On this final Sunday before Lent, we continue to be taught and reminded of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus. The main message in the readings today is holiness: what it is and how it calls us to live our lives. The beginning of Leviticus Chapter 19 tells us “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” Holiness is in God, and only from God can it pass to us, the pinnacle of God’s creation. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and God’s holiness is imprinted on each one of us. Through our Baptism, we become instruments of God’s holiness for the world.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960’s, it was thought that only priests and religious were called to holiness. But during Vatican II, the Spirit of God spoke to the Church that not only the clergy were called to holiness but all members of the Body of Christ are to live holy lives. The central document of the Second Vatican Council was Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. The heart of this document (chapter 5) is that the call to holiness is not limited to any one state in life, but is indeed universal, embracing all the baptized faithful of Christ (read more about Lumen Gentium here). St. Francis de Sales saw the pursuit of holiness as something possible to each and every Christian, regardless of vocation, temperament or age. In his popular writing, Introduction to the Devout Life, he presents spirituality in simple, ordinary terms for all of us to understand.
In the Church, you and I can find all the means necessary to live a life of holiness. We have God’s Word, we have Reconciliation, and we have the Eucharist when bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. We have Mary our Mother and the saints who we look to as examples of holiness and who we ask to pray for us. The words in today’s readings come alive in the saints. These blessed men and women are the true “revolutionaries of holiness” as Benedict XVI said so beautifully during World Youth Day in 2005:
“It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; He has done this throughout history and He still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today… The saints, as we said, are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: Only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.”
In our first reading today [Leviticus 19:18], holiness is described as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is true that love in action toward our neighbor is holiness revealed. It is proof we are filled with the Holy Spirit and set apart for a special purpose. But Jesus, in the Gospel, takes it even further. He says, “You have heard it said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” [Matthew 5:43-44].
With metaphorical language, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek, to hand over not only the tunic but also the cloak, not to respond with violence to the threats and annoyances of others, and above all, “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow” [Matthew 5:42]. In today’s world, this is a way of life that involves a serious level of commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavor, but rather a continuous choice to deepen our relationship with God and to then allow this relationship to guide all of our actions.
God does not expect us to be perfect. He knows that we are human and will not always do everything correctly. All He wants us to do is to love others as if they were Jesus himself. If we reach out in love to others, we are doing exactly what Jesus did. That is what perfection looks like.
In today’s Responsorial Psalm [Psalm 103], we hear that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Aren’t these the personal qualities we want in our ourselves and expect from others in our own lives? As we prepare for the penitential season of Lent, let us pray the Act of Love for more generous hearts, allowing us to shower our love and mercy upon everyone, even our enemies.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. O my God, I love you above all things with my whole heart and soul, because you are all good and worthy of all my love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you. I forgive all who have injured me and I ask pardon of those whom I have injured. Amen.