“And Holy is your name,
through all generations.
Everlasting is your mercy.
For the people you have chosen.
And holy is your name.”
Holy is your name, O God, and we cry out to you for your mercy.
You answer us, sending us your love as a healing balm.
You forgive us for our sins.
You call us to be your holy people.
A people whose hearts are refined by the fire of your Spirit.
A people in love with truth, with goodness, with beauty.
A people doing justice, loving mercy. walking humbly,
even when the call to holiness puts us at odds with the world,
even when the call to holiness puts us at odds with the ones we love.
for I, the LORD, your God,
What does it mean for us to be holy? What does holiness mean for a fallen, finite, and sinful human who longs for God’s forgiveness and mercy? The call to holiness resonates throughout Scripture, inviting us to pursue discipleship with pure hearts that belong to God.
This call to purity is demanding. It challenges the people of God to set ourselves apart from sin, from lies, from injustice.
God’s call for us to participate in God’s own holiness compels us to reject evil, to speak truth to power, to condemn the wicked.
This is the call of discipleship, in which we eschew cheap grace in favor of a costly grace that picks up the cross: a costly grace that pursues truth, a costly grace that loves our enemies and prays for those who persecute us.
The call to holiness compels us to reject evil, but it never gives us permission to dehumanize our enemies. The call to participate in God’s holiness has often been misunderstood as a call “to hate our enemies, to annihilate those who persecute us.” Whether this involves destroying someone’s reputation, stripping them of power, or harboring deep loathing towards them, holiness has been wrongly construed to give permission to hate, to mock, to demean.
But let’s be clear: holiness has nothing to do with hatred.
“You have heard that it was said,
an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth,
but I say to you,
offer no resistance to the one who is evil.”
This admonition requires abiding holiness that keeps us from discarding those whose interests and beliefs do not align with our own -- whether political opponents, work rivals, or frustrating family members, we misunderstand the call of holiness the second we refuse to love.
Enduring tensions and grave conflicts in our society tempt us to rely on “ideological purity codes” for making judgments about the value of others. These codes attempt to build walls between friend and enemy, between citizen and foreigner, between worthy and unworthy, between clean and unclean. But systems like this are bound to fail. As Pope Francis says, “All walls collapse -- all of them."
This is why Pope Francis rejects the “throwaway culture.” No one is beyond God’s love. No one is beyond God’s mercy. And thus no one is beyond the love of the Church. And anyone loved by the Church is worthy of dignity and respect, even as the call to holiness demands a prophetic stance in the face of exploitation, violence, and cruelty.
Enemies of the Gospel must be refuted and resisted, but not denied the love of Christ that is the fruit of true holiness. Does this mean that we must accommodate evil, capitulating to falsehoods for the sake of false peace? No! But holiness does more than change our interior lives. It does more than cultivate bonds with those who agree with us. Holiness radically transforms our relationships with those who reject and resist us, and even those who would seek to harm us, as we seek to illuminate truth and share God's pure, transformative love.
For human beings, fallen and finite, the call to holiness must be rooted in God’s own holiness. In proclaiming that God is infinite, we must acknowledge that we are finite. We must acknowledge our need for forgiveness, our need for salvation. The call to holiness is thus a call to confession. In confession, we admit our shortcomings. We admit our radical dependence on God's mercy. We ask for God's mercy as healing balm for our wounds.
The Lord pardons our iniquities in God’s mercy. Why would we not extend this mercy to others? God’s mercy redeems us, but does so by moving our hearts to kindness and compassion, rather than hatred and disdain.
Purity of heart, then, is not hatred for the enemy, but love which knows no boundaries, and offers love and mercy to the neighbor because love and mercy were first offered to us by God.
“And holy is your name.”
Dr. Nichole M. Flores is associate professor of religious studies and director of the health, ethics, and society minor at the University of Virginia. She speaks, writes and teaches about the significance of Catholic ethics in plural social, political, and ecclesial contexts. Her first book, The Aesthetics of Solidarity: Our Lady of Guadalupe and American Democracy is available from Georgetown University Press. In 2015, Dr. Flores was honored with the Catherine Mowry LaCugna Award for best academic essay in Catholic theology from the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Dr. Flores earned an A.B. in government from Smith College, an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in theological ethics from Boston College.
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