Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is holiness?

What is God's idea of holiness? I've come to realize that his idea of holiness and my own differ. The more I open myself up to God the more aware of this I become. In my younger years I thought that the more a person prayed and went to church the holier they were. Needless to say, I was often very surprised at the "unholy" things some of them did. This frustrated me to no end as a teenager and young adult. My thought was this:
"If you were going to do deeds of darkness then why pretend that you were really doing God's work by praying and going to church, too?"

I didn't really understand human nature. Everything was black and white for me and when gray mixed in so did confusion.  I grew older and began to see that sanctification was God's work... but requires a response from us. As I matured in prayer I began to see that prayer itself isn't holiness. Prayer is more like a lever that God uses to pry open our hard hearts. If our nature wasn't fallen, prayer would be unnecessary. We are fallen, however, and the intimate communion we once shared with God isn't there like it once was. It takes work now...both on our end and God's end.

Prayer changes as the heart is opened. We soon come to realize that we are not holy and need the transforming power of God's grace in our daily lives. We also see that our own thoughts on holiness do not have much resemblance to God's thoughts on holiness. How do I know this? By the contradictions in the lives of most (all?) people, myself included. It reminds me of my post yesterday about the mixture of organic milk and junkfood cereal - God's love being the organic milk and our sins the junkfood. God pours his love and wholesomeness on our sinful hearts, rids us of the poisons we have carried around with us, and infuses us with his own goodness. His desire is to fill us with good things but we often cling to the poisons that harm us instead. (I should have put fruit in the cereal yesterday, I would have had a great time with that analogy!)

What is holiness, anyway? I can explain it intellectually ... but my heart is still a bit unsure.  What I do know is this: 
God will work it out.


  1. Excellent post! It does seem like such a contradiction when people who are very prayerful live their lives in what appears to be such unholy ways! Thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation! What would we do without it!

  2. The fruit in the cereal would go nicely with today's Gospel :)

  3. Sometimes I too feel very frustrated at those who go to "daily Mass" but live in such a way that speaks otherwise...and yet...other times I think that the graces they receive there MUST be doing something good in their souls...and where oh where would they be without it?
    I love this post...because "holiness" is definitely something that has changed in meaning to me as I have grown through marriage, motherhood, my own spirituality, name it. Somehow, my heart always comes back to holiness = humility
    Right? A humble heart is a holy heart.
    Beyond that...I'm with you Mary...God will work it out.

  4. Judy,
    It makes sense that a humble heart would be a holy heart. Mother Mary is a perfect example of this!
    Since we never really know the interior lives of others we don't really understand where a person is spiritually. There are surface sins and deeply rooted ones that only God is aware of, I guess that's why He never wants us to judge others (we could be far worse). He doesn't even want us to judge ourselves. Confess our sins, yes. Judge ourselves, no.

    Meanwhile, I'll pray for humility :)

  5. Mary, I am still alive and kicking! I love this post because it is something I struggled with for years when I was NOT going to church. I would say - look at those hypocrites. They go to church one day and then sin the rest of the week!
    Then I heard a great homily from my pastor a few years ago and it helped me to understand. The thing is, the difference between those of us who go to church and those who don't is that we know, somewhere deep inside, that we need the graces we receive by going to church. We know we are not better than those who do not go. We are sinners, too. We are not holier than they are. It is just that we know we need God and His love and forgiveness. Perhaps those who do not go to church or worship in any way, do not realize that yet. Let us pray that someday we will all be going to church together!

  6. The reassurance that God will work it out is all the hope I need to hang on to. As difficult as it may be at times. Thanks Mary for another excellent post. Blessings.

  7. Check this post out! This speaks to what you posted here. -

  8. Your post reminds me of Jesus telling us not to judge others because we can't tell by externals. What bothers me about myself is that I am blind to my own double standards and so ashamed when I discover them and feel like such a hypocrite. This has happened often enough that I am taking Jesus's words a lot more seriously about the judging stuff.

    I have to laugh at Colleen's comment about not going to church and using the excuse that those who do go are not living up to the gospel. We all have so many ways to fool ourselves that it is a really good thing God gave us guardian angels who are smarter than we are and that He is so loving and merciful and cares for us in His all-wise way. If He left us to ourselves not one of us would ever get to heaven.

  9. You are so right that God will work it out. That is what holiness is, realizing that we need God every minute of every day, and that He will work it out, even when we cannot. I used to think I could never be good enough to be holy, but now I realize that it is not about how good I am, but how good God is. God is the One who transforms my heart and makes it holy, not my own actions, although I believe we must be receptive to His grace through the sacraments. Holiness is when it is all about Him, not us. And He will take our actions and bear fruit for His glory.