By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
One of the marks of the true Church whose birthday we celebrate every Pentecost Sunday is holiness. The true Church is holy.
And yet, we all know that in the Church, the saint is the exception rather than the rule. Ask a child what he wants to be in the future. Seldom will you hear: “I want to be a saint.”
For sure, we all want to be good. But to be a saint? So far, the Church has officially recognized only two Filipinos as saints, and they both died violently: St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod. They are presented to us as models for emulation, but their sanctity seems to have required a brutal shattering of the self. So, like St. Augustine, we bargain as we pray: “Lord, make me holy, but not now!” Holiness has become a frightening possibility.
Perhaps the fear derives from our unwillingnessto give up those things that are obstacles to happiness. C.S. Lewis writes: “I thought that holiness is not possible because of something I could not do. I realized that it was because of something that I cannot stop doing. If only I could leave off, let go, unmake myself, I would holy.” It took him a lifetime to muster the courage to stop clinging to things, beliefs, and values that only tantalized him with a false security and transient happiness.
The fear of holiness also derives from a gnawing sense of uncertainty. We are naturally afraid of the unknown. Sanctity demands that we turn our back on what is safe, secure, and certain in exchange for what is simply promised.John Henry Newman writes: “If faith is the essence of Christian life, it follows that our duty lies in risking what we have for what we do not have, thereby completely trusting God’s word.” It is frightening to embrace the unfamiliar and uncertain with no confident assurance that we have made the right choice. This is perhaps why faith is described as a leap in the dark.
Finally, there is the fear of deception. No matter how satisfying or fulfilling human relationship is, deception is an ever present possibility. Even a person who loudly proclaims his love for someone knows that he is still holding something back —just in case. He is afraid of being deceived in the end. The movie Joan of Arc tells us that the last temptation a saint undergoes is to think that he has been deceived by God. Some commentators write that even Jesus faced this temptation, that is why He exclaimed : “My God, why have you abandoned me?”
But as the Blessed Mother and the apostles in the upper room had discovered, fear melts when we allow the Holy Spirit to take control of us. Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is already at work, enkindling the fire of holiness in our hearts, although we often try to quench that fire by our relentless pursuit of glory, pleasure, power, and wealth.
Pentecost, then is also a warning. The fire of holiness that the Spirit bestows on us continues to burn only within our lifetime. Remember the parable of the reluctant dinner guest who finally decided to attend the party but because he came late, he found the door closed in his face. Our tenure on earth is not infinite; nor are our choices unlimited. C.S. Lewis writes: “For a game to be won, it must also be possible to lose it.”
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