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St. Peter asks a key question in the second reading on this Second Sunday in Advent (Year B): “What sort of person ought you be?”
The answer he offers is frightening to modern Americans: You should be “conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,” and you should be “spotless, without blemish.” It sounds like he wants us to give up our personality and be some kind of caricature of a holy person.
But notice that the Church in her wisdom has placed this call in the middle of a week crowded with saints, an extraordinary cast of Catholic characters who show that we need not be afraid of sacrificing our personalities on the altar of holiness. Rather, holiness helps us become more fully who we truly are. Consider each saint:
• St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra (Dec. 6). Here is a great bishop and martyr who was known as a wonder-worker. He is one type of Christian: the choleric man with boundless energy and imagination, who sticks to his principles through thick and thin. He’s like Pope John Paul II.
• John the Baptist (Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 7), the radical preacher living on locusts, is another type of Christian: a colorful character who cares nothing for himself or his image, but exists only to communicate Christ to the world. Mother Teresa was this kind of person.
• Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8): Mary is a pattern for all Christians, and this feast highlights that, because it’s the celebration of her as conceived without original sin. In the Our Father we pray that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Mary did just that — and we want to also.
• St. Juan Diego (Dec. 9), the humble Indian peasant, is another type of Christian. He is a simple man, without erudition or special talents that we know of. But he had a heart filled with love, and that made all the difference. This is the kind of saint many of us have known personally — the daily communicant who is quiet but constant, the relative who is unassuming but always faithful.
• Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12): This feast shows the strange juxtaposition of Mary in her glory and in her ordinariness. She is clothed with the sun and crowned with stars — but with a humble, downcast Aztec face. Our Christian calling is the same: If we give God our humility and obedience he will return his glory.
• St. Lucy (Dec. 13), a child of privilege who renounced the good life for Christ, should look familiar to us in America. Despite a culture of comfort that opposed the faith, she wanted to live radically for Christ (in the religious life, in her case) and she wanted to convert her family. She lost what we fear losing: Her sight, her ability to connect with her world. But Jesus gave that back to her, as he will for us.
So when St. Peter describes the holy life, we need not be afraid that we will have to renounce who we are to live it.
“The human being does not trust God,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI. “Tempted by the serpent, he harbors the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside.”
But that is a false view, he says. “Only the person who trusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.”
We think it sounds like we are caught between a rock and a hard place: Either be a holy roller with folded hands and halo, or be destroyed. But the real choice is: Become a caricature of selfishness or free yourself through love.
Who sort of person ought we be? God wants us to take the personality he gave us and direct it back to him, pointing the way to heaven.