Laura Tringali, Youth Minister & Director of Confirmation
What is holiness? It seems unattainable… inexessible… something that has nothing to do with me, with my life, with my family… Holiness is for priests and nuns, right? They should be holy. They should spend their entire day praying, helping others, and being perfect examples of what Jesus and our religion teach us.
Recently, our Church is making moves to change this misconception. The Second Vatican Council gave us the phrase: “universal call to holiness” meaning that everyone (universal) is called by God to a holy life. Open your Bible to just about any of Paul’s letters to find that this is not a new idea. Paul addressed the early Christians as “saints” or, more literally translated, “holy ones.” We can be certain that these “holy ones” were not perfect because none of us are perfect. However, Paul affirms their genuine intention to live their lives for God by addressing them as “holy ones.”
A newer term for holiness comes to us from Matthew Kelly, author and founder of Dynamic Catholic, who I often quote at Youth Group and Confirmation: “best-version-of-yourself.” We can see how being the best-version-of-ourselves would bring us joy and a fulfilling life. We can see how this would be God’s calling for us because God created us with unique gifts. Holiness, the best-version-of-yourself, is the freedom to be fully yourself (using your gifts to your full potential) by the grace of God.
Pope Francis also speaks to the individuality of the universal call to holiness. He writes,
“The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate – Rejoice and Be Glad (GE 11)
How do you figure out what holiness means for you?
A Practical Person’s Guide to Holiness:
I recommend starting a prayer journal to help you notice how God is working in your life. Whenever I suggest writing something down in the steps below, use your prayer journal.
(1) Discover Your Gifts
Holiness, for you, is a unique expression of your gifts. Discovering your gifts is an ongoing process that can help you make decisions that draw you closer to God and lead you to your best life.
If you are not sure what your gifts are, start by asking close friends or family members. Write down their answers. In your day-to-day life, notice what makes you feel fully alive, what brings you joy. Write down those experiences and how you felt. Also, notice when you are affirmed by others. Write down what others tell you that you are good at. As you accumulate these notes, pray for God’s guidance, and try to notice patterns.
(2) Christian Goals
Our goals speak our values to others by the way we live our lives. No matter what your priorities are – whether you intentionally chose them or have passively let them take over your life – your priorities communicate to those around you what you value.
Is God a priority?
Just like anything else we pursue in our lives, our Christian way of life can be given direction by goal setting. If you want to run a marathon, you design a training schedule and you stick to it. If you want to lose weight, you create a diet and exercise plan and you execute it. If you want to learn a language, you study consistently.
If you want to be holy, you must choose God every day. God must be a priority in your life. A great place to start is to create a routine of prayer. Write down your goal in your prayer journal.
GOAL: Grow my relationship with God through daily prayer.
GET SPECIFIC: Pray every day for 20 minutes.
WHEN/WHERE: First thing in the morning in my comfy purple chair.
HELP: (1) God, please help me to make You a priority in my life through daily prayer. (2) Tell my husband the specifics of my goal so he can ask me how it’s going to hold me accountable.
TRACK: Give myself a checkmark in my planner so I can be aware of how well I am making God a priority through daily prayer.
Remember, we cannot reduce our Christian way of life to a to-do list. My suggestion for setting goals and tracking is simply a practical way to help yourself be aware of pursuing a deeper relationship with God, intentionally making God a priority. The authenticity of your intention and effort is key.
(3) How is God Calling You to More?
Now that you have a basic understanding of your gifts and are growing your relationship with God through daily prayer, the next step is to develop the skill of listening. Prayer is a conversation. God speaks to us in a variety of ways — in events, through other people, in the silence of our prayer.
You chose your first Christian goal. Now it is time to open yourself up to God choosing your next goal. How will you know what that is?
“[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Is God calling you to be more loving by showing greater respect for your parents, teachers, or peers? Is God calling you to greater joy by complaining less and remembering gratitude more? Is God calling you to more peace by praying to let go of anxiety about things out of your control? Is God calling you to more kindness especially to someone who is tough to get along with? Is God calling you to more goodness by getting involved in community service? Is God calling you to greater faithfulness by going to Mass more routinely or praying to learn to trust God more? Is God calling you to more gentleness by controlling your temper? Is God calling you to self-control by cutting down on procrastination from your responsibilities?
What draws your heart? Take it to prayer. Ask God. Create a silent space to allow God to answer. Be patient and open to discovering the answer on God’s time in God’s way.
Each of these steps is repeatable. Rediscover your gifts any time. Set practical goals to help you prioritize God. Listen for God, and allow God to set your priorities.
Remember, holiness is for you.
“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”
Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate – Rejoice and Be Glad (GE 14)