Thoughts on Holiness

Seagulls over Lac Leman
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his
heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

These are ideas I’m still fleshing out but humour me for a bit.

I’ve found, as a Christian, a tendency to conflate the word chastity and the word holiness.

Consider a situation where a believing Christian (i.e – someone who accepts the main concepts of the Christian creed) is also sexually active and okay with it. There are many Christians who might view said Christian’s behaviour as sinful or wrong. And there could be many theological arguments as to why it is or isn’t wrong ranging from “the Bible says so!” to “pre-marital sex is contrary to the natural order.”

Therefore this Christian cannot be “holy” while they continue living in such a way. But say you are this Christian, and you are living a sexually active life but you still believe in social justice and caring for the marginalized in society; Mirroring Christ in compassion and the bravery to stand up against injustice. With “fornication” as the measuring stick for holiness removed, the places where you are really not practicing are highlighted. Sex is often the Christian strawman. If I’m not doing it before marriage, I’m okay! It is somehow the “prime achievement”.

Now I think chastity gets a bad rap. As it is often misconstrued, it is not the same thing as celibacy.
Chastity as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church is “successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” CCC2337
It goes on to say “Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.” CCC2344

It is essentially the calling of humankind to become less selfish, less attached to material things, less sexually irresponsible and more self-aware.
To be chaste is then a part of holiness but to narrow chastity to mean “no sex before marriage” is to simplify its meaning.

I don’t think holiness is something we can see. It’s something I’ve thought about many times in Mass while I am kneeling or bowing down to pray. I’m torn between being able to worship with my body, to pray through my posture and with the concern with what others may be thinking. Whether positive or negative.

I shouldn’t care what other people are thinking but whether I choose to stand and kneel as required or bow before receiving the Eucharist, there is an internal monologue worrying what people might assume about me based on how I participate. Which is very silly – And why it is silly to look at other people in Mass and make assumptions about their participation. We can’t see holiness.

Cross in Wilderness

I believe holiness is brought about by an internal disposition of being open to our own insecurity and fallibility. Which is why someone like a drug addict who steals in order to support his habit could still be holier than a pious church goer; If he acknowledges his actions are wrong and admits he can’t beat his addiction and knows he is unlikely to stop stealing and lays this before God consciously or not, I believe God’s love and mercy are extended to that man incalculably! i.e. He is made Holy.

Holiness is a gift. Grace is an undeserved favour. And when it comes to faith working in love (what we do as Christians), we are accountable to God and to no one else. He knows our situations, our circumstances and our hearts.

There is no need to prove our holiness to others, and their view of our commitment or zeal is irrelevant. Whether we choose to pray standing up, on our heads or quietly in the corner, it has no bearing on our holiness whatsoever.
I’m not saying we can do what we want but that morality is complex and we are all flawed. We cannot make assumptions about other people’s relationship with God.

The way I see it is we should take care of each other, and God will take care of our holiness.


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