Growth in the spiritual life: Quest for holiness
Happy Sunday and God bless you immensely!
What is your goal for the spiritual life? The goal of the spiritual life is holiness because “our sanctification is the will of God (1Thess. 4:3). On the other hand, the greatest tragedy that would befall a spiritual person is to live and die without holiness! Our preoccupation is to discuss the longing for holiness as one of the signs of growth in the spiritual life, its necessity and challenges for attaining it, obstacles to holiness and how to attain holiness.
God created us to be holy as St. Paul says, “God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and without sin in his presence (Eph. 1:4). The hallmark of holiness is the fact that it is an attribute of God. This being the case, we are called to be holy as God is Holy (cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 1Pt.1:16). In addition, there is a clarion call to Holiness by Vatican II. She says, “The Church, whose mystery is set forth by this sacred council, is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy… Therefore, all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness…” Mother Angelica says that holiness is an obligation, a call and the will of God. What is holiness? Can we attain holiness in a perverse world like ours?
Holiness according to Matthew Kelly is living with the goal of the Christian life in mind. That is the desire to do the will of God. It is allowing our decisions to be guided by the Holy Spirit, surrendering to the will of God, and at the same time, it is grasping each moment and making it all it can be. Holiness is as simple as knowing when to say yes and when to say no. Unfortunately, most times we mistaken holiness for piety. One may sanctimoniously pose in prayer, before the reception of Holy Communion or before adoration of the Blessed Sacrament but never holy! Judas was with Jesus Christ for three years but was never holy. In sum, holiness is our response to the will of God. It is synonymous to perfection and saintliness and Jesus says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Can we attain holiness in a perverse world?
The greatest disasters besetting our spiritual life today are the confusions and distractions of modernism, secularism, relativism, materialism and hedonism. We have lost touch of the essential purpose of the Christian and spiritual life. Some do not even know let alone remember the goal of the Christian and spiritual life, which is holiness – “Be holy for I your God am holy” (1Peter 1:16). The big question therefore is this: who can attain holiness in this adulterous and sinful world? Must one become a Priest, a Religious, Monk, and Nun in order to attain holiness? Can the marital life lead to holiness? Can a Businessman or woman in a world that celebrates and glorifies cheating, lying, and smartness attain holiness? Is it possible to relate our sexuality with holiness, pleasure and holiness? The world says it is not possible to be holy. Hence, the world mocks, pities and ridicules those who strive to be holy. They say that God commands us to be holy, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), but the same God contradicts Himself when He says “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). Matthew Kelly says, “These are all the very unnatural and unattractive ideas that the world proclaims about holiness. The world ridicules holiness. The world pities the saints, saying, “Oh, he could have been so much more! Or she had so much potential!”
A friend of mine said, he had read severally the injunction; “Be holy, for I am Holy” and it could not make sense to him because it was unachievable. He kept struggling to avoid sin but the more he does so the more he found himself sinning and going to confession. At a point, he was tired, frustrated and had to give up! Anyway, I had to remind him of the necessity of holiness, “Make every effort . . . to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). In addition, I had to share with him the fact that holiness is a gift and a way of life from God. It is not simply based on one’s effort but God must be known and seen as the ultimate source of all holiness. Hence we acknowledge God as the source of all holiness in the Eucharistic Prayer II: “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness.” There is an infusion of supernatural virtues like faith, hope and love in a person who is baptised in order for him/her to live a life of holiness. So, holiness is a call as well as a gift. Romans 6:22 puts it this way: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” This explicates why we are baptised. Our Catechism says, baptism washes away original sin, makes us holy, children of God and members of the Church. It goes to say that holiness is possible not because of our efforts but because it comes from God and whatever God has sanctioned, it comes to stay, especially if we co-operate with Him.
Furthermore, some have argued that holiness is not possible in this world because they have been going to Church, reading the Bible and spiritual books, receiving the sacraments and doing good works, yet they remain unholy. However,
“The surest signs of holiness are not how often a person goes to Church, how many hours he spends in prayer, what spiritual books he has read, or even the number of good works he/she performs.” Even though the aforementioned spiritual exercises are necessary tools for attaining holiness, it must be clear that “The surest signs of holiness are an insatiable desire to become all God created us to be, an unwavering commitment to the will of God, and an unquenchable concern for unholy people.”
To be continued. God bless you immensely and Happy Sunday. Fr. John-Mary Atep.