“Be Holy, because God is Holy”
Homily for the 1st Sunday after Pentecost
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
All Saints Day
(Mt. 10:32-37; 19:27-30)
“Be Holy, because God is Holy”
To live is to choose. One cannot be at the same time good and bad. There cannot be at same time in the same place light and darkness. One cannot be at the same time pro-life and pro-death. One cannot at the same time preserve one’s life and kill it. We have to choose: There cannot be peace between good and evil, between light and darkness, between preserving life and killing it. That is the meaning of Jesus’ saying: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but sword. For I have come to set a man against his father (that means: if his father chooses evil), and a daughter against her mother (that means: if her mother chooses evil), and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (also: if her mother-in-law chooses evil); in that case “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” The conclusion of all this, says Jesus, is that “anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me; anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me; anyone who does not take his cross and follows me is not worthy of me.” We have to decide whom we would like to follow. If we follow the members of our family or our friends who have chosen the ways of the sinful world, then we have to forget about Christ. St. Augustine said: “There are only two loves: the love of God until the denial of the self, and the love of the self until the denial of God.” We have to choose. And the result of our choice, according to Jesus, is that “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” That means: He who finds his sinful life will lose his true life, and he who loses his sinful life will find his true life. In other words: if we lose our selfish self and choose God, we find in God a self enriched by all the richness God. Our human soul is created at the image and likeness of God. That is why our heart cannot be satisfied with the things of this world and cannot reach its happiness in the sins of the world.
We read in the First Letter of St. Peter: “Gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, 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: 13-16).
In the Liturgy, when the priest elevates the consecrated gifts saying: “Holy gifts for the holy”, we answer: “One is holy; one is Lord, Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father. Amen”. We are called to holiness, because we are children of God Who is holy, but we recognize at the same time that we are sinners. In the Creed we proclaim our belief in “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. The Church is holy because she is the Body of Christ who is holy. But we, as members of the Church, we remain sinners who need to repent. St. Ephrem defined the members of the Church as “the assembly of sinners who walk through repentance to holiness”.
The late bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: “I once gave a retreat in a maximum security prison, where there were 1,979 inmates. All of them thought, of course, that I had on a white hat and they had on black hats—that I was good and they were bad. How could I begin? Well, I began by saying: Gentleman, I want you to know that there is one great difference between you and me. You got caught. I didn’t. In other words, we are all sinners”. And commenting on the following verse of one of the psalms: “I thirst for the living God, when will I appear before Him?”, he writes: “We have a thirst for holiness. We want to be saints. We want to be happy, to be at peace on the inside, to be one with the Father. What is sanctity? Sanctity is Christ living in me so that His mind possesses my mind and I am governed by His truth. That’s sanctity. He is in my body, so that my body becomes a tabernacle. Sanctity is not only Christ in me; it’s making Christ known to others. It’s being loveable. It’s making Christ loveable. When others see us, they see Christ”.
Holiness is a long journey in which we have to struggle so that we “do not act in compliance with the desires of our former ignorance.” Every day we are called to repent from our sinful conduct and to deepen our union with Christ so that He Who is holy may live in us. “I am the vine,” said Jesus, “You are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Last Sunday we celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. This first Sunday after Pentecost is, in our Byzantine Tradition, the feast of all the Saints, “All Saints Day.” For the holiness is the fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul. Holiness is a long journey and a difficult task. Alone we cannot achieve it. That is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to be with us, to dwell in us, and to be the source of our actions, as He said to His disciples: “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Consoler, to be with you for ever… you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).
The Holy Fathers compare the action of the Holy Spirit to a piece of iron put in the fire. The iron remains iron, but takes from the fire not only the color, it becomes red, but also the heat and the effect: it participates in the fire’s nature: it becomes burning like the fire. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we become spiritualized, and we bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which, according to St. Paul, are: love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23). The first fruit, love, is the fundament of all the others. If we have love, all the other fruits will follow. When Jesus spoke of love, he said: “You have heard that it was 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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust… You, therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect:” (Mt. 5:43-48). So the perfection is the perfection of love. If we love the others as God loves them, we can be sure to be on the way to perfection, to holiness.
God is not only the God of the past, Who created us. God is also the God of the future; He is our future, and the future of the whole humankind. He is also the God of the present. And if we want to give a definition to the Holy Spirit, we can say that He is the “present tense” of God. We have a God for all seasons and for all tenses.
Happy are those who are conscious of such a God, and who live with such a God. Amen.