Two Ways to Holiness

Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:1-2).

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I (am) holy.” (1 Pt. 1:14-16).


When I got up the other morning, holiness was the last subject I thought I might write about. But then in my morning readings, I stumbled across the idea of holiness in two different places. It got me thinking. What does it really mean to be holy? Although that question might not be fully answered with an entire library, I realized that two notions of holiness were right there in front of me.

The day’s mass readings began with God’s words to Moses at the beginning of the 19th chapter of Leviticus (above). The Gospel reading from Matthew 25:31-46 was responsive:

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…. Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.

Jesus could not have been more clear: His life dwells in all of us. When we treat one another with malice or neglect, we are mistreating him. He wasn’t just talking about the hungry or the thirsty or the ill or the naked. He was talking about all of us, even those people who dislike us or disrespect us or annoy us or think nothing of us at all. He was talking about our families, our bosses, our employees; he was talking about every stranger we meet. That is how He will judge us.

So when someone cuts you off in traffic or greets you with rudeness or tells untruths about you, try to see Christ in them. Instead of reacting, say a little prayer for them. Better yet, treat them with kindness and, like St. Paul says, heap burning coals upon their head.

The other notion of holiness I came across lies in the words of Andrew Bonar:

“A holy life is made up of a number of small things; little words, not eloquent speeches or sermons; little deeds, not miracles or battles, nor one great heroic act of mighty martyrdom, make up the true Christian life. The little, constant sunbeams, not the lightning; the waters of Siloam ‘that go softly’ in the meek mission of refreshment, not ‘waters of the river great and many,’ rushing down in noisy torrents, are the true symbols of a holy life. The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions, little foibles, little indulgences of the flesh; the avoidance of such little things as those goes far to make up, at least, the negative beauty of a holy life.”