Source: Catholic East Texas Online
By: Bishop Joseph E. Strickland
I’m pleased to offer these reflections on the call to personal holiness and how this quest affects every choice and step we take in our daily journey. I consider the question of personal holiness in the context of the vocational call of marriage, and how we are all called to offer financial support to the work of the Church. At first glance, it may appear these are relatively disparate threads of our lives. How does our call to holiness relate to living a strong marriage and making financial contributions to the Church? I believe it is precisely in the personal call to holiness that these distinct aspects of our lives are drawn together in a tapestry of giving glory and praise to God in all that we do. In this way, our journey through life becomes a unified path to the ultimate fulfillment in God that we are created to seek. I often refer to St. Augustine’s well-known words, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” I hope that with this brief reflection, I can at least take some beginning steps in helping all of us to more intentionally seek that “rest in God” we naturally long for in our human reality.
We are blessed with numerous models of holiness in the rich history of our Catholic Faith, and I certainly encourage all of us to treasure those favorite saints who inspire us. As wonderful as the communion of saints is, as we consider the call to holiness and how it directs the lives of every man and every woman, I believe it is important to turn to the greatest models. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, and the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the sinless woman. These pillars of strength are essential to the Church and to each of us in our individual journey. Even as I write this, I can imagine the reaction some of you may have. I can certainly understand the retort, “How can we possibly live up to those models?” To which I respond with all seriousness, “With God, all things are possible.” It is a quite rational reaction to exclaim that the models of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary are “too perfect” for us as sinful humans, but I believe it is essential that we hold the bar that high.
If we review the basic message of sacred Scripture, we are reminded that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus himself admonishes us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These revelations remind us the call to holiness is indeed beyond us in many ways. I would venture to say this is precisely the point: We are called beyond the limits we place on ourselves and by the grace of God to constantly seek greater holiness. As we attempt to look to Jesus and Mary as the prototypes of holiness for all of us, it is helpful to reflect on who they actually are. Our rich Catholic heritage offers us a beautifully developed understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth actually is and who Mary of Nazareth, the woman chosen to be the Mother of God, is as well. I would suggest we need to come into intimate relationship with the humanity of Jesus and Mary as we seek to grow on our path to greater holiness. This is really the heart of what the call to holiness is for every man and woman: the call to know Jesus and his mother more intimately.
It is important to state very clearly that Jesus, as God’s Divine Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is truly beyond us as men and women. There is no equivalency between God’s Divine Son and the woman who was chosen to be his mother. Jesus is divine and Mary is not, but divine providence does offer them as models of the godly man and the godly woman. Jesus’ full humanity is his wondrous gift of love to all humanity. All humanity can look to Jesus and his mother for inspiration as we seek holiness. Especially in the context of the vocation to marriage, the man seeking to be a holy husband and the woman seeking to be a holy wife can gain great inspiration from pondering them.
Continuing our reflection on the models of holiness that Jesus and Mary offer us, I turn to a book by Daniel O’Connor that I recently began reading, Thy Will be Done. In it, the author quotes Servant of God Archbishop Luis Martinez saying, “Jesus laid bare the fundamental longing of his soul when he taught us to say: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” Referring again to the famous quote from St. Augustine, I would propose that our hearts are restless when we are living our will rather than God’s. This book reminds us God’s will is our greatest fulfillment, and the author goes on to explain this phrase is the pinnacle of the Our Father, the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. He points out that Jesus, in his human will, and Mary, in her free will as a woman, both personify the fulfillment of this prayer. Their very being is a living out of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as addressed to God the Father.
Returning to the idea of growing in personal holiness as essential to marriage and to fulfilling the call to offer support to the Church, I would propose that seeking to live out “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a great foundation for every man and woman. True dedication to always seeking God’s will puts us on a path as human beings that disposes us to seek the good of the other and to respond generously to the needs we see around us. The commitment of marriage and the willingness to live as a committed member of the Catholic community both call for a maturity that is greatly enhanced when we are always seeking personal holiness, seeking God’s will rather than focusing on our own. Striving to live the will of our heavenly Father puts us on a solid path to live whatever vocation God has for us — and to do so with generous hearts.