Father Andrzej, a monk from Poland and a very dear friend, looks up from the table. One of the other guests says "I think Atyets Anjay wishes to say something." He smiles and says "Be human!"

As a Catholic priest he is, of course, very interested in being holy. He has studied the scriptures and the lives of the saints for decades and chosen a life of devotion to Jesus Christ. He has chosen to forgo the pleasures and demands of family life, the rewards of a career and the opportunities life presents to gifted people. He is a poet, publishing an anthology each year, but lives simply; pouring his life into the people he serves.

He goes on to comment about how the idea of holiness is often seen as being preferable to being human, whereas humanity is actually created "in the image of God."

Humanity as an excuse

We often use the term "I'm only human" as an excuse for our poor memory, or a failure to deliver: humanity as an excuse. The traditional idea of holiness seems almost to invite this negative view of humanity. The Greek Gnostics saw the human body and the material world as something deeply inferior to the spiritual world. The Epicurean thought that what I do whilst inhabiting this body is irrelevant, as the spirit is the real deal, whereas the Stoic saw life as something to be suffered as it is the spiritual that really matters.

This poor view is not, however, borne out by Jesus. He stepped away from the grandeur and perfection of heaven and stepped into our shoes. He literally became flesh and blood: the God who made us became one of us. The Creator became the created.

The Christmas carol says "Lo, he abhors not the virgin's womb". The mystery theologians refer to as the Incarnation is not just a mystery, but the most staggering divine intervention ever. God is no longer sending messengers: the prophets and lawgivers, he has come in person. God incognito, walking dusty streets, touching broken people; rich and poor, the privileged and the beggars. He doesn't just see humanity, he feels it. He now has skin and bones, a sensory nervous system to feel the burning sun on his face. He feels the hot hair of a child as he places his hand on its head. He can smell his own sweat, taste food; he can feel pain: human pain.

Jesus took humanity to its very zenith. He showed just what a human can be with God's love and power animating and motivating his life. He didn't come just to rub it in and make us look inferior, he came as the first human being fully alive.

It is true that Jesus was and always will be unique. He never had to unlearn a mindset shaped and programmed by sin. He never bought in to the lies of inferiority, shame and fear, so he was particularly holy. He paid a brutal price to free humanity from the legacy of sin. He made a gift of the very Spirit who empowered him, distributing this Spirit freely to all of his followers as an invitation to live as he had.

To be fully human is to live as the very image of God. It is not to be shuffling along covered in shame, full of excuses, cursing our frailty, but to have our dignity restored and to take our place alongside Jesus: to be "seated with Christ in heavenly places..." This is holiness. This is the kind of holiness that the world, indeed all of creation, is crying out for. People who live like this are not orphans looking for identity, trying to justify their existence, or make a name for themselves; these are true sons and daughters. They know that their citizenship is in heaven. Saints have discovered the true value of a single human soul, created to be like God; created as a human to be a child of God.