Years ago, when I was establishing this column in The Catholic Transcript, I had to come up with a name for it. I decided upon "Everyday Holiness" because I planned to write about living our faith in everyday life.
A friend didn’t care for my title. He wanted me to call it, "Cram This!" He insisted that his suggestion was catchier, and would reflect the humor I occasionally use. Furthermore, he argued that holiness is not a concept that most of us Catholics understand, nor a word that’s in our lexicon. In other words, steer clear of the holiness thing.
I didn’t want to steer clear of the holiness thing. In fact, I hoped to inspire readers to live lives of holiness.
I’m not sure I’m succeeding. Holiness is a quality that most Catholics attribute to stained-glass saints of antiquity, but certainly not to anyone we know. To be holy, goes the thinking, one must be really old or really dead or really boring, and definitely lacking in humor.
But that’s not holiness at all. Simply put, holiness means to be set apart for God. It means that everything we do, everything we are, is devoted to God. It’s not just for churchy people; we’re all called to be holy. Our faith should inform our speech, our finances, our attitudes, our work ethic. It’s part of the fabric of who we are.
Not long ago, I was enjoying a delightful weekend with my three dearest friends, who had traveled considerable distances for our annual visit. As our time together drew to a close, we gathered for prayer. One friend was going through a difficult time, so I prayed aloud that God would surround her with peace. I also prayed that God would make her holy, whatever the cost.
She jerked her head up from our stance of prayer. "Oh, no you don’t!" she erupted. "You can pray that for yourself but keep me out of it! I’m not ready!"
We laughed at her honesty. Asking God to make me holy is like asking him to teach me patience; it’s only gained through hardship. Holiness comes at a cost, because following Christ comes at a cost. Too many of us think that if we go to Mass from time to time and eat tuna fish on Fridays in Lent, we have fulfilled our obligation to God. But God wants more than rule followers; he wants people who are in love with him.
Anyone can go to church. The measure of holiness is whether we take it with us when we head home. After all, if our religion does not follow us into the parking lot, what good is it?
There is no formula to become holy, but there are guideposts. Here are some characteristics of the holy people I know:
They go to confession often. Truly holy people take sin seriously enough to make confession a priority.
They attend Mass as often as they can; many go daily.
They serve in soup kitchens, literacy programs and prisons. They care for the desperately poor and the oppressed. And they do it so quietly that most of us never know anything about it.
They have deep lives of prayer – not because they have to, but because they want to.
Holy men and women speak out for truth, regardless of the consequences. Then they respond with charity when criticized or rejected.
Most have experienced tremendous hardships. Holiness is purified by pain.
This is just a theory, but there seems to be an inverse relationship between how holy we think we are, and how holy we really are.
So go ahead. "Cram This!" if you wish. Or, you can ask God to make you holy, whatever the cost. It’s a prayer he died to answer.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.