The problem with holiness is that we don’t think it’s for us.
We believe that we are made for Heaven. We believe that God wants us to go to Heaven, but how many of us would say that we belong in Heaven? How many of us would say that we are going to Heaven? Sure, we don’t want to presume, but some would not even think that they will be in Heaven.
How many of you would say that you are holy? In fact, more likely, we are to say that “I am no saint!”
But we if we are created for Heaven, then we are created for holiness - for sainthood.
But it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the Grace of God. Even St. Paul had to cooperate with that divine intervention he received. He had to accept it and he then had to nurture the seeds that were planted. He didn’t go from persecutor to saint overnight. In fact, I would argue that even after his conversion he had to have many smaller conversions - gradual conversions. Even after he had been on a mission for years, he probably still struggled with temptation and sin. (Ever wonder what the little spat with John Mark in Acts 13:13 that led to Paul's separation from Barnabas in Acts 15:37 was? Paul was probably difficult to work with. He struggled.) We all do - yes, even Saints.
St. Paul tells the Romans that what “I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15). That sounds an awful lot like me most of the time. He also tells the Corinthians that he struggles with a “thorn in his flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). We may think that this is something nice and safe that Saints have, like blindness or the stigmata or visions of the devil. But what if St. Paul’s “thorn” was that he struggled with lust, insecurity, pride or anger? That sounds an awful lot like me.
Recently I was at a gathering and part of the activity was a sort of “examination” or Church trivia. We were randomly asked questions of our Faith: “How many Sacraments are there? Can you name the Sacraments? Can you name the Precepts of the Church? Can you name the seven Capital Sins? What are the Four Marks of the Church? What are the 10 Commandments? What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? How about the Fruists of the Holy Spirit? All the people who were present called themselves practicing Catholics, but most could not answer these simple questions.
How many of us could answer these questions? Do you know how many Books there in the Bible? How many Gospels? What are St. Paul’s Letters? Do you know your saints? Do you know about St. Gianna Molla or Pier Giorgio Frassati? Do you know about Venerable Satoko Kitahara (Mary of Ant Town), Venerable Matt Talbot or Venerable Pierre Toussaint? Do you know who Louis and Zelie Martin are? Do you know who Archbishop Romero is and that he was beatified last week?
Or for the more advanced, could you name a couple Church Encyclicals? Can you name some Vatican II documents?
At another event (the day before, actually) I was asked what we could do to bring others into the Church. That’s a good question considering Jesus says in Matthew 28: 16-20 that we must “go and make disciples of all nations.” Pope Francis keeps reminding us to be “missionary disciples.” Good question. Let me get to my answer, but first...
Finally, today I met a parishioner at our local coffee shop. He introduced me to his wife who said she had not been to Mass in a while. She explained that she had some issues with the Church. I listened to her – I tried to meet her where she is. I validated her and invited her to come to Mass when she was ready. I don’t know if that is the right approach, but I think this is what Pope Francis means when he speaks about “graduality” (more on that another time, if you are interested).
These three situations made me think greatly about how we get to Heaven.
Here’s what I thought: holiness attracts. Let’s work on our holiness. What does that mean? It means "work on getting to Heaven." We have one goal – let’s get there.
How do we get there? We get there together; this is not a personal journey, but a journey as Church. Part of the journey is personal, but we don’t get to Heaven alone.
This is where we must stay connected to the Church. Sure you can have a personal relationship with Jesus by yourself. You may never need to go to Mass or be affiliated with any church – but it’s very hard. If you want to stay connected to Jesus, it’s much easier if we stay connected to His Body, the Church.
That means, learning about the Church. That means being able to know what the Precepts of the Church are. (BTW – anyone know?)
We must read Scripture. We must set time aside every day to pray. Pray every day at the same time, no matter what. Whether you feel like it or not, pray. Pray the Rosary, or listen to Praise and Worship music; go to Adoration or learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. No matter, as long as you pray. Heaven is about being united with God. It’s all about God. How can we be united with God if we don’t talk to Him? How can we be united to God in Heaven if we don’t nurture a relationship with Him now?
If you struggle with sin, pray. If you fall, and you will fall, pray, get up, pray, go to Confession and then pray some more. The next day when you fall again, pray some more and go to Confession again. If you never fall, go to Confession anyway. And pray.
Pray. No matter what, pray.
And of course, go to Mass. If the music is terrible and the homilies bad; go to Mass anyway. If you find it irreverent or too pious, go to Mass anyway. If you hate the organ music or miss the way things were when you were growing up, go to Mass anyway. If you don't understand what the Church teaches about marriage or why women are not ordained, go to Mass anyway. Go to Mass. Receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Adore Him in the Eucharist.
And if you’re really serious about this, get a spiritual director. You don’t have to meet every week; sometimes once every 3 or 4 months is enough. If you are like me and you prefer your Spiritual Director to be a priest so he can also be your confessor, so be it. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. Either way, seek spiritual direction. We all need direction when we are looking for the right road to Heaven.
After one of those gatherings last week, someone said to me that they would have watched Archbishop Romero’s beatification had she known about it. It’s true that the Church (and those of us in Church communications) can do a better job at communicating, but today, in this day and age, there is no excuse for not being connected to the Church. There are so many resources available to us. Go to the Catholic bookstore and get yourself a book by St. Francis de Sales or St. Catherine of Siena. Go read St. Therese’s Little Way. If you prefer something more contemporary, read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain. If you like reading, find something. If you like music, find music. There is so much out there that can help us connect with the Church. And did I mention prayer?
And then, as you “perfect” your journey, with joy and kindness, you will begin to share that Light with others. That’s how we will make disciples of all nations. That’s how we become missionary disciples. And that’s how we will get to Heaven, where we belong.
Write to me and tell me what you think.
Photo: Canonization of St. John Paul II - CNS/ Paul Haring
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
[email protected] @deaconpedrogm