Monday 19 May 2014
Seeking Holiness Part II: Building Personal Holiness in Day To Day Living
A brief outline of some means of seeking holiness in our day to day life, in response to a comment.
We are all seeking holiness, but we are all broken by sin; we are all disabled children of God seeking healing; all folk afflicted with rough edges cutting into one another. It is because we are all in the same boat that we cannot judge the holiness of others, only their acts; and even then, only so as to keep them doing what is holy and avoiding what is evil. There are five fundamentals I would suggest to souls seeking holiness.
First, we must attend to the foundation of our interior life: prayer. We must be resolute and disciplined in our prayer; we need a quiet, undisturbed time and place, at the same time every day so that our conscience can nudge us when our prayer is omitted, as hunger prompts the body to eat. People around us should know this is God’s time, which is not to be disturbed. Mental Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, using of our own words, and time spent in silence so God can talk to our heart, is essential, along with the powerful set prayers of the Holy Rosary and Divine Office.
Second, we should make time each day for the reading of scripture and the spiritual works of the saints and Doctors of the Church; this will build our understanding of the spiritual life and enable us to negotiate it more profitably. The Office of Readings is a good source of both.
Third, we must remain faithful to the teaching of the Church; this will keep our souls in the Truth which sets us free from bondage to self. Church teaching is the teaching of Christ since the Church speaks with the voice of Christ (Lk.10v16) Who is the Truth (Jn.14v6), and who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13v8).
Fourth, we must remain faithful to the Mass (Heb.10v25) so as to keep the soul filled with grace and faithful to the Lord. Confession, by which we assess our spiritual state and seek restoration in holiness so as to be fit to receive Holy Communion, is important even when we are not conscious of mortal sin. Confession facilitates regular self-appraisal in the context of God’s mercy and brings us a grace that helps us to resist sin in the future. Spiritual Direction can aid us in preparing for Confession, but it is not the same thing.
Fifth, we should attend (or celebrate) reverent liturgy so as to dispose ourselves to encountering the majesty of God and practice humility before His Glory, rather than seek our own affirmation and emotional uplift.
We do these fundamental things so as to keep our souls safe and holy. Meanwhile we must model to one another the virtues of personal humility and generosity by giving time and energy to the care and needs of others (active charity towards those in need, upon which we shall be judged cf. Matt. 25v34-45).
To overcome a particular vice we can practice the opposite virtue; to ‘act the part’ so as to build the habit. I have heard this referred to as “fake it to make it”, but it is really about building new habits. The goodness of our lives will help call back the wandering sheep that have strayed from Christ’s true fold, and call in those who seek out the good.
Since we are the Mystical Body of Christ we must advise and instruct each other in all wisdom (Col.3v16) advising one another to pray, receive the sacraments, do good and avoid evil. Our spiritual reading promotes the ability to do this well.
We should make sure we know what the Church teaches and why, so that we can give an account of our hope (1.Pet.3v15); that way we do not preach but witness; we don’t say “you can’t do that” but “I couldn’t do that because...” This informs without enforcing, since it owns for ourselves the behaviours we are trying to encourage in others.
We should fast and do penance for our own sins and for those of the world; small sacrifices will not draw attention, such as not having that extra cup of tea; giving up the sugar in one cup of coffee; not going out for a smoke on our break time; saying the Rosary instead of switching on the TV, but they will be seen and used by God.
We must ensure we surround ourselves with friends who inspire us to be the best we can be, and avoid those friendships that bring us down to the lower common denominators of society: “Choose your friends carefully; you always become what they are in order to fit in”.
We will still limp along; but even when we are limping we are moving, and that can be affirmed in others (and by others) so as to encourage the soul. No soul should be left despondent; we must always remind one another that God rewards our efforts, not our achievements: “God saw their efforts to change and He relented” (Jonah 3v10; cf. Matthew 12v41). It is a change of heart the Lord is seeking; by His grace He inspires the desire for this change and empowers us to make changes in our behaviours. By such a change we will be at peace with ourselves, at peace with others and supremely, at peace with God. The fact that we do not overcome all our faults keeps us coming back to God for grace and reliant upon Him, and begging for His grace.
To avoid despondency we should be careful not to mistake our on-going weaknesses for serious sin which entails, to some degree or another, an act of the will. We should also remind ourselves that the greatest sin forgiven will be the greatest tribute to God’s mercy and love, and the greatest sinner saved the greatest victory of grace. No sin is too great or too terrible to be forgiven, for nothing can be greater than God; nothing can outstretch the infinite healer to whom no wound is beyond healing. Indeed the greater the sin; the more festering its wound, the greater the right we have to His healing. The medicine of penance and the struggle to change may be a lifetime’s work, but until we take our final breath, each of us is, as the saying goes, a work in progress.