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(Part 22)


February 23, 2020

Today’s readings:
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

To listen to and act on God’s words, to be founded on the Rock that is Christ, is to be holy. This is the most basic call of God to His people. With Christ as the cornerstone, we are living stones that make up the body of Christ. As such, “you are the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16a). Now “the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” (1 Cor 3:17b).

So individually, we are temples of the Holy Spirit and God dwells in us. But this is also true corporately, that is, for the community or the Church. God calls His people, as a people, to holiness. “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lv 19:1-2). We today are the new Israel. God’s basic call to us as His Church remains the same.

Now the fundamental call to and virtue of a Christian is love. God is love, and the first and second greatest commandments are about love. We are to love God above all. But since we are the one body of Christ, we are also to love one another. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lv 19:18b).

But for the Christian called to holiness, that is not enough. There are those in the world who love neighbor but hate an enemy. As Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” (Mt 5:43). But as God is love, and “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Cor 3:16b), hate cannot be in the temple of the Holy Spirit or the body of Christ. And so Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

In other words, the call to holiness is the call to perfection, to be another Christ. To be holy is to be set apart, to be different from everyone else in the world. If we love only those who love us, we are just like the tax collectors, and if we greet only our brothers, the pagans do the same (Mt 5:46-47). So what sets us apart? It is the very holiness of God. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48).

To be holy is to be without sin. But we are sinful flesh. Here is the mystery: we are sinful but are called to holiness. It cannot be done apart from the grace of God. And so the God who calls us to holiness is the God who cleanses us, “who pardons all your sins, and heals all your ills, who redeems your life from the pit” (Ps 103:3-4a). This is unmerited mercy and grace. “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in mercy.” (Ps 103:8). Mercy is withholding the punishment we deserve; grace is granting the good that we do not deserve. God “has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our wrongs deserve.” (Ps 103:10). On top of that, in order to be able to love an enemy, God “crowns you with mercy and compassion” (Ps 103:4b).

What then can we say? God is holy, and we too are to be holy like God. And it is God Himself who makes all this possible. “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!” (Ps 103:1).

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