27 May 2008

Be Holy as I am Holy!

I was particularly struck by the last lines of today's first reading from 1 Peter: [[Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy as I am holy.]] Two things about this reading made me pause: 1) the linkage between obedience and holiness, and 2) just how difficult it usually is for us to think of having a vocation to holiness! It seems to be something imposed from outside us rather than something that is wholly natural to us.

It might seem that the call to holiness here in 1 Peter is somewhat demeaning or infantilizing: "Like obedient children, do not act in compliance. . .but as he who has called you. . .be holy. . ." We tend to bristle at being asked to act like children, much less obedient children. The words conjure up images of a demeaning docility and submission we simply resist identifying with as adults! But of course, the author of this "encyclical" (because it is truly more encyclical than epistle) does not intend his admonitions in this way. He is speaking to communities on the edge of serious persecution, and worn down by the constant lesser persecutions that precede the actual spilling of martyrs' blood; he intends that we learn to listen, to be attentive, and to respond with the courage, avidity and wholeheartedness of children because he knows how truly divided, defensive, and tentative we become on the way to adulthood.

And yet, God can and does summon us from this partial and halfhearted existence into genuine holiness --- not holiness as some esoteric existence most appropriate for plaster saints or those whose "spirituality" can't seem to get out of the 16th (or any other past --- mainly as idealized) century and into the real (that is, the contemporary) world while speaking more of a bloodless and "precious" piety than the Spirit of God --- but instead, a holiness which is at once loving and gentle, and so too, strong, courageous, and capable of confronting head on the evils and demonic structures of our time and space. Holiness is a matter of being called and responding with one's whole heart. It is a matter of being sent out as prophets and martyrs, and living this mission with every fibre of our being because the future of heaven and earth depend upon us doing so. It is therefore a matter of obedience in the New Testament sense of that word!

But holiness is also not something alien to us, something we are called to from outside ourselves --- though it may happen that that ALSO happens! Instead holiness is the most natural thing in the world for us, and the call comes from deep within. Holiness is a matter of wholeness. That characterization has become rather trite, a kind of cliche today. But holiness in the sense I described it above is hardly that. Instead holiness is the state of being TRULY human. It is the state of allowing God to define who we shall be and then embodying that with the grace he supplies and all the creativity and courage we can muster in his Name (that is, in and through his powerful and personal presence). It is the state of hearing our own unique Name which God sounds deep in the core of our being, and responsively becoming the incarnation of that Name, that identity. It is a state of communion, communion where God dwells within us in the fullness he wills --- a communion which is really our truest being and legitimate individuality. Holiness and integrity are intimately linked; in some ways, they are the same thing. Holiness and theonomy are also intimately linked and in some ways the same thing. That is, holiness is a matter of letting God be sovereign in our lives; it is a matter of being the Communion with him and all that he cherishes that he has called and makes us to be instead of remaining autonomous, and so, a solitary (and sinful) law unto ourselves.

We are called to be holy as he is holy because we are, in the deepest core of ourselves, from, with, and of him. We are called to be holy as he is holy because that is what is most natural and right for us. I think people have trouble today with both the idea of obedience and the notion of a call to holiness. (We are much more comfortable with a "vocation" to autonomy and respectability!) But authentic humanity and holiness are synonyms, and at some point as Christians we have to truly commit ourselves to this as our all-directing and all-consuming goal. At least that is what 1 Peter says to us today.