“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”
-- Matthew 23:27-28
As a Dominican friar I wear our white habit both as a sign of my consecration to God through religious life. Lately I have found myself increasingly aware of how much further I have yet to grow interiorly before my soul reflects the love of Christ as purely as my exterior habit reflects the ideal to which the Lord calls each of us.
Jesus bids us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”1 Here is a tall order if I have ever heard one! Still, Peter did not seem to hear this as hyperbole: “[A]s he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I [am] holy.’”2 Learning to grow in holiness is challenging but made easier with the help of models to imitate. The quintessential model we have of course is Jesus himself whose life, words, and work are recounted for us in the scriptures. God’s unfading generosity has also made manifest two millennia worth of saints whose lives have served as iconographic reflections of Jesus Christ by means of his grace working through them.
We have only to keep vigilant “like the eyes of a maid on the hand of her mistress”3 to see icons of sanctity present among us. What will they look like? I might begin by suggesting that to find an ‘expert’ in the field we would want to find someone who is serious about her task and invests time towards this project of sanctity in every facet of life; someone constantly renewed by the source of all holiness, Jesus Christ, through daily prayer and our Eucharistic Lord present in the Mass. While it is true that priests and religious are readily identified as the sort who would be about these tasks, we overlook a great many would-be saints if we identify directly the roman collar or the religious habit with holiness itself. I assure you, my habit doesn’t instantaneously cure me of my vices even if it does help motivate me to overcome them. On the other hand, where there is smoke, there also is fire—priests and religious are likely candidates for instruction in holiness since that venture has ever been theirs.
Ultimately, laity, religious, and priests alike will reveal the love of Christ working in their lives by similar smoke signals. “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.” For this reason, called to be salt and light for the world, we do not all leave Sunday Mass to don a religious habit. Rather as the new Roman Missal says in the dismissal, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” For all of us, holiness itself is to be the habit we don.