"It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples." (Jn. 15:8)
Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few—it is the obligation, the call and the will of God for every Christian.
We cannot put up stumbling blocks of well defined excuses to reason our way out of the reality that "our sanctification is the Will of God." (1 Th. 4:3) We were created by God for the express purpose of radiating His Son, Jesus in our own particular and unique way. We give Him glory by freely choosing to be what His Wisdom designed us to be.
A Christian is to be a "sign of contradiction"—a light on top of the mountain—a thorn in the side of the world. His entire life is a silent reproach to sinners, a beacon of hope to the oppressed, a ray of sunshine to the saddened, a source of encouragement to the destitute and a visible sign of the invisible reality of grace.
Saints are ordinary people, who love Jesus, try to be like Him, are faithful to the duties of their state in life, sacrifice themselves for their neighbor and keep their hearts and minds tree of this world.
They live in the world, but rise above its mediocre standards. They enjoy living because life is a challenge, not an indulgence. They may not understand the reason for the cross, but faith gives them that special quality to find hope within it. They do understand they are to walk in their Master's footsteps and everything that happens to them is turned to their good.
Saints are ordinary people, who do what they do for the love of Jesus-say what they must say without fear-love their neighbor even when they are cursed by him and live without regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow.
No one is exempt from the call to holiness. Men, women and children have climbed the ladder of life and reached high degrees of sanctity. These holy Christians have come from every conceivable state and vocation.
There was 9 year old Tarcisus, who defended the Eucharist with his life. Maria Goretti, age eleven, defended her virginity as she was stabbed over and over by her assailant. Her sanctity shone brightly when she forgave her murderer and prayed for his conversion.
Mary of Egypt was a prostitute at sixteen. She joined a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land in an effort to ply her trade. When she reached the Church, an invisible force kept her from entering. Frightened by the experience, she gazed at a statue of Mary and realized the enormity of her sins. She determined to change her life and never again offend God. Forty years later, she died, a woman renowned for her holiness of life.
Matt Talbot was a hopeless alcoholic for most of his life. The disdain of his friends as he stood before them trembling for a drink, awakened his soul to its plight. He changed his life and directed his energies toward being like Jesus and looking toward eternal life.
The saints of the past were human beings with human frailties. St. Jerome had a violent temper and fought against that weakness his entire life. Dismas was a thief, who ended his life with one act of love and repentance and was privileged to have Jesus promise him Paradise. Both Charles de Foucald and Francis of Assisi were playboys, who finally surrendered to the Hound of Heaven.
Every saint struggled and fought against his weaknesses all his life and as he acquired habits of virtue, he never lost sight of the dying embers of his weaknesses. He conquered by continual vigilance, always aware of what he was and what he could become. This uneasiness as to his own evil capabilities threw him into the arms of God. He depended on Him for everything and gave Him the credit for the least act of virtue in his life.
Men are not born saints with special gifts and privileges. They fight against the world, the flesh and the devil and as they conquer, the Spirit of Jesus begins to shine through with more clarity. We sometimes contuse the particular mission of the saints with their holiness. If compassion were to radiate through one, then healing would be given to that individual to manifest the power of God. But the charism is not part of holiness, it is merely an off-shoot—a gift to be given to others. It was God's gift to the saint for the benefit of the people of God. It is possible to possess charisma and not be holy We see this clearly in the life of Judas. He spent three years with Jesus and possessed the power to heal, preach and deliver, but he himself did not grow in holiness. His weaknesses were aggravated by the power Jesus gave him for he saw it as a gift that bore his own person and pocket little profit.
We cannot hide under the cozy excuse of not being chosen—or not possessing special qualities. If we are Christians we have been chosen. If we have been chosen, then those qualities peculiar to the degree of the holiness God calls us to will blossom out as we grow.
A little acorn has no resemblance to the mighty oak it will one day become, but none-the-less, all the material necessary in that giant tree is compressed into a small seed. Time, rain, sunshine, cold and storm are all necessary to bring out the hidden beauty, great height, and strong trunk that will give shade and delight to the heart of man.
Jesus has compared each of us to a seed sown in the soil of His grace. In parable form He described how some of us respond to the Sower's efforts to make us grow. He also described what obstacles prevent us from growing.
Before we see how we can become holy, it may be well to see what reasons Jesus gave for our not arriving at that holy state. We need to dispense with our well-worn excuses and tailor-made objections.
Why We Are Not Holy
"When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart. This is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path" (Matt. 13:18-23) There are many souls on the "edge of the path They live in the midst of noise and chaos. When any truth begins to take hold of them they merely increase the noise level in their lives and drown out the Word. They truly live on the edge of the path-hearing, but not understanding-filled with the distractions of the world. This type of person sluffs off the idea of sanctity because it means walking in the path of Jesus. He is so comfortable in his own path at the edge, he cannot conceive of a change. The old familiar rut is his home and source of consolation.
"The one who received the word on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. but he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls at once." This is the impetuous Christian. He both receives and rejects Christianity "at once." There was a semblance of faith in his mind, but that faith never led to love. When the thrill of being "new-born" wears off, this man easily succumbs in time of trial. He may read the lives of the saints and begin to imagine himself in a state of ecstasy or martyrdom or performing some other heroic deed. In his meditations the big sacrifices come easily, but life is not tilled with too many big events in which he can prove his love for God. It is little every day trials that prove love and prune souls. When a man endures the ridicule of his neighbor because of his Christian principles, or intimidation for his orthodox stand in faith and morals, that man suffers persecution. These every day trials prove whether or not the Word has taken "root" in his soul. The question is not whether or not this kind of individual is called to holiness- the question is, what does he do with the events in his life designed to make him holy? Does he endure with faith and grow in love or does he reject, run and resist?
"The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the Word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the Word and so he produces nothing." This is certainly a graphic description of the deception filling so many hearts today. What are the worries of this world? Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the man who covets intellectual snobbery, sophisticated attitudes vanity, and worldly glory. The one who spends his time and energy in the vain pursuit of the things that "moth consumes and rust destroys." When we add the "lure of riches" to this litany of day dreams, we can easily see why Jesus used the word "choke." These kinds of unrealized desires literally crowd out of the mind and heart the Word of God. It is the call to be humble, poor, chaste, compassionate, guileless, loving and self-sacrificing that is choked out by the consuming fire of self-indulgence, pride, deceit, lust and greed. God spoke the Word meant to give life to one whose ears were opened only to the sound of his own voice.
"And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundred-fold, now sixty, now thirty." This part of the parable explanation that Jesus gave us is encouraging. He is telling us that there will be times we reap much fruit in our lives but there will be other times we do not measure up completely, but we still bear fruit.
Our motives may not be the best, our patience worn thin, our endurance near the end, but Jesus looks for the sign of virtue and goodness so He can bear fruit in us. He takes every scrap of virtue and touches it with His love and it is changed into an eternal reward. His mercy envelops us and reaches into the depths of our souls to renew, change, transform and build.
He brings good out of everything that happens to us as His love builds up everything we do well and reshapes the effects of our failures. His Spirit is always working for our good—nothing is wasted-there are no throw-aways—no discards. We are the ones who reject Him—He never rejects us. We think only of perfection—the feeling of a job well done. He looks for deep humility in our hearts—self-knowledge in our minds and effort in our will. He will bear the fruit in us as we grow in our desires and efforts.
The day we realize we have nothing to give Him that is totally ours except our sins and weaknesses—on that day we shall bear a hundred-fold fruit. Only then shall we be empty of our illusions, conscious of our dependence on Him and aware of the reality of His action in our souls. We will take our eyes off ourselves and what we accomplish and keep our eyes on Jesus. We will accept ourselves as we are, striving to be better, conforming our lives to His life, and our will to His Will and our hearts to His Heart.
Those Human Saints
The concept of the perfect, faultless saint is unrealistic. We have only to look at the gospels to see how imperfect the Apostles and first Christians were. There was a point in their lives when they changed. We call that point the time of their "conversion," their encounter with the Sanctifying Spirit. For the Apostles it was Pentecost, for Paul it was a blinding light on the road to Damascus, for Cornelius it was the mere presence of Peter. However, most of the saints did not have dramatic experiences. As we have already seen in the life of Matt Talbot, it was pain, disappointment, and a feeling of emptiness that pushed him into the arms of God. No matter what happened, the saints determined at some point to follow Jesus. A vacuum deep in their souls began to be filled, for they found the pearl of great price. They all changed their lives, some their state in life, but they did not get rid of their weaknesses. They fought harder, conquered more often and grew, like Jesus, in grace and wisdom before God and men."
In the Acts we see Peter's vacilating spirit making him and everyone else miserable as he took so much time deciding the fate of the Gentiles. Paul's temper flared quickly as he argued his point before the gathering of Apostles. John, called by Jesus a son of thunder, had little patience with those who would not follow Jesus.
In the lives of all the saints we find the following similarities: love for God and neighbor, determination to imitate Jesus an immediate rising after a fall, a complete break-away from grievous sin, growth in virtue and prayer, and the accomplishment of God's Will.
These factors are available to every human being they do not exclude imperfections and faults. We must make a distinction between faults and sins. A saintly person keeps the Commandments, however, he may possess various human qualities, dispositions that make the imitation of Jesus a sanctifying process. These weaknesses make him choose constantly between himself and God. It is in this emptying of oneself and the "putting on of Jesus" that he becomes holy.
Holiness is a "growth experience" and growth consists in advancing in knowledge, love, self-control and all those other imitable virtues of Jesus. We must not lose sight of holiness as we grow, for holiness only means that Jesus is more to us than anyone or anything else in the world. But this desire to belong entirely to God does not exclude being loving to our neighbor, compassionate, caring, patient and kind. Our desire to belong to God enhances all these virtues in our souls, increases our love for our neighbor and makes us more unselfish.
A housewife becomes holy by being a loving wife and mother, filled with compassion for her family because she is filled with the compassionate Jesus.
A husband and father becomes holy by being a good provider, hard working, honest and understanding because his model is the provident Jesus.
Both husband and wife become holy together as their love for Jesus grows. Love makes them see themselves and change those frailties that are not like their Model. In doing this, life together is less complicated and more loving and understanding. They are bound together by love and prayer, mutual striving and forgiving.
Children become holy by being obedient, thoughtful, joyful and loving. These qualities are maintained by grace and prayer.
Being faithful to the duties of ones state in life and faithful to the grace of the moment are not as easy as they appear. Our temperament, weaknesses, society, work and even the weather clamor for our attention. Living a spiritual life in an unspiritual world and maintaining the principles of Jesus over the principles of this world is hard, but within reach of all. The paradox is that if we choose evil over good it is hell all the way to hell and that is harder.
Christianity is a way of life—a way of thought—a way of action that is contrary to the way of the world. This makes the Christian stand alone and it is this aloneness that discourages him from striving for holiness. However, it is this same aloneness that makes him stand out in a crowd. He becomes a beacon for those who do not enjoy the darkness-a light that enlightens the minds of all around him-a fire that warms cold hearts.
He struggles as all men struggle, he works, eats, sleeps, cries and laughs, but the spirit in which he accomplishes ordinary human needs and demands makes him holy. He does not always make the right decisions but he learns from his mistakes. He does not correspond to every grace, but he accepts his failures with humility and tries harder to be like the Master. He does not condone sin, and though he is ever aware of his own sinner condition, he loves his neighbor enough to correct him with gentleness when his soul is in danger.
He is free to have or have not, for his real treasure is Jesus and the invisible realities. He can possess with detachment or be dispossessed without bitterness.
He knows his Father well enough to entrust his past to His mercy. The Spirit is a friend who guides his steps and straightens the crooked paths ahead. His time and talents are spent in the imitation of Jesus in the ever present now.
The saint is the person who loves Jesus on a personal level-loves Him enough to want to be like Him in every day life—loves Him enough to take on some of His loveable characteristics. Like Jesus, he lovingly accomplishes the Father's Will, knowing that all things are turned to good because he is loved personally by such a great God.
Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other Saints. Let us be the kind of saints we were created to be. There are no little or great saints-only men and women who struggled and prayed to be like Jesus-doing the Father's Will from moment to moment wherever they are and whatever they are doing.
Saints are ordinary people with the compassion of the Father in their souls, the humility of Jesus in their minds and the love of the Spirit in their hearts. When these beautiful qualities grow day by day in everyday situations, holiness is born.
The Father gave His Son so we would become His children and heirs of His Kingdom. Jesus was born, lived and died and rose to show us the way to the Father. The Spirit gave us His gifts so we would be clothed with the jewels of virtue, the gold of love, the emeralds of hope and the brilliant diamonds of faith.
Let us not be content with the scotch tape and the aluminum foil of this world.
Be Holy—Wherever you are!
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