Is holiness more than we can strive for?
I think most of us dismiss any connection to being holy, usually saying something like; 'well you don't see a halo over my head' or 'Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Francis and any of the other saints are examples of what it is to be holy, and there is no way I am in a league like that'. Reflecting on these and other excuses I think they all miss the mark of what we are all called to, a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:15). So what is holiness?
In our world of the ‘autonomous self’ it is hard to realized that holiness is not 'something' we do, rather holiness is a gift that is offered to all.
Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness… Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness”
So the first exercise is to discern our capacity or receptivity for receiving a gift.
The next lesson is humility with a sense of accountability: being open to the unfathomableness of the Gift-bearer and not being afraid to say yes. Thomas Merton reflected after being at Gethsemani for less than two weeks: “Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of You and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagine You, I am mistaken. If I understand You, I am deluded. If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy. The darkness is enough.”
Merton’s quote touches on the abyss between what we can imagine and the incomprehensibility of God and though he ends saying that the darkness is enough, in actuality, it is so often not enough for us and we will, if not kept accountable, makeover Christ in our own image.
As we take our first steps into the labyrinth of holiness we somehow find ourselves being expanded, seeing the world and everyone in it through new eyes. The landscape has changed and the effect is illuminating - creating a new sense of abundance and excess with an invitation to become an active participant, accentuating the gifts we were open to receive and playing it forward.
At this point we are approaching the center of the labyrinth discovering how our gifts received help others - revealing a way of living into holiness - when holiness bounces off of you to reflect on others.
So, what is holiness? It is a gift received; and by saying yes to God we enter into God’s realm of love and service helping others to recognize the gift that all are called to receive.