The reality of holiness is often overlooked. We’re so busy concerning ourselves with the “real world” that we lose sight of God’s role throughout the hours of our day. Holiness can often be viewed as a vague word that should be defined for each individual person. The truth is our world loves holiness. It simply substitutes it with another word or understanding.
Every great movie, book or story concerning heroism or sacrifice is woven with the holiness gene. In a world where the “spiritual” is synonymous with the fake or unattainable, Christ’s disciples stand as strong but humble witnesses to the fact that holiness does triumph and that it is needed now more than ever.
Christ demands that we “do not settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” when true life, full life, and happiness are offered to us freely (1). In Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate (On the Call to Holiness), the leader of the Catholic world is not giving a speech or dissertation on the idea of holiness. Nor is he desiring to lay out abstract demands on the faithful. His mission in this earthy and insightful document is to give a “practical way” for people of our time to truly be holy and not just talk about it (#2).
To grow in holiness is to become like the one who created us and to become who we were born to be. If we embark on this journey it will not always be easy, but it will bring us immense joy and happiness because we will be fulfilling our purpose. Francis describes these two facts by quickly referencing the words of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: holy ones arise from the darkest hours of their own nights (#8).
Becoming like God means we must be like him in all things, especially in his willingness to suffer. This is why one of the pope’s main themes throughout the entirety of his exhortation is the fact that holiness is a personal endeavor. Not that we make holiness what it is, but that holiness finds us in the faces of others around us and in the individual hardships that occur only to us. These are the occasions that may only be known by a few people or maybe no one. Our ability to stay united to Christ and to live in a deep intimate connectivity to the moments of his life on earth will prove to be our strongest tool along the path of holiness (#20). Therefore, it is imperative that we dive into the Scriptures, especially the gospels, so that we can make room for Christ to take flesh in our minds, hearts, and daily lives.
Through the struggles and challenges that occur in life we can better know the love of Christ crucified, and see with our own eyes the passion that drove him to Calvary. However, saints must also be people capable of deciphering the ordinary as a gift from the divine.
Often we are confused and think that every single moment of the life of a great saint was filled with extraordinary revelations when, in fact, they were woven with seemingly mundane affairs. These great heroes of the gospel were exactly like us; they had flesh and blood, emotions and passions, flaws and talents. They stood a part from the crowd because they used “ordinary” life as a chance to build up the gospel and Christ’s mission (#17). Francis reminds us that ordinariness is the context for holiness. The ground rules for a life of communion with the divine is simple: each second must be his.
Often times we get stuck along the route to God because we become too focused on what we do that is not holy or that is sinful. Here it is important that we keep in mind the fact that a countless number of saints started off their journey to God in the opposite direction. Even once they had a deep conversion of life and heart, they still sometimes struggled to follow the Lord.
Not every moment in the lives of the saints was perfect, but they always chose to orient their lives to Christ. They saw their lives in the big picture of discipleship and faith. Pope Francis advises us to take a page from the notebook of the saints: do not get caught up in the small details of your failures (#23). These details should never paralyze us towards returning to the Father to receive the mercy that is always pouring out to us: “Holiness…is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace,” (#34). We should not be controlled by our weakness, let our lives be controlled by the Father’s gift of himself to us.
The Holy Father relays the Christian understanding that when we act as holy ones this side of heaven we are tapping into God’s unconditional love for us. We are only able to live a blameless life because God gives us his own divine power to do so. This divine power is bestowed upon the world at the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the proof that we will be given everything we need to be heroes of life and love. Our mission in life is to become like Christ and have him act in us (#21). This is true freedom and this is the life of the holy ones.
Let us turn to him in every moment and situation in our lives (#15). This will sanctify our lives to such a degree that their will be no separation between us and God. We will be truly united to him; we will have heaven on earth. Then and only then, will we be saints: set a part for a mission of true love and true life.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in the series “Focus on Holiness,” which is an exploration of Gaudete et exsultate and how we can apply its lessons to grow in holiness.