First, an honest disclaimer: By speaking about holiness, this does not imply that I am the most qualified or experienced subject matter expert. In fact, I may be among the least qualified here. That being said, I’ll give it my best shot knowing that I’ve got a Holy God who offers us opportunities to grow in closer to His Holiness every day, and I’m hoping that maybe by learning and praying about it, we will eventually learn to embody it with His Help.
Some of you may know that I work for the largest kosher food company in America, through which I have had the privilege of working with members of the Hasidic Jewish community. In addition to merely “learning a business,” having my office right across from that of a Rabbi (now a friend of mine), has afforded me the opportunity to learn about a culture different from our own. Through this “cultural exchange,” I have learned the importance in the Orthodox community of “standing apart” from the rest of the world. This manifests itself in choice of clothing, prayer three times per day, and of course study of the Torah.
I should clearly articulate one thing: this “standing apart” for my Jewish brothers and sisters does not in any way come from a place of condescension, exclusion, or certainly prejudice against those who do not share their faith in the one God, Yahweh. Rather, I believe that it is rooted in the repeated ordinance of God throughout the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah) to “be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
Now, we know in faith that through Christ and the establishment of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the call to Holiness has been universalized to apply to all nations, to all races, to all cultures. However, there are a 2 important parts of this concept of holiness that the Church teaches us have not changed, but rather grown, since the time of Moses. I would like to share a few thoughts on these parts of holiness:
The first is one is what we already started talking about: “standing apart.” But what precisely does this mean for us in a modern, Catholic context? In my personal experience, “standing apart” often takes the form of “saying no” when there is something that, like the fruit in the Garden of Eden, is “pleasing to the eyes,” but that we just know is not good for us. I sometimes feel that I am surrounded by temptations every single day, and sometimes it seems that the more I try to pursue holiness, the more frequently temptations tend to pop up. As I have come to pray and trust Christ more, I have come to believe that the best way to have courage in “standing apart” from sin is to “stand with Christ.” I would invite each of you too look at the person next to you and say, boldly, “I will stand with Christ.”
Standing with Christ means generously dedicating time to prayer, and making it more of a priority than eating when I’m hungry, going to the gym, resting when I’m tired, and consuming digital entertainment and other forms of recreation. Standing with Christ means acting with integrity at the office and not flushing away the gifts that God has given me. And finally, standing with Christ means taking the love that He has given me, and allowing it to shine through my attitudes and actions toward those I love, and even those I do not know. It turns out that the way that we can “stand apart” is not by hating the world, but by standing with Christ in the world to help build His Kingdom.
The other part of holiness that I believe has not changed since the time of Moses comes from Chapter 2 of the document Lument Gentium of the Second Vatican Council: “God… does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people” (LG Chapter 2 Paragraph 9). The point that this passage is trying to convey is that we are not meant, nor are we capable, of pursuing holiness in the same way that we acquire a skill like math or reading. Holiness, it seems, can only be pursued in a community of faith.
The social, communal aspect of faith is not an abstract, philosophical concept, but a lived reality to which Christ is leading all of us. It is my heartfelt testimony that the Shalom community has, over the last few months, been that holy manifestation of Christ’s love to me, and is an exemplary embodiment of the Love that is Christ’s Body, His Church.
Holiness means standing with Christ, and it means uniting in a community. Let’s now stand together with Christ as we pray the prayer that He taught us, slowly, and with sincerity: Our Father…