I have a Lenten question for you: Are you holy? On a recent Friday at the noon Mass I asked the 100 or so folks in the pews to consider that question. I actually called on three people for answers. Their replies were (a) “not yet”, (b) “working on it”, and (c) “yes.” The “yes” was given with some enthusiasm and there followed some chuckles throughout the church – and I suspect some wonder who was the bold, brash soul that responded “yes.” Rather cheeky, one would think. What would have been your answer? I suspect the most common thought would be somewhere between “no,” “no, of course not, Saints are holy, not me,” “not holy, but I am a good person,” and “oh my, no, I am just a sinner” (said with a sincere piety).
But why then does St. Paul call the people of God, believers, as hagios, the “holy ones?” Or as we Catholic might say, “saints” – but using a small “s”? When St. Paul uses the word hagios he is not speaking about someone we might call a “Saint” (with a capital ‘S’), someone who led an exemplary life for all to see, was gifted with powers of healing, preaching, or more – he is speaking about a believer. Someone who trusts that Jesus is Lord and Savior. That one is hagios. Of course, such a trust must be lived out, but one is a “saint,” a “holy one” before the faith is lived out.
At this moment perhaps you are thinking, “Oh my, this isn’t what I was taught at CCD!” I would agree – it didn’t come up when Sr. Mary Lawrence taught us our classes. But then again, the good sister held up the lives of the Saints as something to aspire to – and she was exactly correct in that. It is a great tradition of our Church which lets us know that in Christ great things are possible. There is no doubt the Saints are holy. But the question is “are you holy?” The answer will always be “no” if your measuring stick is the life of a saint or your understanding of “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48) allows for no faults.
How you think about the second story of creation is often a hint about how you might think about holiness: “the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) Many times over many years I have asked Catholics here in the United States to pantomime that moment of creation. 100% of the time, the scene ends with a divine “puff” of life, the actor steps back like the divine watch maker who has just wound the clock, and lets the newly created person free to move about life on earth. The person has that initial divine “puff” and carries on. 100% of the time that same scene is pantomimed in East Africa, the actor portraying God breathes life into the dust of the ground – but keeps breathing life into the person even after the person is out living life. Think about the difference.
If the world is created with the Spirit of God hovering over the great abyss and giving life (Gen 1:2), and if the creation of each of us is that same Spirit breathing – and continuing to breathe life into us – then St. Paul had it right. We are holy because we were created holy – and to grow in holiness – to ever experience the holy in others and in this life.
In his book, “The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity,” Matthew Kelly writes that it is not the lie told about Christianity (and there are many), but the lie Christians tell themselves: “It is not possible for me to be holy.” When each of realizes that we are holy and even greater holiness is waiting for us in every moment before us, then we can truly know the joy that God wants for each of us: That the joy of Christ may be in us and our joy may be complete.
So…. are you holy? Happy Lent.