Wednesday, 10 April 2013

78: What is holiness? #1

Two facts: 1- Holiness is a fundamental issue in our life. 2- Understanding what is holiness is therefore as fundamental.

Two other facts: 1- Since early 60s, with the Council Vatican II, we have been reminded that Jesus calls all of us to Holiness (see: Lumen Gentium, chapter 5, The Universal call to holiness). And this is very positive.
2- Details about what is holiness and how to reach it remain until today difficult to access. Therefore these concepts remain very imprecise and vague. We often accommodate with general ideas and directions, but when it comes to details, we lack a great deal of practical insight.

Some people think that by just abiding by Christian Dogma, Liturgy (+ Sacraments) and Morality it is enough [or worse: it guarantees you] to reach holiness. Our popular understanding of “holiness” is something, but the more precise one is something totally different.
It is important to notice that our understanding of: 1- The Cross (what Jesus accomplishes on the Cross), 2- Easter, 3- Baptism and 4- Christian life are directly related. Plus, in the end, all will bring us to holiness, obviously.
Our understanding of these 4 realities did shrink a lot from the original view/understanding – with dramatic consequences on our understanding of holiness. It shrank to a frightening point. To explain it, I’ll take an example: the Promise given to Abraham to give him the Land.

After 430 years of “slavery” in Egypt, God decided that the time was right to act and save His People. We all have a geographical idea of the journey of the people of God, from Egypt to the Promised Land (see the map).
This Journey was made in 40 years. (Remember that this journey wouldn’t take more than 3 days waking, if you take a more direct route) I would divide this journey in 4 parts (not like the map shown). This is my choice, just to make my point. 

1- One night: walking to the red sea and crossing it (ok, you may add few days or weeks while Moses and the Pharaoh are defying each others and having the plagues of Egypt). 

2- Two years: from the crossing until the area called Kadesh Barnea. 

3- Thirty eight years: going in circles around the area of Kadesh. 

4- Finally entering the Promised Land: crossing the Jordan, fighting against the local populations (7 tribes). 

The full journey is 1 + 2 + 3 + 4.

I am using the full journey as an example of our spiritual Christian Journey, heading toward Holiness (the “Promised Land”). The whole action that Jesus accomplishes on the Cross comprises in it the full journey. Saving us is not just taking us from Egypt to the desert (crossing the Red Sea)!! It is the same for Baptism: being baptised is not just crossing the Red Sea, finishing from the slavery of the Devil (Pharaoh) like the Fathers of the Church used to say. The full realisation of Baptism is to reach the Promised land. Wouldn’t you agree?
Same for Easter: during Easter Vigil we focus a lot on the essential reading of the crossing of the red sea. Nothing wrong with it. But crossing the desert, spending 40years in it, crossing the river Jordan, have no impact on our understanding of Easter. We often, traditionally use Easter Vigil to Baptise the catechumens. Does it push more toward this “reduction” of the concepts? Well the debate is opened.
Same thing for our Christian daily life: we measure everything by one measure: “am I in the sate of grace or not? If not, I do have to go to confession. So my life is to be or not to be in the sate of grace”. It is like saying: “did I cross or not the desert?”. Ok, fair enough. But where is the Desert in our Christian life? Do we see it? Do we understand its deep meaning? Do we understand manna? Receiving the Law? Not listening to God, and having to go in circles during 38 years until we are totally purified (see Numbers c. 16)? having to cross the waters of the river Jordan? Having to go and fight 7 tribes?
It seems that everything lies on: “am I in the state of grace or not?”, and the rest will take care of itself. I just need to pray, to go to Mass, to confess, to de good deeds, and holiness will come by itself. So: “take it easy, sit down and relax. Take a deep breath, you are saved from the Red Sea. The rest will come, you just need to be a good Christian.”

Crossing the Red Sea is fundamentally like seeing Saul being kicked out of his horse and falling, blind, under the powerful liberating light of Jesus.
All what comes after, is infinitely much more: it is when Paul takes time to grow (he spends 3 years in Arabia)… and then works, serves... Saint Paul’s life doesn’t revolve around his falling from his horse. It seems that for us, holiness is bout falling from our horse.

“Falling from our horse” is technically called: “conversion”. So our Christian life, Baptism, the Cross, Easter, are simply reduced to be BINARY: I am or not in the state of grace (1,0). And, if I am not, I should go to confession. All the rest will be - roughly - fine. (Yes “roughly”, as you noticed.) This is what some will later call: holiness.
People think, vaguely that Holiness will/might come, roughly, automatically, by itself, by power of magic.

I am not sure of that at all. I wouldn’t plan my entire life with “roughly” and “maybe”.

Conclusion: well I invite you to re-read this short blog, meditate on it, write down your thoughts, put them in order, make your own conclusions and kindly post them in the “comments” below.

1 comment:

Rufaro said...

Thank you for the article Jean.

The Catholic Church I think defines a saint as somebody who has practiced heroic virtue. So we can talk about holiness as heroic virtue. Benedict XIV, an 18th century pope, stated “In order to be heroic a Christian virtue must enable its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over his natural inclinations."

And most people would say that one needs to pray for the Holy Spirit to achieve a life of heroic virtue.

What are your thoughts on this definition of holiness and achieving it?