Grace to you!
You may have heard this expression: “Show me your friend and I will tell you who you are.”
One may argue as to the truth-value of the statement, yet it doesn’t completely obliterate the reality that: “Birds of the same feather flock together.”
God speaks in every generation and circumstance. Far back in the Book of Leviticus, God announced details of ritual and moral regulations for the chosen people, Israel. He forewarned against the impact of negative associations. “Be holy for, I the Lord, your God am Holy” (Lev 19:2).
Qodesh, which was the Hebrew word used for “holy” in the text, literarily means, “being set apart” (apartness). The concept was equally translated in Latin as “consecro, consecrare” meaning, “to make sacred or dedicate.” Similar sense is understood, namely, it’s being set apart from “something” and being set apart for “something” (dedicated to God). It entails, sort of, being different.
So when God told the people of the Old Testament to be holy as He is holy, wasn’t He asking them to be different as He is different? If so, why would God ask them to be different, be set apart? Does God want them to be estranged people, ostracized and out of whack personalities? Doesn’t God want us to live in good relationship with our neighbors in every society we, as believers, find ourselves? Was the being set apart a mere sociological structure of separation or something different?
These are good questions. Nonetheless, they aren’t the implication of God’s word and the universal call to holiness, a theme taken up in fresh light by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:48). The Lord says: “You must therefore be perfect [some translations add the descriptive “in your love”] as your heavenly father is perfect.” Other translations correlate this “perfect” with “holy” as well, since the meaning, in this context, is synonymous.
The Church, following the tradition of the Lord, takes up this same theme, inspiring all to respond to the universal call to holiness (see the Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, chapter 5).
Being holy (in the sense of the Old Testament) is a combination of being set apart and being dedicated to the Lord. Meaning, not copying the ways of the world—the hate, injustice, impurities and immoralities, vengefulness and lawlessness of the neighboring people and communities we live in, if they lead such lives.
Our associations with anyone shouldn’t be that of assimilation of their sinful behaviors, but disassociation from those behaviors. Relating with them shouldn’t make us complicit to their worldliness. We are set apart from the ways of the world so we can be engrafted, attached to the love, mercy, forgiveness, purity and grace of God to whom we belong, and whose temple, as Saint Paul writes, “we are” (I Cor 3:16).
Consider, for instance, how someone who doesn’t respect the divine law responds to hate or offense against him or her. They tend to pay back in kind, don’t they? Revenge.
On the other hand, a child of God, the living temple of God on earth doesn’t bear hate, unforgiveness or revenge. These have no place in God’s living temple because the temple is holy. The same applies to all sorts of moral impurities. If the temple is truly alive, it doesn’t harbor the vices opposed to its nature, or does it?
Good news is that holiness isn’t by our power, but by God’s grace. Holiness is, actually, a person, God in the Trinity of Love. We can’t achieve it by our power. It’s by God’s grace who tells us: “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” “Be holy as I am holy.”
God doesn’t simply tell us what to do. He equips us with all the graces (the inner germ) we need to do what He says and become what we should for glory. His Word, which is grace, makes us act right and become glorified.
The Lord says: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
Praying we grow and mature in love and knowledge of God, so our life will be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.