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.