Circular Letter: March 2000
The Holiness of God and Adoration
Holiness is fitting to your house O Lord, until the end of time. (Ps 93:5)
I. The Holiness of GOD
“For thou alone art holy” (Rev 15:4)
We pray in the Gloria of the Mass: “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.” Here we are saying that holiness is a quality that is proper to God. What does it mean when we say that God is holy? What is this quality which belongs to God alone?
This is one of those things that we know what it means until someone asks us to define it. Suddenly it becomes very difficult to explain clearly. This would seem to be the case because our concept of things such as holiness are very much formed by the response that we experience to those persons or things that possess that quality. As one writer puts it: “Holiness reveals itself in an encounter with a mysterium tremendum (tremendous mystery), evoking feelings of creatureliness, awe and fascination.” This is seen in the reaction of the patriarch Jacob when he experienced his vision of the heaven’s ladder. He exclaimed: “How awesome is this place! This is none other that the house of God and the gate of heaven!” . He was filled with the profound sense of God’s holiness.
We recognize that holiness or sacredness indicates that quality by which someone or something is worthy of veneration or glory. Veneration can be understood as worship, or an expression of awe, respect or reverence. Glory is very high praise, honor, distinction and admiration. But this still leaves us with the question, what makes up that quality which evokes veneration, admiration or glory?
Looking at the root meaning of the words from which the word “holy” is derived gives some indication of the elements which make up the common concept of holiness. The Greek word which is translated in English as “holy” is agios (hagios), which literally means: without earth, or separated from earth. The Hebrew word which is used to designate God’s holiness (qd_) is related to the word for strength or stability. From this St. Thomas Aquinas taught that there are two basic elements contained in the concept of holiness: first, a special dignity and purity which separates and elevates a person or thing above mundane and common affairs; and second, a stability or firmness. This same sense is also found in the root of the Latin word: Sanctus which is sancio, whose first meaning is “to fix unalterably, to establish, decree, ordain, make irrevocable.” To these, a third element of the concept of holiness is found in our English word which comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “halig” which has as its base “hal” which means “whole or well.”
We will consider each of these elements of the quality of holiness individually to see how they apply to God. We will then consider how God allows creatures to participate in his holiness.
Section One: The Holiness of GOD
First Element — Dignity, Purity which separates
It seems that the most common notion we relate to holiness is God’s transcendent excellence, that is to say his supremacy of perfection and dominion, which entails a separation from and elevation above all that is common and worldly. According to this most fundamental element in the concept of holiness, holiness is the opposite of the profane which indicates what is common, vulgar, secular, not consecrated, not worthy of reverence, but even worthy of a certain contempt. Entrusted to Aaron the high priest was the task of instructing the people: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the clean and the unclean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Lev 10:10-11).
In the Old Testament the notion of the separation of God from worldly things was instilled in the people of Israel by means of enforcing an actual physical separation. For example, when Moses went up Mount Sinai to speak with the Lord, he warned the people, “Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whosoever touches the mountain shall be put to death; no hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned; whether beast or man, he shall not live” (Ex 19:12-13). This lesson was also clearly present in the design of the Temple, which made clear distinctions of various courts into which only certain specific persons could enter. But the separation of God from the profane is not actually a spatial, or physical separation, for as St. Paul tells us, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
We may distinguish two basic ways that God is exalted high above his creation even as he is so intimately united to it due to his creative power holding all things in existence. We may point out two basic ways that God is above all creation: 1) in his very being, God possesses an absolute purity and dignity which is necessarily infinitely above every creature, 2) with regard to his will, God possesses an absolute rectitude or goodness. We will now speak about these two elements, which taken together form that first part of our notion of holiness.
“Holy and terrible is his Name!” (Ps 110:9)
The absolute dignity and elevation of God above creation is expressed in many different ways throughout Sacred Scripture. For example, in Psalm 99 it is written:
The Lord is King, the peoples tremble. He is throned on the cherubim; the earth quakes,The Lord is great in Zion. He is supreme over all the peoples. Let them praise his name, so terrible and great. He is holy, full of power. Exalt the Lord our God; Bow down before Zion, his footstool. He the Lord is holy.
In the book of Job, Eliphaz the Temanite goes so far, in speaking of God’s holiness, to say: “Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not clean in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks iniquity like water” (Job 15:15-16). Bildad the Shuhite also said, “Behold, even the moon is not bright and the stars are not clean in his sight; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (Job 25:5-6).
“The Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness” (Is 5:16)
In addition to the supremacy of his very being, God is also holy in the absolute freedom from any taint of the defilement of sin, and a perfect purity of morals. Dionysius the Areopagite wrote: “In my way of speaking, holiness is freedom from all defilement. It is a purity that is total and is utterly untainted.” Not only is God without sin, he does not, nor can he directly will anyone to commit a sinful act. As Psalm 5 states, “For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with thee. The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers” (Ps 5:4-5).
Beyond the mere freedom from sin, God also possesses infinite perfection of moral goodness. This is necessarily the case since God is the source of every virtue. Our justice, mercy, charity, etc, for instance, are only the minutest spark in comparison to the infinite furnace of divine justice, mercy, charity, etc. Moses said in his song to Israel: “The Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut 32:4).
Second Element — Stability, Firmness
The next element of firmness and stability which makes up the quality of holiness comes from the Hebrew and Latin words. This is related to the first element, that of purity and separation from the things of this world. On the one hand, because God is separate from the world he is not subject to change as the things of this world. The things of this world are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18). “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree” (Is 34:4). “All flesh is grass… the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is 40:6-8).
This element of stability is also linked with God’s purity. For just as mud mixed into concrete weakens the strength of cement, so impurity detracts from a thing’s stability.
Further, it is consonant with his moral perfection that God does not change his ways. “God is not man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his ways. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num 23:19).
Third Element — Wholeness, Wellness
The third element of holiness refers to the perfection, or the completeness possessed by God who is holy. The Book of Sirach expresses this truth very beautifully:
Though we speak much we cannot reach the end,
And the sum of our words is: “He is all.”
Where shall we find strength to praise him?
For he is greater than all his work.
Terrible is the Lord and very great,
And marvelous is his power.
When you praise the Lord exalt him as much as you can;
For he even surpasses that.
When you exalt him, put forth all your strength,
And do not grow weary, for you cannot praise him enough. (Sirach 43: 27-30)
“He is all” indicates the completeness of God. He contains each and every perfection in himself to an infinite degree. In him nothing is lacking.
Section Two: Creation’s Participation in GOD’S Holiness
Holiness is not inherent in creation. It is a quality which God alone possesses by nature. But it is a quality that God can and does choose to share with certain creatures. By the dictate of God, times, places, objects and persons can be rendered holy. Angels and men participate in God’s holiness in view of their union with God. Other objects are “sanctified” in order to serve in the sanctification of men.
The Consecration of Times, Places and Objects
The holiness which any creature possesses is a participation in the very holiness of God himself. As a consequence, if someone treats a consecrated creature with disrespect it is tantamount to treating God with disrespect. For example, “God blessed and hallowed the seventh day” (Gen 2:3). This is an example of the sanctification of time by God’s decree. The profanation of that holy time by doing profane, worldly affairs is an offense against the very holiness of God.
This is also true with regard to sacred objects. Things that were used for the sacred worship were so holy that they were not even to be seen by anyone except the priest. The members of the Levite tribe were assigned to assist the priest descendants of Aaron, but they were warned: “Let not the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites; but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they [the Levites] shall not go in to look upon the holy things even for a moment, lest they die” (Num 4:18-20).
When King Belshazzar had a feast for the members of his court he had the sacred vessels from the temple of Jerusalem brought in to use as common drinking cups. It was then that a hand appeared and wrote mysterious letters on the wall. The king’s reaction was, “his color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together” (Dan 5:6). Such was the terror that came upon him as a consequence for having profaned the sacred vessels.
Further, the sacred rites prescribed for the worship of God are most holy. They are not subject to human determination, but the directives of God himself. This is made clear in the story of when Aaron and his four sons were ordained to serve the Lord as priests. Their ordination was a very elaborate ceremony that went on for eight days. During the ceremony they could not leave the entrance of the tent of meeting. There in the continual presence of God they were consecrated by Moses with various sacrifices and anointings. And then, just as the eighth day is completed, it is recorded: “Now Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire on it and laid incense on it and offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came forth from the presence of the Lord and devoured them and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord said, ‘I will show myself holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified’” (Lev 10:1-3).
What is going on here? What does it mean to “burn unholy fire before the Lord?” Why is it that these two young men were struck down? Prior to this incident, God had made clear prescriptions with regard to the type of incense that was to be used for sacred worship. “And the incense which you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it shall be cut off from his people” (Ex 30:37-38). The reason for this and other similar prescriptions was to establish a form of worship of the true God that was completely distinct from the idolatrous forms that were prevalent in Egypt and the other pagan nations. It may very well be that the incense that the sons of Aaron wrongly used was the type of incense that was commonly used in the pagan cults. That would explain why it was so very offensive to God.
The Consecration of Persons
Beyond the consecration of time, place, objects and rites, God has also chosen to consecrate people for himself. In the consecration of persons, however, God determined to establish degrees of holiness according to the person’s particular vocation. The whole people of Israel was called to be holy: “you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God” (Deut 26:19). Repeated after many of the prescriptions of the law is the phrase: “For I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy as I am holy” (Lev 11:44). But the tribe of Levites were given a special share in God’s holiness, in order to serve in God’s sanctuary which was more than what was common to the other Israelites. And the members of the line of Aaron, who were to serve as priests, had an even greater degree of holiness than that of the Levites. “I will consecrate Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests” (Ex 29:44). The truth of the varying degrees of holiness was very dramatically made clear in the story of the rebellion of Korah:.
Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi; and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab; and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 leaders of the congregation chosen from the assembly, well-known men, and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’ When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he said to Korah and all his company, ‘In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy and will cause to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense upon them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!’ And Moses said to Korah, ‘Hear now you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that he has brought you near him, and all your brethren the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and your company have gathered together” (Num 16:1-11).
What happens is that two hundred and fifty of the followers of Korah came with censers the next morning, and they laid incense on them in the presence of the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” That is to say, God was ready to destroy all the people of Israel because of this rebellion. But Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be angry with all the congregation?” And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the congregation, ‘Get away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” So Moses said to the people, “Depart from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” He then announced to the people, “Hereby you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works and that it has not been of my own accord.” When he finished speaking, the ground split asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the rebels and their families, and all the men who belonged to Korah, and all their belongings. They went down alive to Sheol, and the earth closed up over them. As for the two-hundred and fifty men with incensers, fire came forth from the Lord, and consumed them (Num 16:12-35).
In this dramatic way God revealed that holiness is a gift which he gives to whom he will, in the degree that he wills. This is something that must be respected, and not treated as though anyone has a right to have something more than God gives. This is what the letter to the Hebrews is speaking of in the New Testament of the new priesthood of Christ, “And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb 5:4).
When discussing a person’s participation in holiness it is necessary to distinguish between holiness of being, and moral holiness. This distinction can best be seen in the different sense of the words “sacred ” and “holy.” We usually use the word “sacred” to indicate the holiness of a person’s or thing’s being, whereas we use the word “holiness” to indicate a moral holiness. For example, King Saul, the first king of Israel was consecrated king. Even when he had sinned and fell far from God’s favor he was still the “anointed one” of the Lord. Therefore when he began to seek to unjustly kill David, David never dared raise his hand against Saul, because he recognized that though the king was not holy, he nonetheless was a consecrated person. In a similar way the “holiness” of other consecrated persons such as priests, refers to their “sacred” character, and not necessarily to moral holiness.
II. Adoration, Man’s Response to GOD’S Holiness
Having spoken of the holiness of God, and the participation of creatures in that holiness, we now come to the consideration of man’s proper response to God’s holiness: adoration. Just as the concept of holiness is many-faceted, so also the concept of adoration. Adoration, in the first place, is creation’s highest act of worship. It is giving to God what belongs to him alone, he who alone is holy. It is the supreme form of reverence, glory and honor. But adoration is also creation’s attempt to reach out, with the help of God’s invitation and grace, to become holy in the presence of God. So we must now consider these two aspects of adoration: as an act of reverencing God, and as a means of sanctification for creatures.
Section One Adoration: The Perfect Worship of GOD
“Bless the Lord all you works of the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever”(Dan 3:35)
In the first place, adoration responds to God’s holiness by acknowledging that God is indeed holy. This is manifest in Sacred Scripture’s description of the adoration rendered to God by the angels. Scripture tells us that the angels cry out without cease “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts!” (Is 6:2-3; Rev 4:8). The most perfect act of adoration is the loving and delight-filled declaration that God is holy. Adoration is a creature’s confession of the truth of God’s utter sovereignty and dignity. “Worthy are you O Lord to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 4:11).
All of creation exists to give God glory. “The heavens proclaim the greatness of the Lord and the firmament tells forth his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). The three youth who were thrown into the fiery furnace as recorded in the Book of Daniel sang a hymn that called upon all the elements of creation to praise and bless the Lord. “Sun and moon, stars of heaven, rain and dew, … praise and highly exult the Lord forever” (Dan 3:35-68).
But far more than any irrational element in creation, men and angels are called upon to render adoration to God. The seriousness of the obligation to manifest God’s holiness at all times is seen in the life of Moses. It is written that there was never a prophet like Moses before or after him, since he spoke to God face to face. Nevertheless, despite his special dignity, Moses was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. The reason why he was refused this privilege was told him by God: “Because you failed to manifest my holiness in the presence of the people of Israel … you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go there, into the land which I give to the people of Israel” (Deut 32:51-52).
Jesus Christ has given to angels and men the perfect act of adoration by allowing us to participate in his own sacrifice of praise offered to God our Father on the Cross. We have access to this especially through the sacred liturgy, as was explained in last month’s Formation Letter conferences. But it is important to realize that our obligation to “manifest God’s holiness” is not limited to our participation in the sacred liturgy. The union with Christ obtained in the liturgy is prolonged by our practice of adoration. Pope John Paul II wrote:
The Church and the world have great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go and meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith…. Let our adoration never cease.
We are called to worship God in spirit and in truth at all times, in all our activities: “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph 5:19-20). “Whether you eat or you drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
“Let all mortal flesh be silent” (Liturgy of St. James)
As we have said, adoration is primarily an acknowledgment of God’s holiness. We have already mentioned the contrast between the sacred and the profane. The story of the two sons of Aaron showed that God is not pleased with “unholy fire” being offered him. It is for this reason that our adoration must be free from any “profanity”. That is to say, we must beware of contradicting the very act of adoration by introducing profane elements into it. For example, Pope St. Pius X wrote a document on sacred music in which he said: “Sacred music must be holy, and therefore exclude everything that is secular, both in itself and in its rendition.” This is a principle that applies not only to sacred music, but to all the elements that go into the sacred liturgy, and our relations to God in adoration. The ancient liturgy of St. James contains what is called “The Cherubic Hymn” whose lyrics say:
Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself: – For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed, and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of angels go before him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
One of the most beautiful English hymns has its lyrics based on this ancient hymn: “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Ponder nothing earthly minded expresses that attitude which is proper to adoration. That is to say, do not willfully allow worldly, profane thoughts or attitudes to preoccupy the mind or heart.
It is clear, given the weakness of our fallen state, distractions are certain to come. All those topics which distract that are of serious concern are to become part of our prayers to God. Adoration, as we will speak of later, is a submission of all these things to God. All other subjects, which are not serious, are simply to be left aside as soon as they are recognized.
Adoration is primarily an interior act of the mind and will: “the mind perceiving that God’s perfection is infinite, the will bidding us to extol and worship this perfection.” But human nature demands that the interior act be expressed outwardly. In the Book of Revelation this is shown: “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the ancients, and about the living creatures; and they fell on their faces, and adored God, saying: ‘Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and power and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen’” (Rev 7:11-12). Further, the outward expression helps to re-enforce the interior acts. As St. Thomas wrote: “It is co-natural for us to pass from physical signs to the spiritual basis upon which they rest.”
It is for these reasons that adoration ought to influence our posture, and to the extent possible, our dress and other attitudes whenever we are engaged in Eucharistic adoration and prayer. For example, the custom of sloughing or lounging in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for the sake of being comfortable is contrary to the spirit of adoration. Most likely few of us can imitate the saints like St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who would always kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, without making the slightest movement, even on the numerous occasions when she would pray for nine hours or more without intermission. Nevertheless, we know that God allows the saints to have such super-human endurance in order to spur the rest of us on to do a little more to the extent we can.
Also with regard to dress, it can be that in certain circumstances we can not avoid wearing clothes that are very informal to Mass, or in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. But we must consider the care that we would take if we were to have a special meeting with some dignitary, how we would make sure that we had the proper clothes to wear. In a much greater way ought we to be properly dressed to meet the Creator God in adoration. This is a lesson of particular import for contemporary Americans.
There are many, many other applications of the principle of excluding the profane from our adoration. But we will leave these few examples as indications of others that you can come to by your own prayer and reflection.
The attitude of adoration should not only mark our direct relation to God, but also all the things that participate in or are associated with God’s holiness. As we have said, everything that is holy is so by virtue of participating in God’s holiness. Therefore, to profane anything that is holy or sacred is an offense against God’s own holiness. This applies to holy times: Sundays and solemnities; holy places: churches, sanctuaries, places of prayer; holy objects: objects used for the liturgy, and sacramentals; holy persons: the saints, angels; consecrated persons: religious, and ordained ministers. We live in a time when nothing is sacred, and everything can be used as a subject of a joke. Our own practice of adoration and our refusal to take part in any form of profanation of things sacred must provide a living witness to this “wicked and perverse generation.”
“Make holiness perfect in the fear of God”(2 Cor 7:1)
One particular attitude which should mark our relation to God is that of reverence, or holy fear. The Letter to the Hebrews admonishes Christians: “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….To fear the Lord is wisdom’s full measure” (Sir 1:14-16). When the priest prays the Preface to the Canon of the Mass, often there is a line which states: “Tremunt potestates…” (the powers of heaven tremble) before the presence of God. The old saying goes: “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” If fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the lack thereof is the beginning of foolishness.
Section Two Adoration: The Way to Holiness
We have discussed how adoration is the highest form of reverence, glory and honor due to God. But now we have to see how adoration is also a means for man to become holy as God is holy. We have mentioned that the concept of holiness contains three basic elements: 1) purity; 2) firmness and stability; 3) wholeness and wellness. Adoration provides the perfect way for men to grow in these qualities of holiness.
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness: without which no man shall see God”(Heb 12:14)
The ritual purity which was prescribed in the Old Testament with regard to the washing of the body, and what foods to eat and such things as contact with dead bodies, and other “unclean” things, and skin sores was all a pre-figuring of the true spiritual purity which Christ came to offer men. “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). St. Paul mentions the promise, and its fulfillment in Christ: “as God said, ‘I will live in them, and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ Therefore, come out from among them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters says the Lord Almighty. Since we have this promise, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2Cor 6:16-7:1).
Coming into the presence of God for the purpose of offering adoration is itself a purifying experience. The prophet Malachi foretold: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like a fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like silver and gold, till them present right offerings to the Lord” (Mal 3:1-3).
The Letter to the Hebrew indicates that this applies to the worship offered to God in the New Testament when it says: “thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). The prophet Isaiah raises the question and answers it: “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings? He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bride, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights….your eyes will see the king in his beauty, they will behold a land that stretches afar” (Is 33:14-17).
Adoration should consist in our standing in the presence of God, stripped of every false pretense, laying down every justification which comes from ourselves, putting aside every deceitful security which comes from the world. The soul should stand bare before God, in the acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty and our absolute dependency. In this way adoration disposes us and exposes us to the purifying love of God.
Just as when gold and silver are refined in a furnace, all the dross and impurity come to the surface so that it can be removed, so it is in adoration. When we are truly silent before the Lord, very often we will find that so many worthless, senseless, profane and banal thoughts and desires come upon us. These are thoughts which, outside of adoration, we would not have any hesitation to entertain, but within the proper context of adoration their inanity, and their frivolousness is unmasked. Our vocation to approach the all-holy God, and to offer him adoration should help us put all things in their proper perspective. In this way we can rid ourselves of the many impurities which cling so close, which we gather to ourselves throughout the day like the dust of the road clings to our feet. This is with regard not only to things that are sinful, but also to things which have no value before the Face of God.
In this way, adoration is a preparation for heaven, where we hope to hear the angels sing: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, for the marriage feast of the Lamb has come and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev 19:7-8). Adoration provides the way to enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem where “nothing unclean shall enter” (Rev 21:27).
“God is my rock, my fortress, in him I stand firm” (2 Sam 22:2-3)
As we have seen, the second element of holiness is the quality of firmness and stability. If an individual is not striving for holiness, he is building his house on sand. The world is shifting like sand, it will pass away like a dream. The holy man builds his house on God, the Rock. “This God his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge, and has made my way safe” (2 Sam 22:31-33).
Adoration is a way to establish God as the firm foundation for everything we do in life. Adoration consists in the submission of all things to God. To live in the spirit of continual adoration means to be continually submitting oneself, one’s thought, one’s desires, one’s hopes and plans and all one’s possessions and holds dear to God. We are to build all things on him, our Rock, and in him is our sure fortress against the stormy blast. As we said before, things that seem to be a distraction should become our prayer. That is to say, if they are worthy of consideration, then we should lift them to God, and submit them to his judgment and designs. When we live in this spirit of adoration, then we can say with confidence as St. Paul: “I am sure that … [nothing] in all creation shall separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:38-39). For all our occupations will be lifted up in an unending sacrifice of praise to God.
“I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44)
The final element of holiness is that of wholeness. For creatures that are called to share in God’s holiness, a certain possession of “wholeness” is to be expected. In the Old Testament, this was seen in the requisite “wholeness” of offerings made to God. They were to be without blemish, without defect (Lev 4:28). Also, the priest who was to serve the altar also had to be free from physical blemish (Lev 21:21). These regulations are seen as figures of the spiritual and moral perfection of God’s saints. For Christ has come in order to cleanse his Church so that she be “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).
Christ once said, “They that are whole need not a physician” (Mt 9:12). Christ is the divine physician who has come to make us whole by giving us of his wholeness: “Of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16) so “that we may be filled with all the fullness of God,” (Eph 3:19) and to attain “to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). We receive of his fullness to the extent that we give ourselves over to him. The word “consecration” comes from the two words “cum” and “sacrare” which signify becoming holy through union with that which is holy. Through baptism we are first consecrated to God in Christ. That consecration is renewed in the worthy and fervent reception of each sacrament. This is particularly true with regard to our reception of the most Blessed Sacrament in which the Divine Physician gives himself completely to us. The union with Christ that is gained through Holy Communion is further prolonged through the practice of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In response to the gift Christ gives of himself to us, we respond by giving ourselves as a gift to him in adoration, consecrating ourselves by seeking a continuous loving union to him. It is in this way that we come to share in his fullness.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1Thess 4:3)
We may conclude our considerations on God’s holiness and our response of adoration with some thoughts taken from John Henry Newman’s homily called “Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness.” In this homily Cardinal Newman raises the question:
Man is confessedly weak and corrupt; why then is he enjoined to be so religious, so unearthly? Why is he required (in the strong language of Scripture) to become a ‘new creature’? Since he is by nature what he is, would it not be an act of greater mercy of God to save him altogether without this holiness, which it is so difficult, yet (as it appears) so necessary for him to possess?
Cardinal Newman answers this question, “Even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there; so that it would be no mercy to permit him to enter.” What does he mean by this? He explains that we are mistaken if we imagine that heaven is a place similar to the earth, as though the common, mundane pleasures and activities we are familiar with are part of the joys of heaven. (As though heaven were a big golf course or racetrack, or ski-resort, or some other such thing.) We are further mistaken if we imagine that heaven is a place where we can find delight in simply doing our own will and in following our own inclinations wherever they may lead us. As John Henry Newman says, “Here [on earth] every man can do his own pleasure, but there [in heaven] he must do God’s pleasure.” Heaven is spent in God’s continual presence, and in the uninterrupted worship of God. So, Cardinal Newman said: “Heaven then is not like this world; I say what it is much more like -a church.” He points out that in church we do not hear or speak about worldly concerns, but we hear solely and entirely about God. And therefore church is like heaven because in both there is one single subject — religion. From this, it is clear that the irreligious man who can not stand to serve and praise and adore God in this world will by no means feel at peace in heaven.
Considering, therefore, that God is holy, and that he can not be otherwise than to be all holy; and the fact that heaven is nothing other than to rejoice in the presence of the all-holy God, it is clear that holiness is a necessary quality for the blessed in heaven. Adoration is for this reason a practice which should be an essential part of our formation in Christ in order to attain to the holiness, without which no one will see God (Heb 12:14).
We close with a prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. James which serves as the preface to the Lord’s Prayer:
Sanctify, O Lord, our souls, and bodies and spirits, and touch our understandings, and search our consciences, and cast out from us every evil imagination, every impure feeling, every base desire, every unbecoming thought, all envy and vanity and hypocrisy, all lying, all deceit, every worldly affection, all covetousness, all vainglory, all indifference, all vice, all passion, all anger, all malice, all blasphemy, every motion of the flesh and spirit that is not in accordance with your holy will: and count us worthy, O loving Lord, with boldness, without condemnation, in a pure heart, with a contrite spirit, with unashamed face, with sanctified lips, to dare to call upon you, the holy God, Father in heaven, and to say:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
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