Sunday Sermon for February 20, 2011, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Lev 19:1-2, 17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

In the first reading today Moses is commanded by God to tell the Israelites to be holy because the Lord, their God, is holy. They are made in His image and likeness, they were chosen by Him to be His own people, they entered into a covenant with Him and, as a result, they were to be holy like God.

In the Gospel, however, Jesus takes things even further and tells us that we are to be children of our heavenly Father. This is important because while we are also made in the image of God, we have been chosen by Him and we have entered into a covenant with Him, we are not merely His people, but we are His children. This is true because the covenant we have entered into is the very Person of Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father. As members of the Son of God, we also become children of God.

This fact tells us that we are not to be holy simply because God is holy; but as children of God who participate in the very nature of God, which is holiness itself, we are to be holy because we share in the very life and holiness of God Himself. Ours is not just an imitation of or a likeness to the holiness of God that has been revealed to us, but a participation in His holiness as children. The former could be done externally only (although it was not supposed to be this way); the latter is to come from the heart and show itself in our actions.

St. Paul makes a similar point regarding our intrinsic holiness when, in the second reading, he says you are the temple of God and that temple is holy. We are the temple of the Living God because He dwells within us when we are in the State of Grace. This means that the temple of our body has been consecrated to God and it is to be used only for holy purposes.

Just think of the horror we would feel if the church building was being used for secular pursuits. Think of your reaction if there was graffiti painted all over the church. What would you think if you came to Mass on Sunday and found that there were psychedelic lights put into the sanctuary where we would all sit in a circle on the floor and “share.”

Now think about what God’s reaction is to us when we violate His temple, our body, through sin of various kinds. What does He think about the tattoos and body piercings? What about taking illicit drugs or getting drunk? We could go on and on with the points regarding what we do to the temple of the Lord and how we so often desecrate what has been consecrated to God.

St. Paul tells us that whoever destroys the temple of the Lord, God will destroy that person. This should make us think twice before violating the dignity and holiness of our bodies through whatever sins we tend to fall into. I am not belaboring this point only to speak of what we have done to God’s temple, but understanding this point is necessary if we are going to do what our Lord tells us and, for that matter, act according to our dignity as children of God.

The point is this: if we refuse to accept and respect the dignity of our own person, we will not be able to recognize or respect the dignity of any other person. The reason for this is that we are all created equal. If I am an object, so are you. On the other hand, if I am made to love and be loved, to be holy, to be a child of God, a temple of God and be treated as such, then so are you.

We see from this that holiness is not something reserved for a few in monasteries nor is it optional for us. Holiness is essential to who we are as children of God. We cannot realize our full potential unless we become like our Father Who is holy. Holiness is “Godlikeness.” The holier we are, the more Godlike we are.

Ours is a call to interior transformation, i.e., to become holy. We cannot be like the Pharisees who were condemned by our Lord because they went through the motions and performed the external requirements of the Law, but their hearts were far from God. This is an easy trap to fall into. Instead, we must not simply look holy; we must be holy. We are made in the image of God, we have been chosen by Him, we are members of His Son, we are children of God: we are called to be holy!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit