What is holiness? An unattainable dream? A utopia? A privilege reserved for the elite? No! Holiness is three things.
Holiness is a first and foremost relationship. An intimate, passionate, enduring relationship with a man called Jesus Christ. When asked what is her idea of holiness, the Carmelite saint Elisabeth of the Trinity answered simply ‘for me holiness is to live in love’. She knew that inside us there is a King living there, and where there is a King, there is a kingdom! And so she kept uttering, ‘I have found heaven on earth’!
When the Rabbi died, the angel gave him a tour. He saw rows and rows of people reading the Torah. “Is this all there is to heaven?” he asked quite mystified by what he had witnessed. The angel replied. “No, dear Rabbi, you are wrong again! You think that the saints are in heaven, while in reality it is heaven that is in the saints.”
What makes this ‘heaven in the saints’ is this conscious affinity with Jesus Christ. This is why what Cardinal William Baum, former archbishop of Washington, said to the is an eye opener to all of us, “The danger of every seminary is to know about Jesus without really knowing him. To talk about Jesus but not to him, to listen to experts speak of him without letting him speak to us. A deep, personal relationship is the foundation of holiness.” What is valid for the seminarians is valid for every Christian.
Taking an ass every day to the library does not make him a prodigy. Going every day to Church does not make you a saint! As Waldon once said, “after all is said and done, may more be done than said!”
Secondly, holiness is incarnational – flesh, bones, a heart. It is very interesting that the most popular saints amongst our people are not a Thomas Aquinas or an Augustine or a Vincent Ferrer but the Little Flower and Mother Teresa and Padre Pio. Why? Because in life what we need is not a connection that is dry, cerebral, sterilized but a fondness that is warm, plain and tender.
As Bishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee says so well, “The Incarnation continues. The youth sense Jesus alive in the Eucharist, in the words of the absolution, in the tenderness of his mother, in the companionship of his saints, in his vicar on earth, in the baby in the womb, in prayer as one fingers beads, in dog eared bibles, in rediscovered icons, in pilgrimages and in youth days. … They know what Fulton Sheen meant when he said, “the mark of a Catholic is the ability to see the divine where it is least expected”.”
This ‘return to piety’ which is evident today is healthy! God dwells also in the details. Look for him there!
Third, holiness is ecclesial. Speaking of Jesus and the Church, de Lubac exclaims: “For what could I know of him without her? She may appear weak, her growth compromised, her means of action ridiculous, her witness too often hidden. Her children may not understand her, but at such a time I shall look at the humiliated face of my spouse and I shall love her all the more, for while some are hypnotized by those features which make her look old, love will make me discover her hidden forces, the silent activity that gives her perpetual youth”.
How beautiful! When I was once approached by two Mormons who started denigrating the catholic church because it is full of sins and sinners, my only reply was ‘Thanks be to God that the Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners and not a club of respectful gentlemen, because otherwise there would be no place for me!”
Saint Teresa on her deathbed thanked God ‘for dying a daughter of the Church’. Elisabeth Ann Seton on her deathbed in Emmitsburg spoke her last five words to her sisters, ‘Be daughters of the Church’
In a world where the pagan gods are privacy, convenience, freedom, and the constant chant ‘leave me alone’ rumbles on, it is great to be in a church that is all about people. Jesus and His Church are a package deal!
Community is essential to holiness. But which church? Not the clean, antiseptic, sinless community which many dream about. But the messy community in which God puts us in!
The Pope is do tight when he says, “I would like to ask you, dear young people, a favor: Be patient with the Church. The church is always a community of weak and imperfect individuals. God has placed his work of salvation, his plans and his desires in human hands. This is a great risk, but there is no other church than the one founded by Christ. He wants us human beings to be his collaborators in the world and in the church with all our deficiencies and shortcomings….”
Be a saint. It is beautiful and it is possible. And above all, it is the only thing – let me repeat, the only thing – which gives meaning to life.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.