March 6, 2017: Monday of the First Week of Lent
“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” (Lev 19: 2)
What could it possibly mean for God to say in the same breath, “Be holy” and “I am holy”? We sometimes hear God’s holiness defined as otherness. No wonder we then enthrone holy people on pillars, eyes cast heavenward, hands joined in prayer, untroubled by the world around them—and a safe distance from us. Mother Cabrini up to her elbows in troubled immigrants, or Mother Teresa collecting the dying from the streets, or Maximilian Kolbe taking a family man’s place in a starvation bunker would certainly laugh at that picture!
Yet holiness is dangerous. God, the Holy One of Israel, ordered Moses to keep his distance and take off his shoes on the holy ground before the burning bush. Only the high priest was admitted into God’s presence in the holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple. God claimed divine otherness and distance through Isaiah: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / so are my ways higher than your ways, / my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isa 55: 9).
What, then, could we have in common with the all-holy God? Vatican II spelled out the link in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium): All are called to holiness in “the perfection of charity,” that is, love undistorted by self-seeking. And “God is love” (1 John 4: 8).
Keeping this notion of holiness vague is a great way to escape its demands. God won’t let us get away with it. The first reading from a section of the book of Leviticus titled “the Holiness Code” (Lev 17–26) spells out concretely some of what holiness looks like: Don’t steal, cheat, oppress, or harm anyone. Give up hatred, revenge, and grudges. The picture is summed up in a commandment we know well: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12: 31). That’s an effective twist: Would you do any of these things to yourself?
Jesus adds yet another twist: whatever you do, or don’t do, to those in need, you do, or don’t do, to him. We could close the Lenten Lectionary right here. This is program enough to occupy us for many Lents, for a lifetime in fact. And so it must.
-By Genevieve Glen, Daily Lent Reflection 2017