Many years ago I had the blessing of meeting an older priest who had retired from active ministry, though he had permission to say one Mass every Sunday at a chapel in a converted barn on land belonging to his brother. It was an incredible gift to have met Monsignor,* especially since he was clearly holy, possessing many spiritual gifts, a man of humility and love. His holiness seemed natural to him, though I know it is something in which he grew throughout his life. I also know holiness (such as his) is natural insofar as it is something we are all called to and that we are all capable of attaining. Among other things, an important aspect of living a holy life is the importance of being an example. Someone who lives a holy life can and often does offer inspiration to others, encouraging spiritual growth through their words and deeds. Therefore, when we choose to work at growing in holiness, what we are choosing is to affect the lives of others through our witness. Of course, it is worth the effort for many reasons, but especially because our holiness pleases God.
Although our holiness does not really need the influence of another, (but only that of the Holy Spirit), it certainly helps to have good examples such as the Monsignor. Without holy ones to be as our spiritual heroes the seeds of holiness can remain ‘un-watered,’ diminishing the chances of development. Further, what we do gives witness to what is at the center of our hearts. If we believe that we can grow in holiness, then with effort we will. But if we believe there is no way we can become holy, then not only will we stunt our own growth, but there will be little to inspire others to work at it either. In other words, to be holy is not only a call, but in a way, it is our responsibility since as disciples our work is that of building the Kingdom. Additionally, our efforts at holiness are the best gifts we can offer to God as a gift of love.
To be holy means learning to love more fully and without restraint, that is, as Jesus taught, and to recognize our ‘threefold’ identity in God: we are children of the Father, disciples of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Once we have accepted our status in these ways and truly take ourselves and our call to discipleship seriously, committing more deeply to our covenantal relationship with God through the Sacraments, study, and prayer, putting into action what we learn and pray, then we are truly on the road to holiness. Given that holiness is about what grows in our heart, a point to ponder is the lasting effects of the love which is at the center of holiness and which marks us as true disciples of Jesus. In each of the parables found in Matthew 25, Jesus indicated that it is the quality of our love that will build the Kingdom, and it is what we will be judged on. Thus, we work at building the Kingdom by building upon the graces we have received; as we grow in holiness, we do that which Jesus has called us to do.
That being said, we must remember that in the Gospels Jesus made it clear that His disciples would have powerful spiritual gifts. So why don’t we take Him at His word? Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these….” (John 14:12) If we truly believe this, then we can and should be doing the greater things of which Jesus spoke. The works Jesus promised that His disciples would do were not just for the first century Church, but they were meant for all those who believe and have joined themselves to Him through Baptism. If we accept the entire message of the Gospels, and if we take to heart Jesus’ call and especially those very words of ‘doing greater things,’ it will happen.Therefore, we should be interceding by praying for healing of every sort and for issues of justice, teaching the Gospels in word and deed, helping the poor, and all the things Jesus said His disciples would do, and we should do it with the faith and belief that we can.** This does not mean our prayers and intentions will always provide the results we want, because what God does is based upon His wisdom and love, not ours. But Jesus said our faith will move mountains, so we should trust in Him enough to believe we can move them, first by praying, then by acting in ways that cooperate with that for which we have just prayed. In truth, it is His Holy Spirit working through the holy ones that moves mountains!
Many Saints have shown that the best way to grow in holiness is to be about doing small things with great love, though we should not limit ourselves: we can do the ‘big things’ with our love, too. Nonetheless, loving in small ways is something we can all do, and it is an effective way to begin. As love becomes our motivation, it will also become our power to persevere. It will enable our growth in humility and selflessness, leading to a habit of loving in greater ways than we thought possible. Simply put, holiness means to become as Christ: to not only put on the mind of Christ, but His heart as well.
May we desire to grow in holiness that we might become a witness to the Love of Jesus! May we be inspired by the lives of the holy ones to help move us to do greater things! And may we call upon the Lord to help us stay committed to the work of spiritual growth! Let us meet in the mind and heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The holy priest was Msgr. Francis P. Ferme of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY. He passed away in 1984. He had a beautiful spirit about him, and it was clear that he was a man of prayer who cared deeply about his little flock. He also had many spiritual gifts that I witnessed firsthand. I was blessed to have known him and continue to pray for his intercession. For a bit more on him, go to https://stannsyonkers.org/history-of-st-anns
** You can find the greater things which Jesus spoke of in the commissioning of the apostles in the synoptic Gospels, specifically Matthew 10:1, 7-8; Mark 3:13-15 and Mark 6:7 ff; Luke 9:1-2; and finally the passage I quoted in its fullness, John:14-12-14. Also if you read the Acts of the Apostles you will see the fruit of Jesus’ words in the miracles the apostles were able to accomplish.
1. My photo, taken on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Holiness speaks to me of natural beauty.
2. Fresco painting, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, by Blessed Fra Angelico. (1423-1424), located in the church of San Domenico, Fiesole, near Florence, Italy.
3. Painting, The Prayer, by Vincent van Gogh. (1882)
4. Painting, Jesus Missions the Apostles, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, (circa 1300)
5. Icon, St. Therese of Lisieux Doctor of the Church, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The Little Way of St. Thérèse was all about doing small things with great love.This icon can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-therese-of-lisieux-doctor-of-the-church-043-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6. My photo, Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, TN.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart