Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ephesians 1:4b

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. (verses 3-4)

Last time I asked what it means to be holy and without blemish. Is it simply obedience to a list of do’s and don’ts? It's really an important question, because our answer will, in many ways, determine how we live our faith before others, and before God.

The word St. Paul uses here for "holy" (hagios) is the same word he used in verse one (Paul . . . to the holy ones who are at Ephesus . . . ). Some bible expositors translate hagios as "saints." In other words, God chose us to be saintly.

The Oblates of Santa Francesca Romana remind us, "We are all called to be saints, to hallow our lives within God's hallowed Creation, to reflect God as do saints, in whose image we all are." And a Vatican newswire of November 2007 quoted Pope Benedict, "holiness is the responsibility of every Christian" and that we are each called to be saints.

But the question remains, "what constitutes holiness, or saintliness?" Is it a matter of outward works, of things we do that make us holy, or is holiness a more profound thing -- something more internal?

Fr. Thomas Dubay wrote: Most of us assume that world-class excellence in music, scholarship, or sports is due mainly to extraordinary talent, but studies of the question find that while talent does play a part, the chief factor is drive and determination. So it is with sanctity.

Saints are not born saints. They do not have a superior human nature. They are as weak and wounded as the rest of us. The difference lies in their resolution [my emphasis]. Men and women on fire do not simply admire holiness or merely wish it were so. They make up their minds to take the Lord at his word and with no dilution of his message.

And then Fr. Dubay asked a question I now ask myself: Am I as determined in my pursuit of God as the worldly are in seeking prestige and power, fame and fortune?

Oh, such a question I should ask myself every day! Indeed, holiness should be the normal Christian life. Problem is, because so few of us determine to become saints, when we meet one, he or she stands out as extraordinary.

Thomas a Kempis, in his Imitation of Christ, addressed the same issue of inner saintliness: What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.

And Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote: Neither theological knowledge nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are preceded by a personal encounter with Him. Theological insights are gained not only from between two covers of a book, but from two bent knees before an altar. The Holy Hour [e.g. Adoration] becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world.

Lord! Give us a fiery determination to become holy in heart, as well as in deed, to live a virtuous life in public as well as in private, and to gain theological insights on our knees, as well as through the faithful study of your holy word.

Questions for reflection:
1. Read this passage in Romans 2. As you read, substitue the word Christian for Jew, and baptism for circumcision. What lesson did you glean from the reading?

2. Read Psalm 51, and especially verses 16-17 with 1 Samuel 15:22-23. What is the Holy Spirit revealing to you through these passages?

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