This week’s Gospel is about ‘sanctification’, a concept that the great John Wesley, founder of Methodism and an Anglican priest all his life, took to be the key to Christian discipleship. But what does it mean? In contemporary English ‘sanctified’ sounds uncomfortably like ‘sanctimonious’, hardly a flattering description, and surely one that Christians want to avoid.
|The disciples cast lots to replace Judas|
Yet it is a widespread church practice to commemorate the ‘Holy Women, Holy Men’ who have been shining examples of Christian faith across the centuries. Sanctification just means ‘being made holy’. While sanctified people are holy, sanctimonious people are ‘holier than thou’. The difference is immense.
In the Gospel Jesus declares that those called to be saints ‘do not belong to the world’. But equally, he does not ask God to ‘take them out of this world’. This dual relationship to everyday life is crucial. Saints live in the world, often very actively and energetically. But they do so for God and in Christ. This commitment brings with it the danger of being despised, or even hated, by ‘realists’ because true saints cannot just go along with the ways of the world. Their holiness, though, does not rest on rejecting the world, but being committed to living in it ‘sanctified in the truth’. To be sanctified in the truth means being a Christian witness, someone whose words and actions present a perpetual challenge to a false faith widely held -- that economic prosperity, political success and social prestige are the indispensable elements of a life worth living.
In the reading from Acts, Matthias is called to be a disciple, not directly by Jesus, but by the other disciples. This simple episode shows that sainthood is not confined to ancient times. Each of us can be called to sanctification now.