Sunday, February 20, 2011

Holiness, being a fool for Christ

We all have ideas about what holiness means. If we're really honest, most of our ideas about holiness are abstract, having little or nothing to do with reality. In a word, they are sentimental. Many people these days equate holiness with self-righteousness and often put the word in "scare quotes." I would be hard-pressed to think of something more at odds with holiness than self-righteousness. The truly holy person is one who does not think s/he is holy.

In our readings for today there are two exhortations to be holy. The first one comes from the Book of Leviticus, with God telling the Israelites through Moses, "Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy" (19:2). It is necessary to point out that even in this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures holiness is defined by love, culminating in a commandment that later fell from the lips of Jesus: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Today's Gospel concludes with the exhortation- So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Jesus makes holiness concrete and real, which means challenging, yet doable. For example, He lets us know that it is not enough to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but that, as His disciples, we are to "love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]." In all of this we see that holiness is nothing except loving perfectly, which means to love as Jesus loves.

In light of these readings, St. Paul tells us not to deceive ourselves, namely about what it means to be holy. If you consider yourself to be wise in this, or any, age, you must become a fool in order to be truly wise. Of what does this foolishness consist? It consists of things like loving your neighbor as yourself and, moreover, loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. A tall order, indeed. But, as our Psalm response reminds us again this week, The Lord is kind and merciful.

In words of a song by Michael Card, God's Own Fool - "And so we follow God's own fool and only the foolish can tell/Believe the unbelievable and come be a fool as well."


  1. There's a wonderful Rich Mullins song "Let Mercy Lead" which explores this theme of wisdom / foolishness. Totally recommended.

  2. I am familiar with that song. It is great. Mullins' whole raggamuffin theme was inpsired by St. Francis of Assisi, who was, indeed, a fool for Christ!