What Does God Ask Of Us: The Call To Holiness
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” - Matthew 7:7-8, New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)
So often it is easy to get so caught up in all the elements of “religion” and seeing the Church as an institution, that we forget the central mission of our Christian faith; the call to “put on Christ,” to be holy. In the Fourth Beatitude, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) In other words, if we unceasingly seek, knock, hunger and thirst for the right relationship with God, if this becomes the desire of our hearts - it will be satisfied.
St. Augustine after his journey which took over thirty years of his life; to finally find Christ and embrace the faith exclaimed, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.” (St. Augustine, The Confessions) The holiness to which we are called is not found by reason, or strength of will, nor even moral perfection. On the contrary, it begins when we let go of the illusions of self-sufficiency and confess that each moment of our lives is dependent on God’s grace. The seventeenth century French philosopher and Christian Apologist, Blaise Pascal expressed most eloquently our self-deception: “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.” (Blaise Pascal, Pensées)
The Christian faith is indeed on the one hand an “Ascent of the Will” as Blessed John Henry Newman described it, an ascent or acceptance of belief in the propositions/doctrines of Christianity, what we commonly call orthodoxy/knowing the truth. However, just as with St. Augustine, the journey does not end there, for it also involves living the truth of Christianity, that is, orthopraxis/doing the truth. The epistle of James reminds us that, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) The link and guide post between knowing the faith and living the faith is prayer. That is why in the traditions of Eastern Christianity, those who are truly regarded as “theologians” are not the ivory tower academics, but the solitaries, hermits, monks, ascetics, men and women who give their total lives to prayer.
The famous British convert to Catholicism G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” (G. K. Chesterton, Whats Wrong With The World) Judged by this world’s standards of self-esteem, self-affirmation and material gain; the call to Christian holiness seems in comparison to be a failure, for the focus of one’s life becomes less about myself and more about Christ and my neighbor. The Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazi regime in Germany, felt that there could be no true Christian confession of faith that did not embrace Christlike suffering. Bonhoeffer once wrote that, “When Christ calls a person, he bid them come and die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship) While speaking primarily about the culture of nineteenth century Denmark, and the Protestant State Church, which he felt had nothing to do with true Christian discipleship; the Father of Existential philosophy Søren Kierkegaard, levies criticisms that are apt descriptions of our culture today: “Let others complain that our age is wicked; my complaint is… it lacks passion. Men's thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace;…They think that even if the Lord keeps a careful set of books, they may still cheat Him a little.” (Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or) His criticism is that we Christians have become so “lukewarm” that our lack of passion does not spur us on to become great sinners, nor great saints!
What does God ask of us? The call to holiness is summed up for us in the Gospel of Matthew, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew, 6:33) Saints are sinners who realize that all things of earth and flesh are passing, flickering lights that dim and die. Christ is the light that never fades, in his light there is no darkness, and his light is the path to our true and eternal home; the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The righteousness of Christ, is the bond of love, the relationship of love we have with God, purchased through the blood of the Cross. Jesus taught us to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as if they were ourselves; this is the wisdom of holiness, this is what God asks of us.
- Rev. David A. Fisher