“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.