O Adonai: Our Need of Holiness 2016

Today’s O antiphon is my favourite because it weaves together several themes I have always considered important and turns them into the purest prayer:

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Sinai, come to redeem us with outstretched arm!

We are back with Moses in the desert, ‘the humblest man alive’, with whom God speaks ‘face to face, as with a friend’ and the Holy One chooses to reveal himself to him at a moment of his own choosing, and in his own way. Did sheer curiosity lead Moses to the Burning Bush, or did he look more closely than we do, who would probably pass by the sight with some banal remark about how dry the scrub is this year? Would we dare to go into the dazzling darkness of the mountain and hear God speak, or would we be more likely to think a stormy day not the best time to climb its slopes and put off till tomorrow what God invites us to today? And if we did see the Burning Bush, and if we did receive the tablets of the Law on Sinai, would we realise their significance? Would we see that the whole earth has become holy ground and the divine law is inscribed on the tablets of human hearts — that everything has changed and redemption become possible? Finally, would we make that prayer, asking God to redeem us, to do what we cannot, confident that he will hear and answer?

I think we have here the secret of holiness: Moses looked at God, not himself; and he was so filled with what he saw that we are told the very skin of his face shone. Does our face glow with holiness? Do we make people happier, more determined to be charitable, kind, neighbourly; or do we leave them brooding over other people’s shortcomings and all that’s wrong in the world? Do we ‘waste time’ with God or do we try to avoid any encounter, filling our lives with irreproachably good activities we can use as a screen against him? Are we prepared to risk holiness? Our answers to these questions will tell us a lot about ourselves and our need of holiness. It is no good wanting the world to be other than it is unless we are prepared to be changed ourselves. Holiness is not an optional extra for a Christian or something we can safely leave to the ‘professionals’, it is the vocation of each and every one of us.

Recently I have been saddened by some of the remarks I’ve read on Social Media. One this morning was a sick jibe against religious sisters in the U.S.A. which, as one might expect, attracted more of the same from the writer’s followers. That is not holiness. It achieved nothing of value. I doubt it led to anyone’s conversion (it just made me think less of the writer). Even the laughter it provoked was of the kind St Benedict regards as unwholesome, destructive. To destroy is the devil’s work, and we can easily become part of it without realising what we are doing. We can contribute to the store of anger and ill-will in the world; and although it may seem insignificant in the general scheme of things, it matters — because everything, everyone, matters. We can build up or tear down: the choice is ours.

The responsorial psalm at Mass today acts as a kind of commentary on O Adonai, especially these verses:

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.

Clean hands, a pure heart and a desire for what is worthy. Isn’t that what we all need today and every day? Isn’t that what God desires of us, that he may give himself to us? To know our need of God is the beginning of holiness. We can be quite sure that he will respond generously. In fact, he already has — in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

ADVENT O ANTIPHONS
If you would like to read more about Advent and listen to the ‘O’ antiphons sung in Latin according to a traditional plainsong melody, with a brief explanation of the texts and references, see our main site, here. Flash needed to play the music files as I have not yet replaced the player with HTML5.

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