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1. What is holiness? According to the Catechism, ‘holiness’ means to be like God. Do you consider yourself holy? If you’re not holy, then who is? Mother Teresa had a great definition: Holiness is not the luxury of a few, but is the duty of many. We are all called to holiness. Many people are afraid of holiness because they think it will interfere with their fun in life. They also think that holiness is something that is for the priests only, and that they don't need to be part of it. According to St. Therese of Lisieux, holiness means doing whatever God asks of you in the present moment. According to the Bible, holiness means to be set apart for use by God. Another word for being set apart is to be consecrated, which began at baptism. (Psalm 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:7)
2. God looks upon you with infinite value. This is why we are holy. God looks upon us not just in terms of our lives on earth, for we are not meant for this world, but for the next, heaven. Holiness is about seeking Jesus and striving for heaven (Philippians 3:14; Psalm 150: 2-4; 1 Corinthians 1:28-29).
3. Let's examine the spiritual life and growth in holiness. The spiritual life is one of growth and maturing, a process that starts with God. It includes:
a. Being called by God. God brings us first into a relationship with Him (John 15:16).
b. Being born again (regenerated) in Baptism. It is in Baptism, not our decision to personally follow Jesus, that we are given new life (John 3:3). Baptism justifies us, makes us acceptable to God through the Cross by literally turning us into God's adopted children.
c. We are then sanctified, made holy by the Holy Spirit. This happens through the Sacraments (Ephesians 4:22-24).
d. The last step in the spiritual life is unity with God, the process St. Peter refers to as Deification (2 Peter 1:4), that is, becoming one with God.
This entire process is a two-way street: God reaches out to us, reveals a bit of Himself to us at a time (this reaching out is called 'grace'), then we respond to Him (the response is called 'faith'), then the cycle repeats itself.
4. Holiness is often a difficult thing to live up to, even if we want to be holy. If we want to remain holy, we have to know how to fight that which keeps us from holiness, which is our sin. How are we distracted from holiness? Satan will try to bring us from the world of reality to a world of fantasy by attacking our thoughts, using the annoyances of other people and the tensions of the day. Our thoughts are literally the playing-field of salvation, where angels and demons intersect. (This can be contrasted with what we see in movies like the 'Exorcist', which is a rare portrayal of spiritual warfare.)
Here's how we are distracted from holiness and lead to sin:
a. The mind receives a suggestion/stimulation. If the mind is attentive, it will close the door on it. If not…
b. The soul will dialogue with the suggestion and give its assent (cooperation) to it, at which point it becomes sinful.
c. The person begins to dwell on the thought and there is a union with the thought.
d. The mind is made captive of the thought and readily consents to it time and time again.
e. We are so under its power that we are no longer able to resist it. We become its slaves. The impulses from our subconscious have become obsessive.
The key to prevent this is to be alert/attentive and prayerful. Beware, because the devil and his demons work quickly. As long as you live, this struggle will exist.
5. Growing in holiness is a process that requires us to be disciplined over our minds, letting Christ have influence on every thought we have. The steps to holiness include to:
a. Be on guard against sin: Control your thoughts and what enters your mind through your senses. Question each thought (Isaiah 55:3). Don't entertain evil thoughts.
b. Call upon the name of Jesus to deal with these thoughts, using the Jesus prayer.
c. Die to yourself and avoid anything and anyone that will lead your mind astray.
d. Fast from the good things of this world so you can save yourself totally and focus on the greatness of God.
e. Strengthen your intellect to handle vain thoughts using the tools of Holiness (to be discussed in the next point). Be zealous about it. Do good works and pray with your heart, not because you have to pray.
f. Take care to resolve conflicts quickly and don't let your mind dwell on anger (Ephesians 4:26-27).
6. Let's look at some of the tools that the Church has given us for keeping holy on a daily basis:
a. Sacraments: While all the Sacraments keep us holy, Eucharist and Confession help us to do so on a daily basis. It's important not just to go to Mass on Sundays, but to take advantage of Mass during the week when we have the opportunity. Confession is essential to holiness because it helps get rid of the effects of sin, and should be done on a monthly basis.
b. Bible: The Bible is God's love letter to us, and is essential for Catholics. We should be reading, meditating and memorizing Scripture. The Bible often seems intimidating, so a simple way to start getting into it is to read the daily mass readings. Often times they are in the parish bulletin. Spending time every day in Scripture is key to growing in holiness. The Bible is meant to be meditated upon, and the Church has practiced that meditation for as long as there has been Scripture. This meditation is called the ‘Lectio Divino’, or Divine Reading.
c. Personal Prayer: Our daily lives can stay holy if we take time throughout the day to be with God. The prayer life of the Church is huge there are many ways to pray on our own:
i. The Rosary: This is a reflection on the lives of Jesus and Mary, using vocal prayers (Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be), thinking about the events of Jesus' and Mary's life in our mind (the Mysteries) and physically using the beads of the Rosary. The Mysteries are rooted in the Bible;
ii. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy: Also using the beads of the Rosary, this prayer helps us contemplate God's great love for us, even though we are sinners;
iii. Novenas: A novena is any nine-day prayer we do for a specific intention. Generally, novenas invoke the prayers of a saint in heaven, and many pamphlets exist to help guide us through a novena. Novenas originated in the Bible, symbolic of the nine days the Apostles spent in prayer between the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost;
iv. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is personal and communal prayer before the consecrated communion host, which is the Body of Christ. Benediction refers to the blessing given by the priest with the Blessed Sacrament.
v. Icons: An icon is a holy image that we believe is literally a gaze into heaven, a gaze into the life of Christ. Icons are predominant in the Eastern part of the Church (both Catholic and Orthodox). They are a specific style of artwork, and spending time looking at them is literally the prayer of the eyes. (By the way, incense is considered the prayer of smell. Notice how our prayer life takes into consideration all of our senses.)
vi. Stations of the Cross: This is the reflection on the last hours of Christ's life, as He went from being judged, to dying and being placed in the tomb. There are fourteen stations, and our parishes generally have the Stations around the church building/property.
vii. Litanies: A litany is not just the rambling on of a person with a bad attitude. A litany is a prayer of repetition that is meant for us to reflect on the different titles of Jesus, Mary, the Saints, etc.
viii. Memorized Prayers: The Church has hundreds of prayers that help us mark the day, be it in the morning, the evening, before and after meals, to Jesus, to Mary, to the Saints, etc. Often times we look at them as meaningless because they are memorized, but when we go through struggles, they are often the first thing to which our minds turn. Look at the 'Jesus Prayer' in the last session for a great example.
ix. Liturgy of the Hours: The Church also marks the entire day by praying the Psalms of David. This form of prayer is required by priests to be prayed daily, but it can be prayed by anyone. It is often done in public, especially in religious communities, but it can also be prayed privately. The Liturgy of the Hours takes all 150 Psalms and divides them up over a four-week cycle of prayer: In four weeks, you've prayed all the psalms
d. Spiritual and Theological Reading: In addition to spending time in personal prayer, another way to keep holy is to renew our minds in reading. This is a great way to learn about the lives of the Saints and the teachings of the Church, which are a reflection of Jesus.
e. Good Works and Avoiding the near Occasion of Sin: Being holy is not just about prayer, it's also about doing what is right and staying away from tempting situations that we know will draw us to sin.