Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday in the 1st Week of Lent
They Didn’t Know

Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18; Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15; Matthew 25:31-46

Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy…

Yes, of course, I do wish to be holy. That’s the whole point of our Lenten observance, isn’t it – to be closer to God, to be more like the Lord, to be more holy? And in case there’s any doubt in my mind, the readings for today focus my attention on a crucial aspect of holiness – practical love of neighbour, especially the ones most in need. For in so far as you did this to one of the least of these… you did it to me…

So I may try my best to be charitable. I may try to set aside some of my possessions and even some of my time for the poor and the needy. And I may then review my performance with justifiable pride and be quite relieved and thankful that I’m not like those goats in the gospel, those herded to the left of the judgment seat of the Lord. They never did the necessary. They never recognized the Lord in the least of his brethren. But I have done it, at least some of the time. Can I then count on finding myself among the sheep on the Lord’s right hand on judgment day? Can I then consider myself truly holy?

I wonder…

I wonder especially because of a rather disturbing characteristic of those sheep on judgment day. They seem to be as puzzled and surprised as the goats at how things turn out. Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you…? They seem quite unaware of all the good that they have done. How could this be? Are they simply being politely modest as I sometimes choose to be? How could they not know?

My discomfort increases as I continue to wonder…

Could it be that while the goats did not recognize the Lord in the hungry and the lonely, the naked and the imprisoned, the sheep somehow did not recognize themselves in the ones who fed and welcomed, who clothed and visited them? Could this be a measure of their holiness? Could it be that they had come to the point where all their efforts on behalf of the needy had become so in tune with the Lord’s saving work that they had come to forget themselves, to forget that they were really doing anything worthwhile? All their labour had become simply a part of the work of Christ, in them and in the world. And their holiness had truly become not so much their holiness as the holiness of God working in them.

If this is true, then I still have a distance to travel. I may not exactly be a goat, but neither am I truly a sheep. I’m too conscious of all the good that I do, too attentive to my own virtue. As I continue to journey through the discipline of Lent, perhaps I need to keep my eyes focused on God rather than on myself. Perhaps I need to ask God for the grace of self-forgetfulness. So that God’s holiness may finally shine out in my heart and in my life, transforming me into a true sheep of the Shepherd’s flock.

Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy…


  1. What is holiness? When I was very young, holiness was men in frocks and women with their heads covered in veil. As I grew older, these thoughts morphed into sacramentals like incense and oil. Now thankfully my perception is more attuned to reality but I still can't put my finger on this attribute called holiness. Today's reflection by Fr Chris kind of puts holiness in perspective for me.

    Fr Chris' reflection on the sheep in Jesus' parable knocked my socks off. Yeah, how come they did not know when they were doing good? Most of us, even the most modest among us, must surely, either at the time when good was done or in retrospect, come to realise that s/he had fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and prisoners, etc. To not be aware of that is also un-real.

    Fr Chris hit the nail on the head when he surmised that these sheep had so gotten used, so to speak, to doing good and to focusing on the ones in need, that they forget themselves. We see this every day in the nursing / medical/ counselling / teaching and other professions. Priests and religious count among their numbers. Many are known to go out of their way to help someone in need.

    The bottom line in today's reflection by Fr Chris is this: that we are holy, not because of ourselves, but when we forget ourselves and unite ourselves with the only Source of holiness. This comes about when we bind ourselves closer and closer to the Divine through prayer and good works.

  2. holiness.. elusive and difficult to define, yet the most worthy goal to strive towards.

    holiness.. a state of being broken and willing to respond to the convition of the holy spirit at a moments notice? a conscious and utter laying down of all worldly desires and fears?

    holiness.. a decision to flee from the 1st alluring whispers of temptation? a level of self-awarness and self-control that enables us to react to all situations as Christ would.

    Holiness.. perhaps simply a real and concerted effort to work out our salvation one step at a time.

    Thanks for the sheep analogy.. you just made it even harder! hahaha..