Taste awakens memories from the past and brings us back to specific times and experiences. Blackberry jam brings me back to the Castlegar fields on the edge of Galway city where we picked bags of blackberries in the autumn; back to the kitchen where my mother made the jam in a big saucepan; jam jars being filled with the hot new jam. And, when it cooled and set, the taste of it on fresh bread. Nothing compares with that taste and it is a blessed memory that speaks of home life at its best, with its own unique flavour and atmosphere.
The Word of God has the power to awaken memory in a particularly powerful way. A phrase or a single word can revive in us an experience of God that has some meaning for the present.
When I read the readings for today, the seventh Sunday, my mind initially went off in the direction of loving enemies, turning the other cheek, forgiveness and living in harmony with one another. It seemed the obvious way to go and yet something in me felt weary about this.
So, I closed my eyes for a while and into the silence this phrase presented itself with great clarity – “Be holy for I the Lord your God am Holy!” (Leviticus 19:2)
And it took me back to the Cathedral in Thurles when I was a young student. Sitting there in the hush and half-light of a Saturday evening waiting to go to confession. At that time my heart was on fire with that call in Leviticus – “Be holy for I am Holy.” Be holy, since it is the Holy One who has called you!
I understood this, not so much at the level of thought but, in the depth of my soul where it resonated and made perfect sense. The holiness of God is the beginning of everything. He is in essence Holy and what a joy it is to be called to share in this holiness, to have all of one’s life flow from it – all my thoughts, actions, desires, gestures and words.
The youth in me hungered and thirsted for this and I would give my whole life to the search for it – the search for the Holy One who was already within, without, behind and before me. The phrase, “Be holy for I am Holy” became a focal point on the horizon of my life as I steered my boat towards its destination.
That was part of the reality that waited in the quiet of Saturday nights in the Cathedral. The other part was my struggle with sin – the part of me that kicked against the holiness of God, a struggle that meets with Mercy time and time again; the ongoing struggle of the pilgrim life.
What we discover in our journey through life is that the very effort of living day-to-day can swallow us up and consume us to the extent that we lose sight of the goal, the horizon, the essence of the call. And this is where our Word or phrase of scripture can bring us back into focus.
The call to holiness is not just for the few. It is for every single one of us. God told Moses, “speak to the whole community…and say to them ‘be holy for the Lord your God is Holy.’” It is expressed differently in everyone’s life but it has the same meaning, the goal is the same, the source is the same.
To be holy is to become like God in every aspect of life. St. John says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)
Be holy is also expressed in the Bible in terms such as, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect; be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.
A lovely expression of the holiness of our lives is given by St. Paul, “Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you… the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
The life of holiness is one that puts God first, recognizing that He is in fact the beginning and the centre of all existence. It is a life of profound reverence for God who is revealed definitively in the person of Jesus Christ. It has become a counter cultural life in a time that does not reverence the sacred, that sees God as one who can be manipulated and used in any way we choose.
The life of holiness must also be one that reflects itself in love of neighbour, ‘“You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence; this way you will not take a sin upon yourself. You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”’ (Leviticus 19:17-18).
It must also express itself in love of enemies, as Jesus says, “But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:38-48)
For anyone wanting to experience a more profound spiritual life it is worth taking time in silence to wait for God to give a Word that will be the focal point on the horizon of our journey. Then, no matter how caught up we become in the mill of life, no matter how many mountains we have to climb or rivers to cross, we will have the grace to pause, look up and focus again at the essence of what it is to be truly human – to be Holy as God is Holy.
Eamonn Monson sac
February 19, 2017