By Karen Mannino Monday Feb. 24th 2014
When I was in high school, I wanted a catholic nerd t-shirt.
I didn’t really like a lot of the slogans that were common. But there was this particular one, I wonder if they still sell it…. apparently it’s still on a mug at Catholictothemax. It said, Be Holy or Die Trying.
The only nerdy catholic t-shirt I ever actually owned had a picture of Benedict XVI and said “I ❤ My German Shepherd.” It was a good shirt too.
But the Be Holy shirt was the one I wanted because it proclaimed the greatest challenge of Christianity. And I felt that it was worth owning in the most obnoxious way I possible. I think Protestants probably freak out a bit when they read a slogan like that, but take my word for it, this is a difference of focus and expression, not a difference of doctrine. Christ transforms us from the inside out and that constant striving to cooperate to live and love like Him is all grace. Ultimately the slogan is very biblical. We heard it at Mass this Sunday in the first reading from Leviticus. “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”
After this rather hard core challenge, the reading goes on to describe holiness. The core of this particular description of holiness is not, as I imagined as a kid, a lofty purity of spirit, or dedication to works of mercy, or perseverance in prayer. The reading ends with the commandment that Jesus places second in all the law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The description of holiness involves very practical, everyday, mind-your-own- business sort of advice for living with people who mess up, including yourself.
The Gospel (MT 5:38-48) then expanded on it with the other most challenging command in Christianity. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The law is now fulfilled. Completed. Taken from every day good manners and practical advise for living well, and raised up to the level of heroic virtue; the extra mile that defies common sense. For this kind of holiness, one needs steady injections of God’s sanctifying grace. To live a holy life is to live in humility and love, knowing who you are as a child of God,
flawed and weak, but loved and intrinsically valuable. And knowing that every person around you, whether they agree with your or not, even if they fight tooth and nail against the beliefs you hold dearest, is also a child of God with intrinsic value. There is only one proper relationship to the people you meet every day, and that is love.
I think culturally we have a very sterile and misguided idea of what holiness is. When I was a child, I thought of rather saccharine images from children’s Saint books of perfectly behaved children and praying nuns. As a teenager, it was a kind of hard core attitude that involved defiant protests against injustice, and hard hitting arguments against heresy; the sort of thing you die for, hopefully after wittily destroying the opposition’s arguments and converting everyone watching. Typical of growing understanding. Holiness as impossible without prayer and the practice of virtue, certainly worth dying for, but mostly holiness, like every good thing, has its foundation in God, who is Love.
Karen Mannino should write a real bio once in a while. Fine. Karen was born and raised in the great Inland Northwest. She got her BA in Studio Art at Aquinas College in the flat Midwest. She works at a toy store, sells her hand made ceramic mugs on Etsy, and loves sea monsters (except jelly fish which are cheaters because they look harmless and pink and not like proper monsters at all, and then they kill you).