Moments of sanctity

We all want to be healthy but few of us seek to be saints. However, these are not independent pursuits. Health and holiness are intertwined.

July 10, 2024-Reading time: 6 minutes
Francis of Assisi

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi in New York (OSV News photo / Gregory A. Shemitz)

The author of the letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to live in search of peace and holiness, because finding peace will help us to live fully in this life, and finding holiness will lead us to live eternally in the next life. Living in peace with everyone around us will achieve the most sublime gifts and virtues that will spiritualize life. These healthy lifestyles will be fertile soil for sowing fruits of holiness.
When we think of saints, of whom do we think of? The names of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Teresa of CalcuttaSt. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John Bosco. Although the list is long, in reality there are only about 10,000 saints recognized by the Catholic Church. If we calculate that there were 300 million inhabitants on earth when the Christian era began, and today we are about 8 billion, not counting all those who have died in the last 2000 years, then 10,000 saints is a tiny fraction in relation to the billions of beings who have lived in the human population!

Why is it so difficult to become a saint?

We have heard of the long processes that sometimes take years when the Church diligently analyzes the life, miracles and teachings of a candidate for beatification or canonization. Let us rather think that it is difficult to be declared a saint, but day by day you and I are supposed to live in processes of sanctification, which also means purification and transformation, even if we are never declared saints.

Holiness is not only a mystical experience of some gifted and privileged few who have lived heroically the virtues. Holiness is also a goal and a human trajectory related to purity of heart, purity of intentions and acts to which we are all called to manifest. As Psalm 24:3-4 says, who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord, and who can stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.

Many people ask themselves, can we be saints in a corrupt world, full of seductions to evil, where the normal is the sinful and the banal? Evil has always existed. Let us remember some biblical characters. For example, in Noah's time, the rampant sin of the paganized world in all its surroundings defied divine mercy, to the extent that God wanted to wash the face of the earth of all wickedness with the flood. But he set aside one family who found refuge in the heart of God and in the shelter of a boat. That ark is a symbol of the Church where we seek protection from the evil outside, to find refuge in one another under the shelter of a family and spiritual community of brothers and sisters in faith.

Let us also remember Moses who, after renouncing the seductions of Pharaoh's palace life, led his people out of the abundance of Egypt and into the wilderness to purify themselves and rid themselves of the identity of slaves before entering a land of free men. Throughout salvation history there have been many of us who have found in the heart of the ark and in the refuge of the Church the protection and wisdom necessary to grow in obedience to God and in holiness. We have also known prophets, pilgrims, and hermits who have needed the desert and the cloisters to silence the voices of the world and learn to listen only to the voice of God. 

In each case it is the same search for God of hungry and thirsty hearts to find the meaning of life and purpose in Him. We need correction from our brothers and sisters in community. Living in community offers us a model of healthy and replicable behavior. But we also come to moments of holiness in our personal deserts alone with God, to engage in deep analysis and conversations with Him that will give us personal revelation of the Holy Spirit and communion of hearts.

What is your path to holiness?

I am convinced that very few of us will be declared saints, but all of us will be able to experience moments of holiness.

To live moments of holiness is to cleanse the heart and strip the mind of everything that does not allow us to seek and long for God's will. To live moments of holiness is to live seeking to please God above pleasing the flesh or the expectations of the world.
To achieve this we will need inner healing, as St. Paul suggests in Romans 12:1-2: "Therefore, brethren, in view of God's mercy, I urge each of you, in spiritual worship, to offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Do not conform yourselves to the present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to prove what is the will of God, good and acceptable and perfect".

Those of us who follow Jesus, walk in faith, depend on His grace and also strive in acts of love and mercy, the complement of all integrated in the same experience. 

As 1 Peter 1:15-16 says: "But be holy in everything you do, just as he who called you is holy; for it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"

We will approach holiness if we resist spiritual mediocrity, if we speak the truth and act in charity. We will approach holiness with moral, spiritual and behavioral discipline. Everything that projects us to be better human beings will help us to sanctify ourselves. The invitation to holiness is an invitation to constant changes and transformations: change of nature, moderating reactions, impulses, tendencies, passions, and eradicating obsessions.

The opposite of holiness is the degradation of our human behaviors by normalizing and excusing moral decadence, sin, defects and imperfections. The opposite of holiness is also when we sin not only with deeds, but also with thought. The opposite of holiness is to take pleasure in the worldly, to be attracted to the corrupt, to enter into complicity with sin, and to harbor its consequences without desire to change. The enemy's plan is decadence. In that plan of decadence and loss, is the acceptance of sin as part of the normality of life. The enemy always wants us to believe that being a sinner is part of the complexity of being a simple human being.

In Jesus' plan we are presented with a longed-for program of healing and overcoming, leading us to perfection. Jesus said, "be holy as your heavenly Father is holy" (Matthew 5, 48). Do you know how else Jesus described the Father? As loving, caring, compassionate, understanding: so all these attributes are synonymous with holiness.

Although holiness has always seemed to us a mirage or an unattainable reality, the truth is that we can all live moments of holiness. When do we live moments of holiness? As Matthew 25:35-36 says "when I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, in prison and you came to visit me".

When do we experience moments of holiness? When we go against the desires and impulses of the flesh; when we accept the circumstances that cannot be changed and commit to what we must and can change; when we pair wisdom with humility and when we exchange resentment for empathy and mercy.

When do we live moments of holiness? When we seek God's presence in the silences, bustles and crossroads of life, and show hunger and thirst for His gifts, to please His heart, and when we turn every sacrifice into thanksgiving and praise.

When do we experience moments of holiness? When we are kind, helpful, grateful, faithful, authentic, compassionate: because all this is contrary to human instincts, and to manifest this new nature we need the Spirit of God whom we also call the Holy Spirit.

We will live moments of holiness every time we sacrifice ourselves in love by responding to a needy person, caring for a sick person, whether it corresponds to us or not; when we do not abandon our elderly parents in a nursing home but dedicate ourselves to them in the last years of their lives, feeling that the cross is not heavy but bearable because it is carried with authentic love.

We will live moments of holiness when we defend the truth over lies, when we defend the faith and propagate it tirelessly until we get others to convert and change their lifestyles.

We will live moments of holiness when we allow ourselves to be used prophetically and miraculously by God who always needs vessels available and obedient to His call and the impulses of grace.

We will live moments of holiness when we leave a confessional having accepted Jesus' forgiveness and mercy, and when we are able to forgive others when they offend us, just as He taught us; and when we prostrate ourselves before the Blessed Sacrament in profound reverence surrendering our burdens to Him and raising to Him our untiring praises.

We will live moments of holiness when, while we could opt for evil, for deceit, for fraud, we choose goodness, truth and sincerity: instead of hoarding, we share: instead of denying others of our bread or benefits, we share them.

His word confirms that the call is for everyone.

The authorMartha Reyes

D. in Clinical Psychology.

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