A reflection on the scripture readings for January 15, 2023, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last Sunday, on the Feast of Epiphany, we reflected on the star that led the magi. I once preached on the Epiphany that in addition to following the external sign of the star, the magi were also following a star within them — their conviction that their destiny lay in Christ. I also remember asking the questions, “What is your star?” “Where is your star leading you?” “Who lies at the end of your star?” As we enter the Ordinary Time in our liturgical calendar, I would like to follow the reflection on the Epiphany with a further reflection on these questions.
Allow me to address a topic that most people generally think is beyond their reach: holiness. Perhaps the Christmas star is leading us toward holiness. It is not uncommon for people think that holiness is beyond them is because it is attributed to the saints — the holy men and women the Church presents as a model for us. Our definition of a holy person is also skewed sometimes. We might think of a holy person as someone almost a little weird, awkward, someone who has no fun at all, someone churchy or preachy. Genuine holiness is not any of these things. The question is, “Is holiness really beyond our reach?”
The reason I have chosen holiness as the theme is because in today’s second reading, Paul introduces himself to the Corinthians, who in his estimation are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.” A similar sentiment is expressed in the first reading in which God sets the prophet Isaiah as “a light to the nations.” In the gospel reading, John introduces the world to the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
My reasoning is simple: Jesus is the source of all holiness. He is the one who takes away the unholiness of his people. This is the Jesus who St. Paul says that the Corinthians are sanctified or made holy in. This is the Jesus who is the servant of God in today’s first reading. This is the Jesus because of whom we are called to be holy.
Let me make three suggests so that we can respond to God’s call to holiness. I would like to call this the “three steps to holiness.”
The first step is to accept that each of us is holy in varying degrees. This may be a new thought for some of us but to deny our holiness is to deny the presence of God in us. I suggest then, that we recognize those areas of our lives where we are holy. For example, even the smallest and weakest desire for God that we can detect is a spark of holiness. Our participation in this Eucharist is a sign of holiness. Our frequenting the sacrament of reconciliation is a sign of holiness. Every moment we spend in prayer, or every prayer we say for another person in need is a sign of holiness. Every act of goodness that we perform selflessly is a sign of holiness. As parents, every Christian value you inculcate in your children is a sign of holiness. As children and as young people every effort to walk in the way of Christ is a sign of holiness. Our first step is to recognize and nurture these signs of holiness. They are the signs of God’s presence in us.
The second step is to recognize those areas of our lives that reduce our holiness or take us away from God. Sin is a reality of human existence. It is not the accidental sin that worries me as much. For example, I am sure that each of us gets up each morning with intentions of living an honest, loving and peaceful day. We do not plan to gossip, or enter into arguments, or lie, or indulge a lustful glance, or stuff ourselves, or forget to pray. But these things happen. But then there are also sins that are habitual: cheating, resentment and unforgiveness, pornography, trying to find happiness in material things, substance abuse, selfish anger, constant insecurity that leads us to treat others badly. The second step is to recognize these weaknesses and allow the presence of God to change and transform us.
The third step is the most practical suggestion that I am making. This week, take one area of holiness and nurture it. For example, you may decide that this week we will not begin and end each day without spending some time in prayer. Or we may decide that we will try and make it to the Sacrament of reconciliation this week. Or we may decide that this week we will try to think, talk, and act like Jesus would do no matter how difficult that might be. Along with that, this week also take one area of sin and bring it before Christ. For example, You may decide that you will not speak negatively of another person behind their back, or you will try to live a lust free life this week, or that you will take the first step toward reconciliation with someone, or that you will become an evangelizer at work, or that you will be respectful and obedient of your parents. In other words, increase the holiness and reduce the sinfulness. Gradually, if we take an area each week, by the end of our lives we will be ready to see God face to face. Finally, there must be unemployment in Purgatory. And holiness us the way.
There is no better place to nurture the quest for holiness than the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the closest we get to Jesus in this life. The Eucharist is the closest we get to the holy of holies. Let us find the source, the summit, and the end of our holiness in the Eucharist. Amen.
Image: Adobe Stock. By fran_kie.
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.