Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1Pet. 1:15-16
The vocation of holiness is not something we often hear discussed among Christians in our day. For some reason it seems to be a value that we have relegated to a past age, a quality that we no longer expect from ourselves in the same way our forebears did. And yet the call to a sanctified life is no less imperative today than it was in past generations. The Lord still commands that we be holy for the simple reason that He, in whose image we are made, is holy.
Among contemporary advocates of holiness Mother Teresa perhaps most readily comes to mind as this is a theme that repeatedly shows up in her writings. In Come Be My Light, a compilation of letters written to her spiritual directors and various convents, the “saint of Calcutta” defines holiness in the most simple terms as she encourages her sisters saying, “Let us try to come as close as the human heart can come to the Heart of Jesus.” This is the essence of holiness—to be as close as possible, in identity and in action, to the heart and person of Christ. In this we seek to reflect the sanctity that belongs to Him alone.
Biblically speaking, to be holy is to be consecrated, set aside for God. It is an act of self-offering in which we invite the holiness of God to express itself in our lives. Our motivation towards holiness comes from our love of God, but we can also be motivated by our love for others, as well as for the integrity of the Church. Mother Teresa writes of her own response to this vocation,
I am determined to show my love for the Church by becoming very holy. I ask you as well—please, for the love of God and the love of others take the trouble to be holy.
Mother Teresa lists three offerings on our part that contribute to the consecration of our lives to God: the offering of time, of will, and of our submission to others. She speaks of time set aside for prayer as a first priority, more important even than our ministry or our relationship with others. Of her own experience she writes, “I always make my holy hour with Jesus straight after Mass, so that I get the first two hours of each day with Jesus. Before people and the sisters start using me, I let Him use me first.”
Her motivation for holiness comes from her deep love for the integrity of the Church. She also finds motivation in her love for others and from her desire to give as much as she can to those she ministers to. As she plainly states, “people are hungry for God. What a terrible meeting it would be with our neighbour if we give them only ourselves.” Elsewhere she writes,
The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls.
The second offering that she encourages from her sisters is that of the will. In submission to God, Mother Teresa sees all circumstances in her life as coming from the freedom she has given to God’s will. She encourages this same disposition in her sisters when she writes, “I pray for you that you let Jesus use you without consulting you.” In her own experience of submission she revels saying, “Today I have made a new prayer—Jesus I accept whatever You give—and I give whatever You take.”
The third offering she encourages finally that of our submission to others. In this Mother Teresa sees an action that is synonymous with submitting to God. She exhorts her sisters saying, “I only ask you to love one another as Jesus loves each one of you—for in loving one another you only love Jesus.”
Such offerings, placed on the altar of consecration, express our desire that God would make of our lives a sacred place for His activity. Our own actions are then able to reflect something of the holiness of the Spirit to whom we are submitted. Because God is holy, we can realistically hope to see this holiness mirrored in ourselves.