I love late-Spring mornings; not too early mind you, but early enough that I can see the dew on the grass, hear the birds chirping and feel the peace of quiet stillness as the world wakes up.
Usually, it’s at this time of day when I feel the closeness of Jesus. I may not be praying in the “normal” sense of the word, but I acknowledge the presence of Our Lord in the stillness, the birds and the beauty of the world I get to observe, and I’m thankful.
Of course, in my quest of becoming a holy person, I try to have times of prayer, reading of the scriptures or spiritual books and even listening to Catholic radio or podcasts during the day; however, I need to remember to ask Jesus for help in achieving the holiness he wants out of me, and everyone for that matter. I realize making a plan to cultivate the interior life, of love for Jesus, requires me to do the same things I would do if I were making a goal of losing weight or starting an exercise routine, and that is a critical part of growing in holiness.
We hear from the Vatican that there is a Universal Call to Holiness, but what does that really mean? Basically, it is to imitate Jesus by allowing his life to transform ours. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis both mentioned how Jesus’ life could be described in the 8 Beatitudes described in the Gospel of Matthew. In the Beatitudes, they give us a basic outline for living as Jesus did and echo his mercy, spirituality and compassion for others. When we practice the virtues of humility, charity and brotherly love, we transform our inner person because love is the motivation and God is love, itself.
Imitating Jesus and allowing his life to transform ours can be difficult. We have the initial struggle due to the stain of original sin, our tendencies toward sin, and the pressures of the outside world to contend with. Often, we struggle with what we want to do and what we should be doing, or we don’t feel like we are progressing on our spiritual journey because we aren’t sensing any consolation after a trial or we dont have any feelings of closeness from Our Lord. In the book, ” The Fulfillment of All Desire,” Ralph Martin says, ” When we start looking for or seeking a certain feeling or sensation in our spiritual activities rather than God Himself, we have departed from the straight path of faith and have begun to seek ourselves rather than God.” Likewise, Saint John of the Cross mentions those who are beginning on the spiritual path to holiness, “often want God to desire what they want and they become sad if they have to desire God’s will and feel an aversion toward adapting their will to God’s.” It didn’t occur to me right away that part of my road to holiness would take the turns that God willed and not the turns I mapped out. That was a pretty significant lesson for me; however, my little twists and turns were hardly worth mentioning compared to some saints I’ve read about. These holy men and women often had to undergo tremendous external and interior trials on their path to holiness and they all accepted it as God’s will for them and bore the physical and spiritual trials willingly. We have the recent Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta who went through decades of “the dark night of the soul,” where she didn’t have the sensory delights or affirmations of the Lord but knew she was being lead by God to a deeper trust and abandonment to His will. There were also numerous saints who suffered terrible physical ailments and even torture but never lost their faith. I’ve questioned my own faith at times after reading about so many brave saints and wonder if I’d have been just as faithful.
We know that for most people, with age comes wisdom, and we can also conclude those who are seeking to become holy require many years, if not a lifetime, to reach some level of holiness, if they are lucky. Even Jesus chose disciples who at first glance were flawed men that abandoned Him in his time of need. Yet, they were chosen and perfected through time and had moments of success as well as failures. They ultimately achieved such a high level of sanctity they were willing to die for the love of the Lord. So, if these flawed, ordinary men could be chosen and perfected why not us?
We, as chosen members of the Body of Christ, have been given the chance to grow and be “perfected” through faith and Baptism in order for us to reach Heaven. We know that the Bible tells us nothing unclean shall enter heaven and Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection isn’t something related to our everyday life in the sense of being a perfectionist about everything, it is the perfection of the soul. We are called to a higher standard even though we are imperfect, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can apply the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles to love one another and grow in that love. Saint John talks about this love by saying, “In this love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 Jn: 4:17) And I love this quote by Ralph Martin when he said, “Holiness begins with the fear of the Lord and ends in a love without fear.”
My goal in growing in holiness is to achieve the love of God insomuch that I go through the times of trials and sufferings without desolation and know there will be a purification of my soul and in that I will find joy. It is hard and I think as I grow closer and allow the will of God to become my will; I will be challenged even more as my faith is tested. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I think I’m up to the challenge….are you?