Pursuing Holiness in the 21st Century

One thing I think everyone can agree on in today’s world is that it is very fast paced.  We have phones that we use to instantly communicate with others and to get things done.  Privacy, as we know it, is a thing of the past – modern technology allows for vast levels of surveillance and control.  In a post-Christian world, it’s obvious that there are vast levels of immorality and even Satanic practices – and the world today doesn’t really try to hide it.  Virtue and holiness are the exceptions, not the norm. 

Many times these things can really wear on a person who wants to pursue holiness.  “Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good.  Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy.  It is when for some reason or other, good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.”  (Chesterton – The Everlasting Man). Admitting the world is a depressing place for authentic Catholics just trying to live out their faith isn’t necessarily far off from the truth.  It’s difficult – not only are there so many opportunities to sin, but there are also so many distractions to turn us away from holiness.

Sin is shameful.  It’s turning against God.  And it’s easier then ever today to entertain sin in our hearts.  Pornography has reduced relationships and intimacy into things to be bought and sold and enjoyed.  The constant bombardment of entertainment on the television and social media has prevented us from having mature discussions about an important question: What if we’re heading in the wrong direction? 

In the workplace, virtue and candor are oftentimes not worth as much as “doing your job.”  Young people looking for work want to find meaning and life in what they’re doing – yet, employers wonder why young people suddenly resign after they’ve been treated  as cogs in a machine for years.  This has become so problematic, that many in Gen Z have given up on the idea of hard and laborious work entirely.  “If I can’t get a good salary, and work doesn’t care about me; I shouldn’t work!” This mentality flies in the face of taking the harder, more difficult path in pursuit of Christ, but even employers aren’t doing themselves any favors. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, started off his Principle and Foundation with “Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul; and the other things on the face of the earth were created for man’s sake, and in order to aid him in the prosecution of the end for which he was created.”  I took this from my personal 1919 copy of St. Ignatius’ works, and the commentator stressed the importance of Principle applying to theory, and Foundation to practice, to doing! 

Principles guide a man’s life, while the foundation leads and calls us to action and discipline in Christ.  If there are no principles, then it is obvious that he will not act, or even want to act.  In our relativistic world, the pursuit of pleasure seems to be the only principle at large – pursuing holiness is second fiddle – “That’s your form of pleasure!”

A little-known but important thinker in the 20th century is the Russian Orthodox philosopher Ivan Ilyin.  He is considered a controversial writer – but I believe much of his work is excellent.  He sums up this “sentimental morality” as he calls it:

“His sentimentality (this heightened and excited, but pointless and weak willed sensitivity) is an extremely easy, quick, and sharp response to all human dissatisfaction, to all other people’s suffering, his sentimentality is wounded by it… Suffering is evil, this is the first, hidden axiom of this wisdom.  If suffering is evil, then the infliction of suffering (violence) is evil…

Thus, the fundamental principle of sentimental morality is revealed: it rests on an anti-spiritual hedonism.  Contrary to all this, in reality a person with his nature, his desires, abilities and goals, is arranged in such a way that it is easiest for him to satisfy his needs and fancies, while most difficult is the will to spiritual perfection, the efforts which contribute to this, and the achievement of it.’  (Ilyin, On Resistance to Evil by Force). 

Pursuing holiness isn’t easy, and the wandering Christian – in many cases – embraces suffering in order to bring the soul closer to perfection.  Ilyin rightly recognizes that this ‘relativism’ isn’t truly relative – there’s a whole morality behind it.  If tolerating everything is ok, then enforcing that tolerance is going to be exactly what “needs” be done.  This is a very illuminating thought – Spiritual Hedonism lifts pleasure to replacing God. 

Onwards to the practical.  For the average Christian, we are cast into a world where ‘feeling good’ is held above all.  There is no good, no evil, except when it comes in the way of someone’s right to “feel.”  Love is treated as something that is based entirely in feeling – intimacy is treated as a contractual thing too! 

In the discernment of spirits, in the discernment of our lives – then, as Christians we must reject the world as it is today, but we must not be overcome with sorrow in the face of a non-Christian world and worldview.  If we judge that we’re getting too concerned with the news, and with getting likes on social media – then it seems best for us to cut it out.  Oftentimes, it’s easy for us to realize that worldly things are hurting our pursuit of Christ, but casting them aside usually comes with some worldly difficulty.  For instance, getting rid of some forms of social media can mean that we lose friends and don’t get to share as much of our lives with our friends as we would otherwise. 

On the other hand, it’s important to think about why we’re so dependent on that platform, or that communication to begin with.  This suffering should be something we’re striving for because we love God, even if it is difficult.  Suffering doesn’t always have to be a sad thing. 

Our world is so fast paced – it doesn’t give us much of a moment to sit down and contemplate our decisions.  So slow down and take the time to pray and discern what is important.  Take thirty minutes out of your day just to let your mind wander and to be present to God and to yourself, even if it’s difficult.  This is nerve wracking to most people – so we’re used to going through life at such speed that slowing down is hard. 

The next step is to start rejecting worldliness.  I can’t speak for women, but men, cut the pornography.  It’s evil and contributing to the degradation of our society.  Turn off the TV and learn about the world you live in by picking up a book or by getting an Audible subscription.  You don’t need to watch every single darn football game.  Instead of always turning to alcohol for inspiration and fun, turn to Sacred Scripture and the wilderness. 

Thirdly, if holiness is important enough to you that you want to seek it out, you need a plan for that.  How are you going to let God be present in your life?  Is it by going to adoration?  Is it by a daily Rosary?  Daily Mass?  Maybe all of the above?  How are you going to live out your faith?  Prayer is the one of the easiest ways to do this, so I’d recommend starting there.

Lastly, the Great Commission exists too – we are called to spread the Gospel.  Catholicism in the aggregate isn’t something that is meant to be trampled upon and “tolerant” – but nor is it specifically supposed to be rigid and unyielding in everything.  We speak of a Universal Church in the creed we profess (that’s what the word ‘Catholic” literally means) – it’s time we act that way.  So spread the Gospel.  Bring the light of God to others in your own unique way.  Discard sentimental morality; fight for Christ by giving no quarter to a world that has rejected Him by offering yourself, truly, up to Him.

Avatar photo


Joshua Nelson attended Franciscan University of Steubenville to earn a BA in Philosophy and a Minor in Finance, along with attending the University of Michigan for a Masters in Accounting. He has a deep love and passion for the philosophy of Stoicism, and believes it applicable to many aspects of our modern Catholic life, especially when it comes to bringing the supernatural into our ordinary routines. Having worked in the public sector, and currently working for a Public Accounting firm, he works to integrate his unique Catholic perspective through all aspects of life.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage