Do I Really Want To Be Holy?
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman is the Founder & President of Arrupe Virtual
I pray the rosary. I admit this with trepidation as I can feel judgment being formed by readers, some thinking “he’s one of us” and others thinking “he’s one of them.” The truth is, I’m probably neither. At various times in my life, I have felt a visceral closeness to God while at other times there is great distance. My current state is a bit more distant so I have been including the rosary in my prayer routine a few times each week as a placeholder which also enables me to spend time thinking about various intentions.
As with most things these days, there’s an app for that. The one I use for the rosary mentions the special virtue or “fruit” that is associated with each rosary decade. For the fourth Luminous Mystery, the fruit is a desire for holiness. This seemed perfectly reasonable for many rosary sessions, but this past Tuesday, I found myself thinking, “Is that something I really aspire to?”
Often, when we use the word holy in reference to a person, we’re doing so in a derogatory way. In addition, it seems as though the efforts of some who aspire to holiness are misplaced and judgmental. Even for those of us fortunate enough to know someone we consider to be truly holy, it’s complicated. My experience of holy people is that they tend to be uber authentic which is refreshing but also a bit unnerving. While we are attracted to their light, the insecurities stemming from our own imperfections often prevent us from getting too close.
While exploring more deeply the idea of holiness, I learned that the Hebrew word most closely aligned with the concept of holiness is “kodesh” which means distinct or set apart for a purpose. This resonated with me because the holy people I know seem distinct. Even in the midst of their daily work, they are set apart. I was also reminded that I am already a holy person. Through the grace of Baptism, “a permanent spiritual mark [has been left] on our soul that makes us holy and opens us to salvation and eternal life with God.”(1) That means that I am set apart for a purpose. You are too.
So what gives, then? Why the apprehension to desire holiness? For me, I think it’s because holiness seems like such a high bar. There is a never-ending stream of causes and moral dilemmas, and a holy person needs to be up to the task all of the time. This is too big of an ask for me. I fail too often to act, to give, to feel compassion in every circumstance. (Is it ok not to give money to the homeless person at the traffic light?)
Then I recalled 1 Corinthians which refers to the body being made of many parts. If the holy realm is the entire body, I just need to be my part. In fact, if my call to holiness sets me apart for a purpose, then I should be compelled to do that which makes me distinct. Nothing more is expected. To use a sports metaphor, most Catholic saints weren’t all-stars; they were really good position players.
I’ve been attached to Catholic secondary education for a long time. In my previous job at an all-boys Jesuit school, the president used to tell the students that they were precious and unrepeatable. I was always touched by this tender characterization, particularly for boys. The crux of Catholic education is to help young people grow in their understanding of self and their connection to the world around them. Each student is a gift, precious and unrepeatable, who will leave his/her mark on their family and community. Our job is to tease out their talents and aspirations. Though rarely stated this way, we educate to help students find their holiness.
So what’s required of us in our journey toward greater holiness? In Pope Francis’ most recent sermon on the feast of Pentecost, he mentions three things - to “live in the present,” “look to the whole,” and “put God before yourself.” None of these things are particularly easy to do, but I’d like to briefly expound on “look[ing] to the whole” where Pope Francis goes on to say, “The Spirit does not mould isolated individuals but shapes us into a Church in the wide variety of our charisms, into a unity that is never uniformity.” In other words, we all have a role to play. The trick is knowing what that role is. That requires putting God before self and listening intently.
Some of us know our calling. Others are likely living their holy journey without recognizing it as such. Those caring for a parent with dementia or a special needs child come to mind. This can be exceedingly demanding, and very much requires living in the present. Still, when recognized as holy time set apart for a purpose, moments of grace are revealed.
For what purpose have you been set apart? I leave you with the following to ponder.
May the eyes of your heart be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.
(1) What Happens At Baptism, Loyola Press, https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/sacraments/baptism/what-happens-at-baptism/
vol 3 issue 9