Browsing Homilies

Second Sunday of Lent

Gn 12:1-4a | Ps 33 | 2 Tm 1:8b-10 | Mt 17:1-9

How many of us truly believe that we are saved by God in order to live a holy life? This is what Saint Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, in our second reading. My guess is that many of us, as faithful as we may be to the practices of our faith, really believe that holiness is beyond us, that holiness is something reserved for the saints of old or for the those who publicly dedicate their lives to ordained and consecrated religious life. It just doesn’t seem possible for most of us mere mortals to be holy, at least not if we grew up believing holiness is about moral perfection or obvious piety, and certainly not if we believe that holiness is the result of personal willpower.

And yet, here we are today, hearing the call to holiness, an echo of what began centuries ago in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the book of Leviticus, the Old Testament book we associate with a myriad of laws and regulations, we read at least six times that God tells his people, “Be holy, for I am holy.” God isn’t directing these words to the priestly class or the scholars; God is directing them to his entire people.

So, what is holiness? In the Bible, holiness is the essence of God, who is entirely other than us but nonetheless chooses to be one with us. This is undoubtedly something of what the apostles experience in witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter, James, and John were in awe of what they witnessed, with Peter even offering to set up tents so that they could stay in the exceptional moment, basking in God’s glory, awash in the total otherness or holiness of God. But God had other plans and revealed to them that Jesus was the beloved of God. And God’s beloved led them down the mountain to a world that was in need of his transforming vision.

Much like Moses, who encountered the holiness or otherness of God on Mount Sinai and then invited the people into covenant with God, Jesus invites us to experience what it is to live in relationship with God, the Holy One. That holiness begins to seep into our lives as well, as we become more and more like the Holy One who calls us by name and who shapes us as a people.

To be holy is to be set apart and it’s God who sets us apart; not in a way that removes us from reality, as if it’s not worthy of our attention, but in a way that allows us to see the world and ourselves from a divine perspective. God sets us apart so that we will invest ourselves in the work of building the kingdom of God right in the midst of our daily demands.

Holiness rarely looks like the statues of saints, ringed in halos and looking serene. In fact, the holiness of even the saints was quite messy. They struggled with temptations, they worked to help the poor and the ill, they studied and doubted and studied some more, and some even gave their lives.

Holiness right here and now looks like a mom who commits herself to creating a home where discipline is matched with love and forgiveness. It looks like an older gentlemen who can no longer work productively but refuses to become bitter. Holiness is a community lifting up an individual or family up in prayer and practical support during a difficult time. It looks like the worker who steadily lifts others up so that they learn to shine in their own work.

Holiness looks like us, when in every instance, we grow in our desire to experience the loving mercy of God and share it with others.


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