Holiness

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”  I Thessalonians 4:3.

“Be you therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:48.

Sanctification or holiness or perfection in Christ is what God calls us all to do.  St. John the Apostle tells us in Revelation 21 that nothing unclean will enter heaven.  We are called as Christians to be saints or sanctified or holy.

So I have my walking orders.  Now I want to know what this means and  how I do it.

One explanation I read about holiness is that it is reliving the life of our Lord in our own lives with ever increasing faith, hope, and charity.  Our faith has to be so unshakable that it can withstand the world forcing its ideas on it. To be holy, we must allow God’s own holiness to work itself out in us. We must be open to His grace and we must actively seek the grace that our Lord continually offers.  The grace to be holy is always there;   however, this growth in holiness in us depends on how we respond to this grace God offers.  We must persevere in responding to this grace every day in all areas of our lives.  Matthew 24 tells us we will endure many tribulations and we will be hated by all nations but if we endure to the end, we will be saved.  God is expecting something of us.  He wants us to endure for His sake; moreover, He gives us the grace to do it.

So what does holiness or sanctity do?  It always gives glory to God and it always strives to do the will of God.   As Christians our job on this earth is to love and serve the Lord or to do God’s will every moment of our lives.  Some would incorrectly say that as Catholics we believe we have to work to earn our salvation.  That is not true.  The only way we can do God’s will, which is what God asks of us,  is by allowing God’s grace to work in us.  It is all God’s grace, but he wants us to constantly seek to do his will in all things. We’ve got to make the decision to do it and then He will help us. Holiness is giving oneself completely to God.  It is surrendering and staying surrendered to doing the will of God  in every area of our lives. Notice I said all areas of our lives.  This means in our personal lives, in our relationships, in giving to others, in our reproductive lives, in our politics, in our convictions, in our leisure, in everything.  It is the everyday, in and out, doing of God’s will every moment (the sanctity of the present moment) with humility and charity that makes us holy.  As saints we must do all things  as God wants us to do them.

A huge step is taken toward holiness when we realize that we can do nothing without God.  He holds us in the palm of his hand and has a plan for what He wants us to do in our lives, so we shouldn’t try to mimic the ways other people manifest their holiness.  The Lord expects things of us that are only ours to give because of our own unique talents and traits.  We are to mimic our Lord Jesus Christ the best way we can with the talents and resources we have.  If we do that, we will give glory to God. We will please Him and He will be honored.   Jesus did the will of God every day even until he died on a cross.  Giving God glory is honoring His wishes and desires in every situation.  Real saints don’t worry about how holy they are, only if they are pleasing God. We do what He wants because it pleases Him.  We do what He asks because we have faith in His promises to us.  We hope in His promise of heaven.

It was the day to day things that Jesus did that pleased God just as much as his miracles, prayers, and teaching, so we can imitate Christ by performing little acts daily in agreement with God’s will.  Consider holiness or sanctity as the life God has given us lived divinely.  That holiness can be manifested in a simple smile given to someone in need.   The whole thing depends on the degree of love you have for those around you.  If you are giving out charity as generously as you can, you are pleasing God and that is sanctity.

Holiness manifests itself in different ways in different people.  It must be looked for in the way a person thinks and judges and loves, because how the person acts will follow the working of his mind.  So holiness is an attitude of the mind not a list of achievements like saying our prayers on our knees or fasting weekly or attending church every time the doors are open.  Our mistake when examining holiness is judging our actions by their success or failure.  God judges by the motive.  Charity is the source of sanctity and charity comes from God.  Think of charity as the love Christ had for every single person on this earth and then try to model that.  We are reaching holiness when we make loving God and loving neighbor into one act.  Every person must find his own way of  serving God and we must ask ourselves if our actions towards others are motivated by love?  Are our motives humble?  Are we  doing what we do out of charity for Christ?  For everything we do, we do to Christ.  See Matthew 25.

So what are the traits of a saint? The person who is a saint sees service of God as a wonderful opportunity.  He sees signs of love at every turn.  He sees everyone as lovable and reflecting the love of God.  He worries about nothing, because his needs and trials are handed over to God.  The saint has sympathy for others, seeks harmony, is considerate, patient, gentle, kind and compassionate.  The more saintly a person is the less critical  he is of others.  The saint’s natural kindness and friendliness must mingle with God’s divine love.  As saints we will want to forgive, to share, and to bring others into God’s love and we will do it because we want to please God.  Balance, which is the ability to choose between what is important and what is not, and cheerfulness are present in holiness.  The old saying about the Lord loving a cheerful giver is true.  When a person perseveres in holiness without complaining or displaying self pity and escapes rebellion or vanity then the grace of God is at work in him.

I said earlier that God judges a man by his motives, but, He also judges us by the degree of the soul’s dependence on His grace.  Where do we find this grace?  In prayer, charity, a loving relationship with Christ, and in the sacraments.  Having an ongoing, close, personal relationship with God is a sure way to gain the grace God has to offer.  This relationship is nurtured through conversation or prayer with God above.  It is intimate; it is heartfelt; it is honest; it is open and seeks God’s favor.  Seeking out the sacraments and receiving them with understanding, and gratitude, and humility also brings us an abundance of grace.  I have also found that studying my faith has brought me much grace, because I feel like I am really pursuing Truth.  I read literary works that I know are truly Catholic and learn from them and apply those lessons to my life. 

Finally, we are promised happiness if we strive for holiness or service to God. If we are happy and content doing God’s will, we are on our way to holiness, but we must persevere through all the trials life may throw at us. You see, the saint is only happy if he is pleasing God.  We’ve got to think much more about giving to others rather than getting our joy first. Then joy comes naturally because we know we are pleasing God in doing his will in serving others, and pleasing God is the saint’s only wish. We must always seek first the Kingdom of God, where God rules supreme, then we will receive joy.   That kingdom is manifested in a heart surrendered to God and serving Him alone. 

If my weak attempt at explaining holiness makes you want to learn more, please read Holiness- A Guide for Beginners by Dom Hubert can Zeller.  Most of my information comes from this little book.

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Any Given Sunday

While in church during Mass this morning, I was struck by the sweet, endearing, telling  things I saw there.  I was so moved that I began to consider how to put into words the things I witnessed today and what can be seen any given Sunday in Catholic churches around the world.

Our home parish is very small in a shrinking town in the Bible belt of eastern Arkansas.  We typically have 35 to 40 members there for Mass on Sunday morning.  The average age is around 65 years.  We have two families with young children who bring life to our church and give us hope for the future.  Several nationalities attend our church which is unusual in eastern Arkansas but not unusual for a Catholic church.  There’s the WWII war-bride from Germany who has a beautiful soprano voice; the quiet, humble, and gentle lady from the Philippines whose potluck dishes I love; the Mexican ladies who are always so friendly when and wherever I see them; the lovely lady from Scotland who came to America with her Air Force husband;  several transplants from the North who came to Brinkley in the 1950’s due to their jobs and have stayed; and, also those who where born in this area and attend.  Some of these are converts to the Catholic faith often because of marriage.

We have three priests who serve our parish whom we love very much. One is from the Congo, one is from South Vietnam, and one is from Tanzania.  Did I mention that I live in eastern Arkansas?  Did you notice that I said my priests are from the Congo, Tanzania, and South Vietnam?  Two black men and an Asian who are teaching us such wonderful lessons on how we are to live for Christ and serve others.  Some have said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the South, but that is not true in my church.  Some would say that having an African as a minister would be bad for church attendance, but that did not happen in my church.  Remember I’m from eastern Arkansas, a southern formerly-Confederate state.  Some would say that arrangement  just wouldn’t work down here in the South, but it works in my church.  We love these teachers who are shepherding our flock in a most loving way.  I am grateful to God that we have them and that we get to learn vital spiritual lessons from them every week.

Any given Sunday I attend my beautiful, little church or one that I’m visiting while away from home. Wherever I am I experience the same thing because our church is universal. Whether I’m on the Gulf Coast, in Chicago or St. Louis or Nashville or New Orleans or wherever,  I enter the church doors and see a beautiful altar and sanctuary that has been called the anteroom to heaven.  I look around and see people gathering to encounter Christ.  I see parents holding little ones in their laps whispering lessons in their young, inquisitive ears.  I see people entering the church and genuflecting before the altar before kneeling in prayer.  I see elderly men and women slowly making their way to their seats.  I hear quiet and reverence for where we find ourselves…in the place where we will worship God.

When Mass begins, there is music of praise to our God to whom we are thankful. The robed priest proceeds down the aisle toward the altar where the sacrifice of the Mass will take place.  Preceding him the altar servers carry the crucifix which reminds us of the sacrifice our Lord made for us on the cross.  The service progresses and the Word of God is proclaimed with much reverence and respect by the laity and the Gospel is proclaimed by the priest.  We then hear lessons based on these scriptures and how to apply these teachings to our lives.  The climactic event of the Mass is when the priest, through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes present the original sacrifice of our Lord and we do what he commanded us to do in chapter 6 of the Gospel of John: we consume Him in the Eucharist. By observing this sacrifice and offering our own sacrifices to God we worship him in the way he wants to be worshiped.  Christ is offered to God and we offer ourselves totally to God.  That is true worship and we do it every day on our knees with great reverence in the Catholic church.

This morning we worshiped in North Little Rock at a much larger parish than our own. All the things I previously described to you took place. We also enjoyed the humor of a funny priest and we lifted our voices to the beautiful music of a Christian couple traveling through the area.  At the end of the Mass we all went forward to meet Christ in communion. This was a big  church.  It took several minutes for everyone to come to communion. Men and women came.  Mothers and fathers came.  Children and teenagers came.  The fancy and the casual came.  The young and old came.  The strong and the weak, the rich and impoverished, the red and yellow, black and white came.  And then they kept coming.  They were all coming forward to meet Christ in communion.  Coming to the altar of God to offer themselves as Christ offered himself to them.  It was beautiful and I am thankful I witnessed all of those going forward to Christ.

The wonderful thing about all of these endearing things that I witness every Sunday  is that they happen not just on Sunday but every day of every year in Catholic churches all around the world.  God is worshiped every hour of every day in every time zone.  Imagine the continuous offering of prayers of worship and praise sent up to God in heaven through all of Christian history. How could this not be inspired and designed by the providence of God?  It has to be divine.

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Vote Your Faith

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My Conversion Story

A link to my conversion story…or how this all began.

http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/protestant-converts/baptist/item/117-baptist-convert-kathy-frein

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It’s the Truth

One of the main reasons why I am Catholic is because it is true.  This conversion story supports that point.

http://www.catholicsistas.com/2012/05/17/why-i-became-catholic-and-not-buddhist/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CatholicSistas+%28Catholic+Sistas%29

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Come Home…

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Why suffering?

Why does it happen?   Why does anyone have to go through trials?  Why does a child die?  Why is there hunger? Homelessness? Or loneliness?  Why do men leave their families? Why must mothers die and leave children alone?  Why do young couples face infertility?  Why does an instant change a life profoundly or end that life?  Why do we have to hurt so badly?  Why do we have to suffer?

I guess everyone has asked similar questions when faced with the difficulties in life.   I don’t know that there are reasons why we have to suffer.  I don’t think God makes us suffer.  He is a loving God who wants us to know and love Him.  That’s why we were created…so we would know and love and serve the Lord.  However, God may allow us to suffer, because great conversions often take place after trials and Christians mature in their faith by enduring these trials.  But for now, let’s examine suffering in this world.  What can we learn about this?  Can we understand it better?  Does anything come from this suffering?

People-people who don’t know what else to say-will say everything will be OK.  When you’re caring for a dying child that does not seem possible.  How could anything be OK ever again?  In the sadness of the reality that there will be an unrecoverable loss, the death of a child, is there any comfort to be found? That everything will be OK does not seem possible.

Some would refer to the Bible, specifically Romans 8:28, ” And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  I know this verse; I understand the ultimate reality of this verse; and, I agree that when we see Jesus face to face, things will be  very, very good and this verse’s promise will be fulfilled. But, until then, how can  suffering immediately work together for good when we hurt so badly we are physically sick? What else does the Bible say about suffering?  Is there anything more to consider? Anything more that can help the pain?

The first thing I know is that we have to throw ourselves at the feet of  Jesus and plead, “Please, God, help me.”  We can’t be proud and do things our way anymore.  We have to humble ourselves before God and say, ” I can’t do this.  You must do this for me.  I can’t control this, but I know you can. Take it from me.  I can’t carry it anymore.  Please don’t let me pick it up again.  I’m tired and weary and lost and scared.  Please help me face this, God.”  I can truthfully say there have been times in my life when I abandoned myself to God’s care.  My prayers weren’t answered as I had hoped, but I was given a peace that can only come from God.  I believe this is the peace mentioned in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Frankly, if that peace had not prevailed, I don’t know what I would have done.

Another thing that I have learned about is the Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering.  This is a deep and profound belief that requires much faith and study to grasp, but in it can be found the comfort in knowing that our suffering can help others.

This belief comes from  Colossians 1: 24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in  my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for  the sake of his body, that is the Church…”

The main points of this belief are these:  Christ loved us so much that he  suffered  on the cross for us and obtained our redemption.  Infinite good came from the agony He endured for us.  Salvation was obtained for us through this suffering.  His suffering and death was exchanged for our redemption.  God put great value on His suffering.  Furthermore,  God puts great value on our suffering as well.

Now contrary to many “health and wealth” preachers of our day, we, as Christians, are never promised a rose garden.  Consider the following verses:

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14: 27.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Matthew 16: 24.

“But even if  you do suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed.” 1 Peter 3:14

“For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Philippians 3: 7-9.

“But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  1 Peter 2:  20-21.

Also, remind yourself of the mental anguish Christ suffered prior to His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark chapter 14.

So Christ suffered and we have suffered, may be suffering today, and will suffer in the future.  We won’t escape it, so we shouldn’t be surprised when life throws terrible things at us.  The lesson I want to teach here is that  good can come from this suffering and it can bring us comfort.

As Christians, we make up the body of Christ.  Christ is the head of his Body, which is the church.  Read the following verses.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.”  1 Corinthians 12: 27.

“For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12: 4-5.

Because we are the Body of Christ, we are coworkers with Him.

See 1 Corinthians 3: 9:  “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

God uses us to complete His work of building His kingdom.  Consider a man named Simon:  “As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon;  this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.”  Matthew 27:32.

By carrying our crosses, we can help Jesus carry His.  Our sufferings can be “offered up” to God to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church.” Just as Christ sacrificed and suffered  for us, we can sacrifice or “offer up” our sufferings in the same way for the good of those around us.  Our suffering has value to God.  God in His great mysterious ways can use it to build up His Church.

Now read from 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7: ” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings you will also share in our comfort.”

Romans 8: 16-18 reads:  “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

By offering ourselves- our lives, our work, our gratitude, our worship, our sufferings, everything- God can use these things for the greater good for humanity.  We can share in the redemptive action of Christ and can be comforted ourselves by doing that.

As it says over at fisheaters.com :  “Now, is Paul saying that Christ’s sufferings and sacrifice weren’t enough? Is he “taking away from Christ” by saying that we are to “fill up” those things that are “wanting” in His sufferings? No, of course not. He is saying, though, that we are One Body, that we co-operate with God in profound ways ( I Corinthians 3:9 “For we are God’s coadjutors [co-workers, assistants]…”), and that, in an inscrutable way, our sufferings benefit one another. We actually help Jesus in His redemption of the world by giving to Him our sufferings to build up the Body of Christ.”

The big lesson we have to remember about Christ’s suffering is that He did it for us out of  love.  John 15:13 says:  “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  We have got to learn to love others as Christ loved us.  If we do, then  we will find great comfort in knowing that God can use our suffering to help bring about the redemption of others.  It makes our suffering worth it.  It gives our suffering purpose.  We can be comforted in knowing that God does not let us experience suffering in vain.  God makes it valuable and uses it to redeem others.  It is only by love that salvation was accomplished for the world and only by loving that much ourselves will we be comforted in our sufferings.  The great thing about this love is that God can give us the grace to do it.  God can give us the grace to love the unlovable and to suffer for the poor thing as well.  Hearts can be changed in this way through prayer and by a sincere offering of self to others.  I believe it is only by God’s grace that this can happen and only by God’s grace that we could love our neighbor that much.  The question is this: Are we open to the grace that would infuse us with that love which would endure suffering for the sake of others?  If we are, we will be comforted.  We are promised that.

If  you are interested in learning more about the teaching of redemptive suffering, I suggest you read the apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, by Pope John  Paul II. Get your dictionary and your Bible and prepare  to think, but also prepare to be enlightened.

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