Lent is clearly a time to examine our holiness of life. Some have recently asked for greater detail in terms of what exactly holiness entails. In short, holiness is found through our relationship with God. That is why Jesus instructs us “to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) In other words, our holiness exists in God, who is Supreme holiness; Holiness itself.
St. Thomas Aquinas saw holiness as our capacity to receive God. “For nothing is worthy to receive God unless it be pure, according to Psalm 92:5: ‘Holiness becomes your house, O Lord.” (Summa II-II Q. 81) This is why the readings for Ash Wednesday plainly call us back to God. The prophet Joel says: “Return to the Lord, your God.” (2:12-18) St. Paul similarly stated: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
God’s will is that we be holy. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) And God has provided for this high calling through the Incarnation and Redeeming work of Christ. We know this from St. Paul’s teaching: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessings in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love, he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1: 3-6)
How does one grow in holiness? Basically, growth in holiness occurs in two ways. First, since our holiness is attained through Jesus Christ, we must draw near to him. This is done through prayer, receiving the Sacraments, growing in our knowledge of Sacred Scripture, and practicing charity. Second, and perhaps this needs to be first, we must remove from our day-to-day lives all that is crass. In other words, there are things in our life that can and do block our ability to receive Christ, and thus to be drawn into the very holiness that is God.
Perhaps a practical starting point is to think about the kind of television programming we watch, or the music we listen to, the places we search on the internet, the video games we play, the conversations we have or the mindless thoughts we may entertain. Do these things lift our spirits to God? Do they respect the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life? Or do they leave us feeling empty, mindless, unfulfilled? Good discernment tells us: “do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God.” (1 John 4:1) If of the Holy Spirit, embrace it. If of the counter spirit, (Satan) reject it.
Once you identify a bad or questionable habit, take the risk and eliminate it from your routine for a while. (This is what Lent calls us to do.) Let God show you what a difference it makes when we make more room for him in our lives. I have talked to several people over the years that stopped watching TV during Lent and were amazed after Lent when they began watching TV again, how offended they were by some of the shows they used to watch.
Stated more positively, how much do we allow ourselves to experience beauty in sacred or classical music or art or even the simple beauty of nature? Things that are beautiful naturally lead our heart, soul and mind to God. (Philippians 4: 8) Make a resolution to practice greater charity in just one relationship.
Perhaps finding a weekday Mass time is in order? Spending more time with Jesus is absolutely necessary if we are going to grow in holiness, and there is no more privileged means of receiving Jesus than in the Eucharist.
I believe Abbot Marmion, OSB summs these points up nicely: “Our holiness will be the higher according as there is in us more loving dependence on God and conformity of our free will to our ultimate end (which is the manifestation of the Divine Glory). The more we adhere to God by detaching ourselves from all that is not God, the more this dependence, conformity, adhesion, and detachment are firm and stable.” Christ The Life of the Soul, p.28
These are just a few starting points to consider regarding holiness. I’ll post more tomorrow.