A Pastoral Confession: The Paradox of Holiness
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
13 So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’.
1 Peter 1:13 (Phillips NT)
887 That discouragement produced by your repeated lack of generosity, by your relapses, by your falls—perhaps only apparent—often makes you feel as if you had broken something of exceptional value: your sanctification. Don’t be worried: bring to your supernatural life the wise way simple children have of resolving such a conflict. They have broken—nearly always through frailty—an object that is dear to their father. They’re sorry, perhaps they shed tears, but they go to seek consolation from the owner of what has been damaged through their awkwardness; and their father forgets the value—great though it may be—of the broken object and, filled with tenderness, he not only pardons, but consoles and encourages the little one. Learn.
Like most pastors, I struggle with this thing called holiness.
On the one hand, Scripture clearly lays it out as a requirement for our lives, and as a measuring stick for me personally, and for my vocation, my life as pastor. If my goal is a pastor is to present you perfect and holy to God (see Col. 1:28)) then it is the standard to judge my work, my vocation, my life.
I’ve looked at how pastors treat holiness, looking for examples and encouragement, but I find too little. I see most pastors and priest taking one of two attitudes about it, and neither seems to help. I will go so far as saying both are contrary to scripture.
The first attitude is one of regimentation, of physical and mental obedience that doesn’t affect the heart. This quickly develops into legalism, that is less concerned about you than about your life being lived visibly according to the set standards. Everything becomes measured, notated and analyzed like a geometry test. It is not discipleship as much as a form of cloning. And it burns people out, for no one can live up to the standard, including those who see themselves as being responsible for measuring people against it.
The second attitude is just as dangerous, even though it seems the exact opposite. TO deny the need for holiness, to say it is a unachievable goal, and that Jesus broke us free from answering completely to the law. ( For Lutherans, this would be those who deny that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a third use of the law) As the legalists do this is not about the person, it is about the behavior. They might say since holiness is impossible, just rely on grace to forgive you. Not directly, but that is the result of their theory.
So I either push them too hard or don’t care what they do.
So where am I to shepherd them too? How are they to be holy even as the Father is holy if they aren’t taught what holiness is, and how it develops in a person?
Even harder is my own application of holiness if I am not holy, how in the world can I expect to lead them into holiness, into a deeper, more committed, more fulfilling relationship where the peace and comfort that comes from knowing God loves them is their primary desire?
I think it comes from understanding what holiness is, what it looks like.
St. Josemaria gives a picture of it, with his description of a child breaking a treasured item. This is going to God, the owner, the author, and perfector of our holiness, and asking for comfort, for consolation – this is holiness. At the very purest level, this seeing God’s help in restoring what is marred, what is broken, what is shattered, this is the kind of holiness we need to see.
The holiness of a child, seeking comfort, seeking peace, because we know what we have done, this destruction of what God treasured, is an act of faith, and an act of trust.
God will look past it; He promised He could because it was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Knowing this, we can run to Him; we can tell those running to Him the words of comfort, “Your sins are forgiven!”
This is the faith that runs to God, knowing He is with us. Knowing and depending on a love that will allow nothing to separate us from Him. Providing for the people of God this encouragement, this blessing, this life.
Not just dismissing their sin, as if it didn’t cost the blood of Christ, nor scourging them and beating them up for their not living like the Lord who shed His blood for them.
It is in His death, which we are united to in baptism, that we find the grace St Peter talks of, the grace that gives us our hope, the hope that sustains us, and actually sanctifies us, for when we walk in His presence, when we run to Him for forgiveness and comfort, there He is working, making us Holy.
May we all run to our Father, and cry out for His help!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2049-2055). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.