Sanctification, Holiness (CC. 2)
-V. Lawrence cmf
By sanctification or holiness is ordinarily meant that hallowing of us by which we are freed from wrong doing or sin to realise the will of God. However, it is not the first or common meaning in the Old Testament where it primarily means “to separate” or “set apart”, clearly demarcating the sphere of God from the human sphere. To sanctify anything means to declare it as belonging to God, to have been transferred to his sphere and presence, for example the first born (Exod 13:2).
A human being or a thing is declared holy only by some contact or association with the divine sphere. The heavens is holy because it is his dwelling (Deut 26:15). The place of the burning bush was holy because the Lord was present there (Exod 3:5). It applies to all that is connected with worship, to the Levites (Num 3:12), priests, and the tent of meeting (Exod 29:44), the altar and all that touches it (Exod 29:36 f), and the offering (Exod 29:27) because the Lord is present in the holy of holies. The nation of Israel is called holy because Yahweh is found right in the midst of them (Num 16:3). To sanctify Yahweh, or to make him holy therefore, means to acknowledge his presence, power, glory and sovereign claim in the life of his people and to realize human unworthiness. But in the Old Testament holiness by and large remained a reserved sphere to which access was limited.
In a few New Testament passages even though the Old Testament ritual sense reappears (Mt 23:17, 19; Jn 10:36; 17:19), the meaning of sanctification further gets deepened, and appears as interior spiritual experience and personal transformation. Its glimpses are already found in the prophets, who present Yahweh as a God of gracious love for his people with a passion for righteousness (Isa 1:11, 16, 17; Hos 11:1-11; 6:6), involving deeply and personally in their lives. To belong to this God means to imitate his qualities of love, justice and righteousness. Holiness is seen just as imitation of his own way of life (Lev 19:2).
In Jesus the heaven and the earth have come together and God has mixed himself with humanity without the curtain of partition. Therefore deep personal contact with God is given as gift to those who believe in Jesus, through which the interior person becomes the holy of holies where God is enthroned forever. From his heart flows forth life-giving waters of virtues and gospel values. And the end of this calling is that we are “foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). We are sanctified in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 1:2; 1 Pet 1:2; Rom 15:16); it is there we experience a totally new life as fruit of sanctification (2 Cor 5:17). It is a life of unconquerable kindness and good will (Mt 5:43-48), a life of “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6), having the same mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). The sanctified life, then, is the life so fully surrendered to fellowship with Christ day by day that inner spirit and outward expression are ruled by His Spirit.
Sanctification is gift and task alike. All is from God; we can only live what God gives. But there is a converse to this: only as we live it out can God give us more. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). To this gift we respond by consciously changing our imperfect attitudes and values. “Having therefore these promises …. let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). Significant here is Paul’s use of the word “walk” in the sense of “daily practice”. We are to “walk in newness of life,” “by the Spirit,” “in love,” and “in Christ Jesus the Lord” (Rom 6:4; Gal 5:16; Eph 5:2; Col 2:6). It is only as we walk by the Spirit that we become powerful in overcoming the lusts of life (Gal 5:16). If God gives only as we live, then he cannot give all at once. The real making holy is co-extensive with the whole of life. It is nothing less than the constant in-forming of the life of the inner spirit and outer deed with the Spirit of Christ until we all can say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
This holiness is realized as a community whose members become one household through faith and baptism (Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 6:11). The individuals and the community are called holy temple (1 Cor 3:17; Eph 2:21). They are saints (1 Cor 1:2) in the sense of partakers of a new fellowship which is characterized by love, peace, generosity and a spirit of service (Rom 12:9-21). Even their mutual greetings itself is holy and not a mere casual polite good wish (2 Cor 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20). In such an atmosphere of holiness one enters into a cosmic communion of reconciliation and love (2 Cor 5:19).
Sanctification or holiness means a state of life in constant touch with God’s presence. In the biblical understanding we have seen that anything that comes to the sphere of the presence of God is declared holy. In Jesus Christ the presence of God has come closer to humans and through his Spirit he keeps us in touch with him and God, the Father. Since Jesus assumed our human nature and transformed it as the abode of God (Jn 2:21), our humanity was sanctified and became capable of possessing God in and through him. He is the model and first born of the sanctified. We are engrafted into him as branches of the vine. The holiness flows from him as sap into the branches. Since we are engrafted as wild branches into him, we are slowly transformed into his nature and essence and begin to possess all that he is: his mind, heart, soul, spirit and even body. This takes place in a transforming union with him day by day. When we are united with Jesus we are in the holy sphere, set apart from the mundane, in the sense that we are in a state of constant awareness of this union. Our senses, memory, intellect and will are in a constant recollection of this life-giving presence of Jesus, even while engaged in hard missionary labour. It is this recollection which sanctifies our labours, making us consciously remove from them mere human and worldly ambitions and self-gratification, and mix with them the presence and love of God. This is how we transform the secular into sacred, by keeping God in between us and the mission situations. Such holiness is lived in humility, simplicity, obedience and fraternal charity and other Christian virtues, which are its proof.
Holiness must germinate in our thoughts because that is the origin of all our words and deeds. Our every thought should contain the presence of Jesus and then our words and deeds would be also holy. The Eucharistic presence in us is a sure means of sanctification as it keeps us in touch with the Lord. We must learn to keep him in our thoughts. If body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19) thought is the tabernacle. The lover keeps the beloved in the thoughts and is being saturated by the beloved’s presence in the mind, body, heart and soul. This demands purification of all that is negative, ego-centric and sinful in the self. One must consciously eradicate day by day all attachments and affections which could take him away from the sphere of Christ. All relationships of communion with humans and created objects should be realised in and through Christ because every bond is Christic for a believer. There is no secular activity for a Christian; everything comes within the holy sphere of Christ.
Personal sanctification is the foremost aim of our congregation. But a Claretian does not seek an abstract or perfectionist holiness within the closed walls; his sanctity is always set in the framework of his missionary vocation. He is set apart in the holy sphere of mission. He does not spend his life sanctifying himself rather he sanctifies his life by spending it utterly in the apostolic ministry in imitation of Christ and the apostles. Our founder St. Anthony Mary Claret remained always set apart for mission work which was his sanctification. He had an uncanny awareness of the divine presence in and around him almost always, evoked and sustained by hectic missionary activities, that he lived as a walking tabernacle. This phenomenon made him a very effective missionary accomplishing the impossible with considerable ease. This was how he achieved his personal holiness.
This spirituality is very relevant today when we find ourselves more and more lost in a battery of activities in our mission stations and suffer depletion and degradation in our psycho-spiritual self. We are often unaware of the mysticism hidden in our own activities and fail to draw fuel and strength from there. Our Founder says, “Holiness of a soul consists simply in an effort to do two things, namely, an effort to know God’s will, and an effort to do that will, once it is known” (Auto, 2011ed. P. 840). This means from the part of God holiness is already an offered gift to us, but we need to take the efforts to receive it, by being united with his one holy and universal will and by doing it faithfully. This is how self seeking is kept at bay and God is sought at every moment. The easiest way to be holy is to fix our inner gaze on Jesus always and do our daily ordinary activities in humble obedience to God’s will, motivated by the apostolic virtues practiced by Jesus and St. Claret.
- Take a few minutes off your activities and do breathing exercise. Take slow and deep breaths and control the wandering mind.
- keep yourself consciously in the sphere of the presence of God and experience deep communion with him
- While doing some ministry consciously become aware of “being set apart” for this mission which is the holy sphere for the moment and mix divine presence and love in all that you do
- What does sanctification mean for you in your own context?
- Can you describe a few moments when you felt that you were holy?
- What should you do to live in the presence of God always?