Sunday, July 10, 2011

On True Holiness

Stop me if you've heard this one before.  (Actually don't, as this is my blog, I make the rules.)  Whenever extolling someone, you hear "he is so holy!"  This is one of the most dangerous statements around.  If one doesn't understand what true holiness is, they are giving a false assessment, and that has the potential to mislead others.  While some might view this a hard assessment, I would object.

The beauty about God is He has no desire to hide all of His works from His creation.  Sure, some things might be clouded a bit in mystery, but he points us the way to something, and faith makes up for what we lack.  So it is with holiness.  We have seen many priests disgrace their priesthood.  The shocked faithful always say "but he was so holy!"  Perhaps we need to do a more in-depth examination of what holiness is.

Our first mistake is to define holiness as something we do.  That is alien to the Biblical world.  Rather, being holy was what we are. In being holy, we are set apart.  Holiness is what we do to represent our being set apart.  Through our bodies, we carry out certain actions, and these actions can be judged as to whether they are in accord with a state of being set apart from the ordinary.  If they are not, and we are all too ordinary (like the world), that being set apart is used in our condemnation.

So in judging holiness, we must look at acts that are set apart from the "normal" ways of the world, or of our nature.  Our nature was corrupted by sin.  As a result, we stopped acting as if we were set apart to give God glory, and acted to the contrary.  Right away this eliminates marks of being holy such as eloquence in speech, or the ability to repeat intellectual propositions that can be turned into talk points.  The mouth can preach orthodoxy with great eloquence.  Yet the heart can also use that mouth to manipulate, even under the appearance of orthodoxy.  When Marc Antony spoke in Julius Caesar, he was assenting to the orthodoxy of the day from the powers that be.  Yet through manipulation, he managed to undermine those very figures.

Likewise, when Satan approaches our Lord in the desert, everything he says is true and orthodox.  He indeed was able to quote scripture with the best of them.  Yet he was using orthodoxy to undermine proper practice, or orthopraxy.  He was tempting Christ towards vanity and arrogance.  If he hooked Christ on those things, he could break Him later on the orthodoxy stuff.

That is why when we are measuring holiness, we must look for those traits and virtues which are not "of this world."  Anyone can speak with eloquence, but true Christian charity is hard to fake.  Authentic Christian faith, hope, and charity cannot come from within.  They can only come from externally.  The world cannot fake these things.

We are given a second tool outside of these main virtues, in that they are measured by how we live our vocation.  In the secular world, our profession defines who we are.  A businessman is concerned with striking the balance of making their business efficient yet still profitable.  To the extent they are both efficient and profitable, we can measure how successful a businessman they are.

God gives each and every human person a vocation, a calling.  Those vocations have certain requirements to them.  A priest is called to a life (if not always a vow) of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Poverty comes about in not relying on the things of this world, even if we have them.  Chastity (by extension celibacy) is in accordance with the fact that they are living a life in anticipation of the Kingdom of heaven, a sign for all of us of our eventual destination.  Finally, obedience is the recognition that they are priests of something other than themselves, so what they want is not always what is best.

Another vocation exists for the married life which people are called to.  While many might not realize it, they have the same requirements, they just carry them out in a different manner.  The life of poverty calls them to cling to their spouses, the greatest created gift God has given them.  Material possessions should never take the place of primary devotion over their spouse.  In chastity, they are called to realize that they can be with their spouse only, and no other.  To the extent the eyes (and person) set themselves upon another, they are not living chastely.  Finally they submit in obedience to their spouse by realizing that their needs are no longer of paramount importance.  The benefit of their spouse is their business, and more importantly, the benefit of the family as a whole trumps all.  A businessman who increases his own efficiency and profit at the expense of the company he works for will either find himself fired or in jail for fraud.  Likewise a spouse who puts their own needs above that of the company he works for (their family) will place their souls in mortal danger.

Like those authentic virtues, they are incredibly tough to fake when viewed properly.  They are something that must be continually done.  They define who we are.  One may be able to trick themselves into leading a double life.  Yet they will be found out eventually by others, who can examine their actions over a lifetime.  Since they are not living towards their vocation in their double life, they cannot be considered as practicing holiness, even if they do great things.  Indeed, those great things become condemnations.  A husband cannot practice marital chastity for long when he places the needs of himself as paramount.  Eventually, those needs will lead to his own fulfillment.  What does his wife think?  Who cares!  He is looking out for number one.

Likewise, a priest that spends his lifetime building up material possessions will eventually come to be defined by them.  Without that character of poverty, he will not long have a character of chastity or obedience.  In addition to being incredibly hard to fake long-term, they are inseparably linked.

Finally, when we look at holiness from this perspective, one thing comes to mind.  Man is holiness hard!  That is what we should always remember when we see someone stumble.  If we look upon ourselves, we will find that, to greater or lesser degrees, we aren't following that spirit which leads to virtue.  That brings us to humility.

Humility is the hardest of all of these, yet it is also the most necessary.  If poverty, chastity, and obedience lead to faith, hope, and charity, humility is the glue that holds everything together.  Humility is our reminder that if we do this on our own, we will fail.  If we examine our consciences for but one minute each day, this will become blatantly apparent.  Poverty and chastity reach obedience through humility.  If one is not humble, he will have few of those virtues for long.  Eventually the winds of this world will blow obedience away from chastity, or poverty from obedience.  Like everything else here, the glue is something we cannot produce out of ourselves.  It needs to come from somewhere else.  That "somewhere" is a "someone."  That individual is Jesus Christ.  Later we will consider how this is to be so with a few analogies.

1 comment:

  1. Well spoken on the virtue of humility.

    "Humility is the only virtue that no devil can imitate. If pride made demons out of angels, there is no doubt that humility could make angels out of demons." St. John Climacus


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