Each and everyone of us was created to be holy. But how can this be?
We are created by a Holy God! Many are the biblical verses which clearly show God’s holiness. I am simply resorting to few of them. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God (1 Sam 2:2). And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3). Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, majestic in holiness, terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exod 15:11). And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8).
Thus, if God’s nature is essentially holy we, who are the marvel of His hands, should necessarily be holy! Since we come directly from Him we cannot not follow our natural Archetype, Creator, Sustainer, and Saviour. It is in this context that we are to understand our biblical calling, both in the Old as well as in the New Testament, to be holy. Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2). Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1). Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).
But what does holiness consist of? We all know the story of the elementary school teacher who asked her students: “Who wants to be holy?” Nearly all class raised hands to show that they want to be holy except a small child. When the teacher asked him why he did not want to be holy he simply replied: “Because I do not want to remain closed, idle, in a church’s niche!” The moral of this story is really insightful: being holy does not mean to be closed into oneself and ruining one’s life by doing nothing at all! Contrarily, being holy means rolling one’s sleeves and start being responsible according to one’s calling in this world.
The first and most persuasive example is given to you and me by Jesus himself. In his encylical on human work, Laborem excercens, St. John Paul II speaks about the toil we do as human beings and how it is transformed within the paschal mystery of Christ thanks to which we have been saved. He writes:
“In a sense, the final word of the Gospel on this matter as on others is found in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. It is here that we must seek an answer to these problems so important for the spirituality of human work. The Paschal Mystery contains the Cross of Christ and his obedience unto death, which the Apostle contrasts with the disobedience which from the beginning has burdened man’s history on earth. It also contains the elevation of Christ, who by means of death on a Cross returns to his disciples in the Resurrection with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform” (no.27).
Holiness is God’s order for our disordered world and, as a result of our own sinfulness, the same disorder is to be found within us too! Hence, when we collaborate with God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness, we too experience that eternal sweetness and powerful blessing which only God’s holiness can really equip us with! Thus, our daily activities, instead of becoming sheer and, at times, boring routines, when they are flavoured by the Spirit of love, the Holy Spirit, they build us into one holy people of God.
Pope Francis has some very beautiful reflections regarding holiness as displayed into daily acts driven by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness. In his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, the Holy Father offers a simple yet incisive explanation as to how can we grow in holiness through our daily gestures of love. He writes:
“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone’. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step” (nro.16).
The great word here is “step”. Thus, step after step, fully aided by the Holy Spirit through the Church, the community of believers and even people of good will, we get to Heaven! The image of “step” is gently reminding me of the magnificent spiritual work written St. John Climacus around the year 600, The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
John proposes the following thirty steps for one to enter Heaven: on renouncing the world; on detachment; exile or pilgrimage; on blessed and ever-memorable obedience; on true repentance; rememberance of death; mourning which causes joy; on freedom from anger and on meekness; on rememberance of wrongs; on slander or calumny; on talkativeness and silence; on lying; on despondency; on the clamorous and wicked master the stomach; on the incorruptibility of purity and chastity; on love of money or avarice; on poverty; on insensibility; on sleep and prayer; on bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil and how to practise it; on unmanly and puerile cowardice; on the many forms of vainglory; on mad pride and unclean blasphemous thoughts; on meekness, simplicity, guilelessness and about malice; on the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual feeling; on discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on holy solitude of body and soul; on holy and blessed prayer, mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer; concerning heaven on earth, or godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection; and concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues.
What strikes me from the Ladder of Divine Ascent is the conclusion which St John Climacus writes at the end of the book which is addressed to his brother monks: “Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend … to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. Slowly slowly, patiently and perseverently, each one of us, according to the pace which the divine grace has designed him and her for and is leading him and her to! This should be so because holiness is everyone’s real and ultimate business!