In Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council declared that “…in the Church, everyone…is called to holiness…” LG39
Now, this is not a new teaching since the bishops go on to quote from St Paul, centuries earlier when he wrote to the Thessalonians, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”(1 Thess4:3) Indeed also, among many, St Francis de Sales in the 17th century, said that each person according to their state of life is called to pursue holiness.
We have been justified and made righteous in God’s eyes through our Baptism and then, with the help of grace and the sacraments, we live our lives on the way to sanctification. The saints, whom the Church honours, like St John Fisher, are those who have made it and are holy and thus in heaven.
The First Reading from Leviticus today reminds us that God made the same call to Israel. God expected them to be holy; to be separate from the other peoples on the face of the earth.
In the Gospel, Our Lord calls the Church, the new Israel, to a perfection of holiness, which is to be found in mercy.
Holiness does not belong to us because of our human nature. It is something outside of human nature. It is super-natural.
Holiness comes to us as a gift from God not as a reward for doing what is moral and right but rather as the work and effect of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, who is God, God’s own holiness enters our person.
Becoming holy though does make demands upon us. We must be separate from the world. We must be different from the world, as was expected of Israel. It is only in being separate from the world that we become similar to God, who is not contained in or equal to the world.
Holiness though is not a hatred of the world because everything God created is good. Rather, holiness is a wisdom, like was mentioned in last Sunday’s readings, a wisdom that recognizes that the world can not only distract us from holiness but lead us away from it.
The same passage as we hear from St Matthew today is found also in St Luke’s gospel with the exception that St Luke replaces “perfect” with “mercy”.
An ocean of mercy opened up for humanity at the death of Jesus. The mercy of God had been present before the Crucifixion but the death of Jesus opened the floodgates, symbolized by his own heart being pierced by a lance and blood and water flowing from His side.
Mercy is love without limits. The crucified Jesus is a perfect example of this in his forgiveness of his enemies and prayer for those who put Him to death.
How to be holy and merciful
It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment to be perfect or merciful as our heavenly Father is by imitating Christ from the outside. We have to participate in the merciful love of Christ from the inside. We must experience it in our own heart and then allow our own heart to be changed so that it becomes more like the heart of Christ. CCC2842
Like all workings of grace, we can’t just decide to do this and it happens. It is the work of grace with which we co-operate.
One of the surest ways to do this, that is to grow in holiness, is to go to Confession, at least every month, if not more often.
While the Church does not say it is strictly necessary, the confession of venial sins, everyday faults, is strongly recommended. Regular confession “helps to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, lets ourselves be healed by Christ and helps us make progress in holiness. It also spurs us on to be merciful as the Father is merciful to us in this sacrament. CCC1458
So if you want to be holy, go to Confession. Don’t say you don’t need it. Each one of us needs it.
Just last Wednesday, the Holy Father said at his general audience. “Be courageous and go to confession.”
We have been bought back from sin with the price of the blood that flowed from the heart and body of Christ on the Cross. Through Baptism we belong to Him now and we have been made temples of the Holy Spirit. And we can share in Christ’s holiness and perfection.
So let us adore Him in the sacred liturgy; let us glorify Him by lives lived in response to His mercy; let us pursue holiness eagerly and daily.