The pursuit of holiness isn’t an item guaranteed in the American Declaration of Independence. But it is a quest worthy of our lives. What is holiness? Nothing less than the essence of God. The prophet Isaiah is the first to encounter God as the “Holy One,” which enables him to recognize his own unworthiness in God’s presence. The call “to be holy, as God is holy” issued in the Book of Leviticus means drawing even closer than Isaiah did, to unite with God utterly—to be as God is.
Intimidated? I admit it’s a pretty challenging path. Yet it’s in keeping with everything else we seek as believers: wisdom, justice, peace, goodness, love. These are all aspects of God in which we are invited to take part. Why does God want us to share in the divine life? Because that’s who we really are and were created to be. Remember: We were first made in the image of God and later went astray; our quest for holiness is just a U-turn back to our original likeness.
So how do we get there from here? In the Old Testament, when called to be a holy nation, Israel is given the Law of Moses to assist in this new vocation. The law is understood not as simply a list of things to do or avoid doing but a lamp to illuminate God’s will. If our goal is to be like God, knowing God’s ways is essential.
Jesus provides his followers with a more compact instruction: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love will teach us everything we need to know about being like God, for as Saint John says, “God is love.” Saint Paul also gives us a helpful rearview mirror in which to check our attempts at loving by telling us what love looks like in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind.”
Many of us don’t see ourselves donning a halo anytime soon. Even the canonized saints (“saint” comes from sanctus, Latin for “sacred” or “holy”) didn’t start out holy-card ready. But we don’t have to worry about that. The way to holiness is the work of love.
Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-7; Luke 10:27; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13;1 John 4:16
For more on saints: www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/faqs.asp; www.cin.org/saints.html; www.beliefnet.com/ep/patron-saints.asp.
Holiness by William J. O’Malley, Maryknoll (Orbis Books)
Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton (Doubleday)