the lord.
Friendship does not happen just because someone does nice, friend-things. Holiness does not happen just because one does “holy” things. One cannot become your close friend simply by shoveling your walk. One cannot become a close friend of God [holy] by doing something. The notion of holiness gets muddied by people who will never be accused of being called “holy” doing “holy” things. Actually, such people give holiness a bad name.
In short, holiness, like friendship, is not in the realm of doing; it is in the realm of being - in being a good friend of the Lord -- a kind of very special presence.
In holiness as in close, earthly friendship, we become psychologically united with the other. If cultivated, persevered in, friendship comes to the point where we interpenetrate each other’s consciousness. We can finish the other’s sentences.
In times past, the ones called to holiness were thought to be clergy, religious sisters, brothers, and priests. The Second Vatican Council, following the teaching of St. Francis de sales shot that idea down. Every one of us is called to holiness. The council referred to this as “the universal call to holiness.” It was a real, spiritual breakthrough.
A third notion after what holiness is - becoming friends with God - and who are called - every one of us - is how each of us has been called.
Our Lord individually customizes holiness. There is no “cookie cutter” approach. No two of us are called to holiness in precisely the same way. Each of us is individually “called by name” because each of us has our personal, lived experience. Each of us uniquely becomes a friend of the lord in our holiness.
Our gathering here at Eucharist is our God-given gift of closeness. It is not an accident that the first document to come out of that council was on the liturgy. Liturgy is the first listed of resurrection’s five, basic dimensions of our community life in the current parish directory. Eucharist is the sun of all devotions; it is that around which everything else revolves. Both the sun and Eucharist bring light and warmth.
We are called to “live Jesus.” That is, we are called to live our lives with Jesus, our friend, trying to speak what Jesus calls us to speak, trying to do what Jesus calls us to do.
We cannot make ourselves holy. That is the work of the sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. As the Eucharistic prayer reminds us, “ Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your son Jesus Christ, the Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. “
The Holy Spirit works in us when we are open, when we present ourselves to him without “talking at him.” Our prayer is the prayer of Samuel: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
It has been well said by Louis Pasteur, the scientist: “All that we can give God is our desire.” We need not worry about becoming holy. The Holy Spirit takes care of that.”