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At Mass today, Pope Francis reminded us to “do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward”, because “the LORD made bridges”. Tomorrow we mark one of those bridges, the tallest, longest and most important of them all.
The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord marks the completion of a bridge which only the Lord could build. Try as we might, on or own we can never bridge the gap that exists between us and God. But God can, and He did. With the Incarnation of Jesus the first part was built, and in His earthly life Jesus Christ showed us how to walk the bridge to God. With his death and resurrection the bridge was completed and with the Ascension, Christ leads us across.
The bridge is permanent, for God has established it. It is ever open to us, who do our best to walk the Way that is Christ.
“Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.”
Gospel of Luke 24:50-53
Particularly seen in the context of Christ’s entire ministry here on earth, the Ascension is a truly remarkable, even awe-inspiring event.
Art credit: The Ascension of Christ, by Salvador Dali (1958)
Almost 62 years ago, on the first of November 1950, Pope Pius XII published Munificentissimus Deus, the Apostolic Constitution by which he declared what we celebrate today to be a dogma. It became a binding teaching, something that we are required to hold as Catholics. It goes so far that if we don’t agree with it, we can’t properly call ourselves Catholics. It’s like claiming that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God and still calling oneself Catholic. One of the identifying markers of one’s ‘Catholicity’ is missing, so whatever the person in question is, he is not Catholic [MD 45, 47].
This may all sound negative, focussing on what we must and what the consequences are if we don’t, but in essence a dogma is a positive. A reading of Munificentissimus Deus shows that the dogma we mark today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grew organically from the heartfelt desires of many faithful and from the earlier dogmatic teaching of her Immaculate Conception, as defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854 [MD 6-9]. This dogma is then not something imposed from above, but a confirmation of what many had long held to be true. It is also a confirmation that the Assumption of Mary has always been “contained in the deposit of Christian faith entrusted to the Church” [MD 8].
The Venerable Pope Pius XII offers an extensive list of historical examples of this faith, even conviction, that the Blessed Virgin was assumed into heaven [MD 14-38], and then presents the official declaration of the dogma as such:
For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. [MD 44]
Once more, the positive nature of this dogma, and others as well, is outlined a bit earlier in the Apostolic Constitution:
We, who have placed our pontificate under the special patronage of the most holy Virgin, to whom we have had recourse so often in times of grave trouble, we who have consecrated the entire human race to her Immaculate Heart in public ceremonies, and who have time and time again experienced her powerful protection, are confident that this solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective. [MD 42].
And in the meantime, a happy feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to all!
I don’t know about the custom in other parishes and churches, but I find that homilies often focus on the first reading and the Gospel reading, but tend to skip over the second one. Not to say that the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, or the Gospel reading are not worth spending many thoughts and words on, but the second reading, often from one of the letter of St. Paul, is also usually a rich treasure of devotion and knowledge of our faith. Take yesterday’s second reading for example, from the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14):
“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love, marking us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. Such was his purpose and good pleasure, to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ, for him to act upon when the times had run their course: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will, chosen to be, for the praise of his glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the gospel of your salvation, and having put your trust in it you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the freedom of the people whom God has taken for his own, for the praise of his glory.
Such an intricate text, which constantly doubles back in on itself, qualifying what came before, setting up what comes next. Saint Paul is surely not always an easy read, but one very much worth reading and reflecting upon. It’s food for thought, and an inspiration that invites to delve ever deeper into our own relationship with God, to understand it, and Him, and ultimately ourselves as well. Faith, a relationship with God and living life accordingly, is not simplistic or backward. On the contrary, it is challenging and progressive. Just as the Holy Father said at yesterday’s Angelus, “[T]he work of Christ and the Church never regresses, but always progresses”, so our faith life always progresses, propelling us forward towards the ultimate realisation of who we truly are, “adopted sons, through Jesus Christ”.
Art credit: “St. Paul reading and writing,” attributed to Guercino.
Below is this year’s list of recipients of the pallium, the woollen band of office denoting their being metropolitan archbishops. As always, the Holy Father will be handing the pallia out on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June, although the ceremony is somewhat changed this year: to make the ceremony shorter, and, like the most recent consistory, to avoid any suggestion that it is a sacramental rite. Whereas the imposition of the pallia previously took place during a Eucharistic celebration, after the homily, it will now be moved to before the Mass. As the Holy See press office explains: “Indeed, the rites which take place during a Eucharistic celebration following the homily are normally Sacramental rites: Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick. The imposition of the pallium, on the other hand, is not Sacramental in nature”.
- Ignatius Chama, Kasama, Zambia
- Alfred Martins, Lagos, Nigeria
- Benedito Roberto C.S.Sp., Malanje, Angola
- Gabriel Yaw Anokye, Kumasi, Ghana
Jose Advincula, Capiz, Philippines
- Joseph Coutts, Karachi, Pakistan
- Patrick D’Rozario C.S.C., Dhaka, Bangladesh
- Thomas D’Souza, Calcutta, India
- John Du, Palo, Philippines
- John Moolachira, Guwahati, India
- Luis Tagle, Manila, Philippines
- Romulo Valles, Davao, Philippines
- Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Seoul, Korea
- Stanisław Budzik, Lublin, Poland
- Waclaw Depo, Czestochowa, Poland
- Arrigo Miglio, Cagliari, Italy
- Francesco Moraglia, Venice, Italy
- Filippo Santoro, Taranto, Italy
- Wiktor Skworc, Katowice, Poland
- Pascal Wintzer, Poitiers, France
- Rainer Cardinal Woelki, Berlin, Germany
- Samuel Aquila, Denver, United States
- Jesus Cabrero Romero, San Luis Potosí, Mexico
- Charles Chaput O.F.M., Philadelphia, United States
- Luc Cyr, Sherbrooke, Canada
- Paul-André Durocher, Gatineau, Canada
- Joseph Harris C.S.Sp., Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Christian Lépine, Montreal, Canada
- William Lori, Baltimore, United States
- Mario Alberto Molina Palma O.A.R., Los Altos, Quetzaltenango-Totonicapan, Guatemala
- Francisco Cardinal Robles Ortega, Guadalajara, Mexico
- William Skurla, Pittsburgh of the Byzantines, United States
- Valery Vienneau, Moncton, Canada
- Mark Coleridge, Brisbane, Australia
- Timothy Costelloe S.D.B., Perth, Australia
- Francesco Panfilo S.D.B., Rabaul, Papua New Guinea
- Esmeraldo Barreto de Farias, Porto Velho, Brazil
- Jacinto Furtado de Brito Sobrinho, Teresina, Brazil
- Airton dos Santos, Campinas, Brazil
- Ulises Gutiérrez Reyes O. de M., Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela
- Wilson Jonck S.C.I., Florianópolis, Brazil
- Paulo Mendes Peixoto, Uberaba, Brazil
- Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, Ayacucho o Huamanga, Peru
- Jose Rezende Dias, Niterói, Brazil
- Jaime Vieira Rocha, Natal, Brazil
- Alfredo Zecca, Tucuman, Argentina
All but two of the archbishops above will be at the ceremony on Rome this Friday. Archbishops Yaw Anokye and Vienneau will receive their pallia at their own cathedrals.
For today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi for short, the Diocese of Roermond has published a brochure about Communion. After a description of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us, the brochure delves into the Eucharist, its celebration an, most notably, the proper disposition for receiving that sacrament, Jesus Himself, in the Communion.
In their foreword, Bishops Frans Wiertz and Everard de Jong write:
“The attention for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of faith, the most precious gift that the Lord has left His Church, could use an extra impulse in our days. Not only because of the Year of Faith that the pope has announced, but most of all because of the graces that participation in this beneficial Sacrament can give the faithful. Does our time not have a great need for spiritual food which can lessen the soul’s thirst?”
I won’t be analysing the entire brochure, which offers a handy introduction to the source and summit of our faith, but I will share what in my opinion is the most significant chapter in it: an explanation of the proper disposition for receiving Communion. This is especially necessary in the Netherlands, where Communion is often considered a right or “just something that everybody does, so why shouldnt I?”.
- Certain texts seem to imply restraint when receiving Communion is concerned: We hear Jesus Himself say, “‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6). Saint Paul also writes in his letter to Timothy:
“You may be quite sure that in the last days there will be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and avaricious, boastful, arrogant and rude; disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious; heartless and intractable; they will be slanderers, profligates, savages and enemies of everything that is good; they will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Keep away from people like that” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
And the same Apostle claims:
“What does this mean? That the dedication of food to false gods amounts to anything? Or that false gods themselves amount to anything? No, it does not; simply that when pagans sacrifice, what is sacrificed by them is sacrificed to demons who are not God. I do not want you to share with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons as well; you cannot have a share at the Lord’s table and the demons’ table as well. Do we really want to arouse the Lord’s jealousy; are we stronger than he is?” (1 Corinthians 10:19-22).
He then opines:
“Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died. If we were critical of ourselves we would not be condemned, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are corrected by the Lord to save us from being condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:26-32).
It is then clear that Communion is not for just everyone.
- Yet this question about the reasons to not receive Communion can, on second thought, seem like a strange question. After all, we are sinners and we need Him. Yes, exactly because we are sinners, we need Him. The more we sin, the more we need Him. Not without reason do we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed” (vg. Luke 7:6).
- This unsuitability to receive Communion tells us, on further examination, what we have just said [in previous chapters] about the will to be converted, the openness to healing and the unity in love. There are actions which, as it were, lock us so tightly within ourselves, which block us from experiencing Jesus’ love and active healing power in the Communion in such a way that we can’t experience this meeting with Him in a fruitful manner without some preparation. There are actions or omissions which have shut the door to Jesus in such a way that it won’t open without a special help. They cause such hardness in our hearts that a ‘softener’ and a strong purification are needed to receive Him properly. Jesus offers those too, but not in the sacrament of the Eucharist. For that reason He, as we saw, instituted the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: Confession. We must therefore distinguish between the need to being saved by Christ, and the way in which this can occur. The encounter with Him in the Communion is so sensitive and tender that Communion can’t work without a prior big cleaning, ie. a verbal confession of our sins. It is like a communal meal, or even a marital physical union, which also can’t happen if there are major issues between man and wife. General apologies do not suffice here, as in the penitential rite , but specific and honest regret must be shown. In other words, the road to unity with the Lord only goes via the road of purification. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is in this way complementary. Saint Thomas Aquinas summarised these arguments in this way: because of mortal sin we no longer have spiritual life within us, while the Eucharist is food for the living; and because of our attachment to mortal sin we have removed ourselves so far from Christ that we can’t become one with Him through Communion .
- Do not be afraid of this sacrament of penance and reconciliation… As the Apostle Saint John writes in his first letter, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil. If we say, ‘We have never sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word has no place in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
- What are mortal sins? According to the Church you can only sin mortally if you go against God’s commandments in a serious matter (materia gravis) with full knowledge and in free will. What is exactly a serious matte is not always clear, but they often have to do with life and death, the beginning and end of physical and spiritual life. They may be things against God, your neighbour, or yourself.
- In judging the sin, there are a number of aspects which involved. Three aspects of an action count. 1: That what you do, the action itself. 2: The motivation, by which you act. 3: The circumstances of the act. All three aspects must be good to speak of a good act. So only one of these three has to be bad, for the entire act to be bad. All three aspects can also independently lead to a mortal sin. 
- Some acts, regardless of their result, intention or circumstance, are always bad, because the act is intrinsically, in itself, bad. These human actions or omission have to do with what seriously affects and damages our deepest personality or that of another. The killing of an innocent person, for example, in whatever phase of life, regardless of motivation or circumstance, is never justified. But all other forms of damage to human dignity and human integrity, such as torture, psychological terror, slavery, human trafficking and so on  are always reprehensible. For the Church, sexuality is a sacred event, and man is very vulnerable in that area: it affects the heart of his person and God’s creative power. If it does not take place within a marriage between a man and a women, or when the openness to new life of consciously blocked, it is, in principle, always a mortal sin. Not without reason does Jesus tell us, “But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matthew 5:28).
- Who decides how serious a sin is? And so if you need to confess it before receive Communion? As long as they are acts which happened in secret, it is primarily the sinner’s, conscience, formed by the Church, which indicates what should be done. Of course, a priest may always be asked for advice. With acts that are presented to the priest in confession, or which are public, the Church will always judge the nature and the consequences. We already see this in the early Church:
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector. ‘In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:15-18).
- When in doubt about receiving Communion, you may always entrust your own judgements to a good spiritual counselor.
- Of course, Communion also has a social aspect. Saint Paul says that he will eat certain kinds of meat, but does not does so to avoid giving scandal to the weaker (Romans 14:20, 2 Corinthians 6:3). It could happen that one has permission from the Church to receive Communion, but would cause public scandal with it. It is then wise to avoid receiving Communion in a church where one is known. One can receive Communion in a place where one is unknown.
- But priests have their own responsibility. About this, the Second Vatican Council says, in a positive way, “But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”
- The public aspect of sin and the scandal it may possibly cause can also mean that the priest, or the person distributing Communion, and who is therefore “entrusted with the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), may have to prudently take his own responsibility. “I ask everyone, especially ordained ministers and those who, after adequate preparation and in cases of genuine need, are authorized to exercise the ministry of distributing the Eucharist, to make every effort to ensure that this simple act preserves its importance as a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus in the sacrament” . A minister of Holy Communion therefore has his own responsibility and will not randomly refuse someone Communion, without any prior knowledge. If a person’s way of life is clearly contrary to Catholic faith and morals he can’t allow that person’s to receive Communion. In certain public cases of serious scandal, in which the meaning of the sacrament is seriously undermined, he will then have to warn a person, prior to the celebration, to not come forward for Communion, and in special cases will even have to refuse Communion .
- And what if there is no minister of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and the serious sin is not publicly known? Then you can receive Communion, provided you have prayed a personal act of contrition and have the intention to receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation at the earliest occasion.
- It is important to realise, even if you know that you can’t receive Communion, that there are ways to unite yourself to Christ. There is the option to come forward with the other people as the Communion is handed out and then, with arms crossed over your chest, receive a blessing. One can also unite oneself spiritually with Christ and so receive spiritual Communion. It is not shameful to not come forward… on the contrary, it shows your appreciation and respect for the Holy One among us.
 Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis sacramentum (2005), n. 80: “As for the Penitential Act placed at the beginning of Mass, it has the purpose of preparing all to be ready to celebrate the sacred mysteries; even so, “it lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance”, and cannot be regarded as a substitute for the Sacrament of Penance in remission of graver sins.”
 Cf. Summa Theologica, III, 89,3
 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nr. 1755
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1756, identifies blasphemy, perjury, murder and adultery as intrinsically evil. The Second Vatican Council says the following: “Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed” (Gaudium et spes, n. 27; cf. Evangelium Vitae, n 80).
 Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 11.
 Cf. Sacramentum caritatis, n. 50.
 Cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 84: “Furthermore when Holy Mass is celebrated for a large crowd – for example, in large cities – care should be taken lest out of ignorance non-Catholics or even non-Christians come forward for Holy Communion, without taking into account the Church’s Magisterium in matters pertaining to doctrine and discipline. It is the duty of Pastors at an opportune moment to inform those present of the authenticity and the discipline that are strictly to be observed.”
In a letter published on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of the Clergy, taking place on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 15 June this year, the Congregation for the Clergy writes a letter (translation)to the world’s priests. The letter, signed by the Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza (pictured), and secretary Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, focusses on St. Paul’s appeal to all Christians: “This is the will of God: your holiness!” (1 Thess. 4:3).
The authors firmly relate the letter to the upcoming Year of Faith and the anniversaries of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and also the upcoming General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the new evangelisation. These latter three events must be the focus of priests everywhere in the framework of the Year of Faith.
The final paragraph outlines why priests especially need to be holy:
“Today’s world, with its ever more painful and preoccupying lacerations, needs God - The Trinity, and the Church has the task to proclaim Him. In order to fulfil this task, the Church must remain indissolubly embraced with Christ and never part from Him; it needs Saints who dwell “in the heart of Jesus” and are happy witnesses of God’s Trinitarian Love. And in order to serve the Church and the World, Priests need to be Saints!”
And so, as ever surprisingly fast, we rush towards the end of Lent, towards the eternal salvific sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Yesterday, we learned of the betrayal of Judas, and today, on Maundy or Holy Thursday, we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples.
Before He offered Himself on the Cross, Jesus eternally gave Himself to us under the appearance of bread and wine* St. Paul, in his first Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26), writes:
For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’
And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’
Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.
We’ll hear this passage as the second reading at today’s evening Mass, when the priest washes the feet of twelve faithful, in imitation of Christ washing the feet of His disciples. At the end of Mass, Jesus, in the form of bread and wine, secludes Himself in the altar of repose, the altar is stripped and we enter that final night of His life, alone in prayer while His disciples failed to stay awake with Him.
As He has promised, Jesus is with us every day, and especially so in the Eucharist. We are beings of flesh and blood, as well as spirit, and our nourishment reflects that. The Word that is Christ feeds our heads and hearts, and in the Eucharist He feeds us physically. But unlike a regular meal, the food does not become part of us: we become part of it, of Him.
Tomorrow is Good Friday…
Art credit: “The institution of the Eucharist”, by Joos van Wassenhove, 1473-75
*An enlightening text to consider in this context is John 6: 48-58
Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus; we instructed you how to live in the way that pleases God, and you are so living; but make more progress still. God called us to be holy, not to be immoral.
1 Thessalonians 4:1,7
“God calls us to be holy.” Okay, but what does that mean? In our modern society holiness is something looked down upon as being overly sentimental, soft and sugar sweet. Not something that we should automatically strife for. But is holiness like that? Obviously, I would say not.
The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for ‘holiness’ offers a detailed explanation, and distinguishes two elements to holiness: It “involves a very real though hidden separation from this world, as it also demands a great strength of character or stability in the service of God”. Separation from the world on the one hand, and strength or stability on the other.
There are of course degrees to this separation from the world, but at the heart lies the recognition that the Lord who sanctifies us, and thus allows us to be holy, is not of this world. To follow Him, we must not remain attached to the things of this world. We still live in it and take part in it, but we must not look to the world for our holiness.
To be able to do that, we need strength of character, which is developed through the service of God. It’s not something you just do. Like we need to physically train our bodies to excel in some sport, we need to spiritually train ourselves to excel in holiness, to be able to say, with Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
Holiness is not something weak-kneed and sugar sweet. It requires a moral and spiritual effort, but a joyful one. The goal we work towards, the holiness given by the Lord God through our sanctification at Baptism, is a goal of love. Holiness is a manifestation of His love.