Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chosen for Holiness

Readings for July 15/ Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Amos 7:12-15
Psalm 85:9-14
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

As we listen to the readings today we hear this repeating theme of being chosen, of being specially selected by the Lord. The thing is, though, that we’re not chosen for the sake of being chosen. We are chosen for a purpose, the Lord chooses us with something in mind, something he desires us to accomplish. We hear about Amos who is chosen by the Lord and taken from the flocks to go prophecy to the people of Israel. The Twelve are chosen by the Lord and sent out to heal the sick and cast out demons. They had a purpose. And as Saint Paul reminds us today that we have be chosen by God, we must recognize that we too have a purpose.

In the letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that we have been chosen by the Lord from before the foundation of the world. That means that before the world or any of us existed as we know it, the Lord mysteriously knew us, loved us, desired us, and chose us. We have been part of His divine plan and as an important part as God’s own adopted sons and daughters. We are reminded of the great mystery of that – so incredible is it that we have been brought into the interior life of God that Saint Paul can’t help but call it to mind except in this great litany of praise of God’s blessings. We the creatures are invited to participate in the plan of our Creator. And as we hear in the Gospels, to whom much has been given, much is expected. Since we have received this incredible gift of adoption, something we could never even have dreamed to ask of God, how much more are we called to live lives that illustrate that adoption?

Because we were adopted, we are not called not simply to live in the world but to be holy and without blemish in the sight of God. Holy and without blemish. At the seminary we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in community and this reading from Ephesians came up every Monday at Evening Prayer and I always felt a bit uneasy praying it in community because we would fire through that phrase “called to be holy and blameless in his sight” (it was a different translation of the scriptures) as it was no big deal. But when I pray it myself I have to sit there for a moment and really let those words sink into my heart. We are called to be holy (pause) and without blemish in his sight. It hits me quite often when I pray it because that is an incredibly difficult challenge. It’s not even something we can do ourselves, it is Christ who does it in us, but we must strive and cooperate with His work.

He chose us to be holy. But not just holy in the sense of praying some daily prayers. We are called to be holy in the sense of being different, set apart. Anybody who drives up to this church knows clearly that it is a church, a house of God, set aside for a particular purpose. The vessels we use are not normal cups, the vestments not normal clothes, and the decoration of the inside nor normal decoration. It is special, consecrated, noticeably different than worldly things. That is the holiness that each of us is called to show to the world. The people in our homes, schools, work, and community ought to be able to look at us and see the we are Christian by the charity we extend to others, the joy that exudes from us and the peace that permeates everything we do. It shouldn’t take a cross or medal around our neck to show that we are follows of the Lord.

But Saint Paul doesn’t stop there. He takes it a step further and challenges us not only to be holy but also without blemish in the sight of the Lord. ‘Without blemish’ is a sacrificial term used from often in the Old Testament. When the Jewish people would come to sacrifice an offering to the Lord at the Temple, the high priest would first inspect the animal to be sure it had no broken bones, no deformities, or anything else that would make it a less-than-perfect offering because they knew that the Lord deserves only the best of what we can offer. Saint Paul says that we ought to be like that animal who, when inspected by our Heavenly Father, is found without blemish, with no defect, perfect. Being realistic, I admit that none of us can be perfect in this life, but we still have the obligation to strive for perfection as we wait for the day when we are truly perfected in Heaven. 

To come back around, this holiness and perfection is the purpose for which we were chosen. We were chosen to glorify God by becoming saints of heaven, which means we must be men and women of great holiness on Earth. Also, if we are the people God created us and chose us to be, we will bring many souls with us to the gates of Heaven because they will see in us the life of God. Mother Teresa and Blessed John Paul II couldn’t go anywhere without people flocking to them to see them, to pray with them and to simply be in their presence because they showed in a powerful way the life that God desires for us. We may not be people known universally like they were, but we can be people known locally for our own holiness. May we today receive well the Holy Eucharist, that our souls might be continually converted to the Lord and purified, that on the day when we are called to stand before the Father we may indeed by holy and without blemish in His sight.