One or two people asked for a copy of this morning’s homily. Here it is then…
Today’s readings focus on a call to radical holiness. In Leviticus God says: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The point being that God alone is the source of holiness. So- in any personal quest for spiritual development in life- our eyes must be fixed on Him.
But are they? Or are they fixed on a comfortable retirement? Keeping up with the Jones? Paying off the mortgage? Indulging our various appetites? It is an important question as we approach Lent. To what extent does God actually impact our daily lives? How much of a priority is the faith we profess? Enough to ensure mass on Sunday really is an obligation- that we will be present without fail? To ensure we pray every each and every day? To ensure we place our trust in the sacraments- yes including formal confession?
Be holy, for I, your God am holy. It is not a suggestion- notice that. God commands his chosen people to be different. To be a people set apart. The Jews must live lives of authentic witness because they are to be his representatives: what they do- what they think- how they behave- yes it really mattered!
And what about us? Because at baptism we Christians are also charged with this same responsibility. Called to live by a different standard. Our lives must witness to the God of love.
Now understand this much at lease. The bible is abundantly clear on one point. It is not enough to point at a saint who demonstrates holiness for us. This holiness which God demands must be present in us. The average Christian in the pew. That divine joy may then radiate from us calling others to repentance and conversion. Our joy- our vibrant life in the faith- must be evident and attractive to others.
I feel a fraud saying that. Because, if I am honest, I am not always very good at being holy. Truth is I am better at preaching the faith than actually living it. But I bet I am not the only one here to think that… after all it is THE MAJOR problem in the modern church. Too many of us can talk the talk but too, too few of us walk the walk. We, the faithful, in so many little ways, have been seduced by modernity. We love our homes and gardens, our televisions- the internet- all that comfortable stuff. Now there is nothing wrong with that on one level. Life should be enjoyed. But if we are not careful it becomes wrong and here is why…
A love of worldly things soon squeezes God out. So easily we fill our lives with pap and there is nothing left for God. Who spends an hour in silent prayer when the TV promises to stream Poirot at the touch of a button? Hardly anyone is the answer. It is hard building up a devotional life within the modern world – where nobody has reason to be bored anymore. So bit by bit we in the West grow flabby in the faith.
And it leaves us so weak against secular onslaught. The faith seeps from us not by deliberate choice but by slothful inattentiveness. And then, before we know it, the philosophy of the age takes over. The ten minute homily – the hour at Mass – how can these compete against the backdrop of secular 24 hour media saturation. Little wonder secular opinions now resonate amongst so many Catholics. Little wonder most have- in truth- abandoned Catholic teaching. Little wonder prayer is spoken of, even desired… but so rarely seriously undertaken and put into practice.
And because our lives are now barely different from those around us. Because we show more love for the world than Jesus Christ most days. The church declines, vocations dry up, the life of holiness becomes a thing forgotten and neglected. Meaning that which God desires for all – becomes an eccentric bygone choice of the odd person here or there. Resulting in a terrible emptiness. Emptiness in people’s experience of faith. Emptiness within the life of the church. Emptiness in our modern lives. But understand this- we were not made to be empty!
Hence in our Epistle St. Paul says we Christians are meant to be temples of the Spirit. Vessels infused with the wisdom and love of God. But this infusion only comes through the devotional life. Through prayer, the sacraments- the life of grace. So we are only saved from spiritual emptiness if attending properly to our spiritual needs. If eyes are fixed on Jesus. And if they are not. Well we must accept that we will be dead inside.
Now that might sound harsh. But this high standard comes from God himself. In the Gospel Jesus says: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That is the target. Perfection. Of course Jesus knows we will fail, he appreciates we are fallen- hence he grants us absolution. But nevertheless he demands the highest standard from us– the highest aim. Jesus wants us to live so fully in him- so full of his spirit- that we even love our enemies, do good to those who hate us.
So that is God’s standard for us. Perfection. But what of our standard for ourselves as Christians?
Sadly it is often pitifully low. So that, over the last half century and across the denominations, we have witnesses a great lowering of the bar of acceptability for Christians. The watering down of what is demanded of us. So often the focus has been on social action -which is great- but alongside a strange silence on the pressing need for personal holiness- which is not good. As if it is enough to just roll up at mass, largely ignore Catholic teaching and pop a penny in the plate just so long as we remain in the club! The lowest possible standard, the lesser aim. The dumbing down. This is what we as a church have sometimes settled for. And it hasn’t worked because it is a long way from God’s standard as spoken by Jesus in the Gospel today.
In fact this low standard, this dumbed down approach, has failed a great many people. It does not transmit living faith. And that is why a third generation of young people has been lost to the church. We failed to catechise them and we failed to inspire them. So today’s readings make it clear – being mediocre will not do -there is a better way! We cannot cheat at faith. We need perfection- the giving of our best to God.
Because only authentic holiness creates the sort of love Jesus calls for in our Gospel. The sort that compels us to love even our enemies. Only authentic holiness will revive God’s drooping church. So one question remains…
Will YOU accept the call to radical holiness? Live out the faith in fullness this coming Lent and Eastertide? Will you help build Saint Anselm’s a church by your prayers and passionate commitment? We must- I think- demand the highest standard here as we build up this church. In other words learn to love authentically. Not by our own efforts- we cannot run on empty -we need to be full of the Spirit. And that is only going to happen if we do fix our eyes on Jesus and truly give our hearts and lives to him.