This book began life as a series of conference addresses.
Speaking to large groups of clergy is a daunting enough task but when friends asked me what I was speaking on and I said ‘Holiness’ they burst out laughing! The subject was a conversation stopper. Had the conference been on Celtic spirituality, or mission or healing, or example, there recognition would have been immediate. But ‘holiness’? We hang around this word with a mixture of fascination and dread.
Here is a short extract ….
Holiness is not healthiness nor worship another word for ‘workout’. Jesus flatly contradicted modern assumptions about wholeness. ‘better to enter life maimed than to go to hell with two hands’ (Mark 9.43). Holiness belongs to God and gives back to God what is his own. It insists that all of life is for the greater ‘wholiness’ of his glory and kingdom. To pray for God’s name to be hallowed is not first of all to ask for our fulfilling in God, ‘but the sanctification of God through the world.
Christian holiness is the way of the cross and, thus, the way of glory. It involves the willingness to embrace, in Christ, all that is broken, incomplete and unholy in the world. It means fighting evil and refusing sin. Holy living may not, therefore, be marked with any outward sign of blessing. We should not be surprised to find that many of those we call saints, who most reflected to us the love of Christ, were themselves full of personal struggle, doubts and unhealed wounds (most recently we have learned of Mother Theresa’s personal darkness)
Holiness then is not an escape from despair, weakness and defeat. Rather they are essential ingredients. Christian holiness is expressed in our incompleteness, not our perfection. We are uneasy with this truth though. We can often demand a holiness (or wholeness) of others that is based unacceptance of our own incompleteness. But we cannot require a each other a ‘wholeness’ that is not yet given. So we need a holiness for the ‘grey areas’. How accurately we can ever recognise holiness in this world is an pen question, It may be the real saints and their communities are known only to God.
So why do we put ourselves through all this? Because the end there is no other journey to make. Holiness is the way of truth and life. So, in the end, says Leon Bloy, ‘there is only one sadness – that of not being a saint’.
So in the midst of this fragmented, broken and unfinished world, we keep vigil beside a hope we can never abandon – it is the hope of our transfiguring in the holiness of God.