Call Me to Holiness or Don’t Call Me at All

By Jennifer Hartline Published on February 17, 2018

There’s something in the Church air these days. A refrain I keep hearing, like creepy background music. A subliminal suggestion, something only hinted at, never explicitly spoken.

It’s in between the lines when some princes of the Church lecture us against rigid adherence to the law, speaking of a more loving “accompaniment”:

Donโ€™t worry about being holy. Just be good. Be kind and accepting. Holiness is an ideal so few can ever reach. It’s very difficult, and the circumstances of your life really won’t allow it. That’s okay. Just be good and kind and don’t judge. That’s really all God asks, and it’s enough.

An Impossible “Ideal”?

The word “ideal” is invoked frequently, but in a way that seems designed to discourage rather than encourage our striving for it. 

Fidelity in marriage is an “ideal.” Unbroken vows are an “ideal.” An intact family is an “ideal.” Sexual purity is an “ideal.” And the complicated circumstances of modern life make such ideals a cruel standard, so to cling to those ideals is to love only a rigid law and not people.

Such impossible standards, the refrain continues, can only be met by the most fortunate, favored few. In the real world things are more complex and gray, and we simply can’t say unequivocally that something is definitively right or wrong anymore. There are many things that are equally good and sufficient, and we needn’t all chase after some elusive “ideal.”

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When did the ideal become a boulder on our backs? Why is the ideal suddenly a fairy tale? When did the very word take on such a disparaging tone?

More to the point, when did God’s law become an “ideal”? Something mostly unattainable for most of us?

What I’m hearing these days is all about “nuance” and “accompaniment” and “we can’t really be sure…”

My goodness, if the Church can’t really be sure of what Jesus meant by what He said, or of what our own teachings really mean today (as though they meant something different centuries ago), then we are in a terrible pickle, aren’t we?

I’ve never thought Jesus was vague or murky in what He told us. There is nothing ambiguous in Jesus’ words about the nature of marriage or the evil of divorce. The creation account of man and woman is abundantly clear.

Yet now suddenly we’ve got priests and scholars gushing over the idea of same-sex “marriage”, and the moral uprightness of homosexual acts, and waxing eloquently about the need to “discern” whether or not ongoing adultery really constitutes mortal sin.

What Are We Doing if Not Striving for Sainthood?  

Don’t feed me a worthless religion of sophisticated platitudes and shifting ideology. There is no Christianity without the Cross.

Either call me to holiness or don’t waste my time. If you’re not going to tell me how to be a saint, then you’re not doing your job. If you’re not out there every single day calling me to repent and believe in the Gospel, to make straight the path of the Lord, to turn away from sin, to take up my cross and follow Christ, then you’re no longer worth your salt.

Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, it will require heroic sacrifices. It’s going to involve suffering. You’re supposed to be preaching the power of God’s grace. Grace that transforms me, and strengthens me to resist temptation, say no to sin, and yes to God’s will.

Don’t feed me a worthless religion of sophisticated platitudes and shifting ideology. There is no Christianity without the Cross. 

What Happened to Fear for Souls?

Stop using the modern vs. historical “context” as an excuse to call evil good. Woe to all you shepherds who do this! “Certainly in Old Testament times, they didnโ€™t understand the phenomena of homosexuality, and bisexuality I would say, as we do today,” says Fr. James Martin. Tell me, did God also not understand the phenomenon of homosexuality and bisexuality until now?

Stop minimizing the law of God and deriding those who won’t fudge it as “rigid” and “lacking compassion.” “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul … the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever” (Psalm 19).

Stop subtly saying it may be impossible for some people to achieve God’s “ideal.” Stop preaching the inviolate rule of conscience without also preaching the proper formation of conscience by the Holy Spirit in accord with revealed Truth. 

Stop smudging the line between right and wrong and saying you’re doing it out of love. All your nuance and accompaniment will not help souls who cannot see where to step to avoid the wrong because you said such a definitive line was legalistic.

If there’s any fear of hell, fear for souls at all, then Love demands more of what we heard while being marked with ashes: “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” 

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