10 Points on the Pursuit of Holiness

“All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (CCC 2013)

Giusto de' Menabuoi (1330–1390), Padua Baptistery, 14th century
Giusto de' Menabuoi (1330–1390), Padua Baptistery, 14th century (photo: Register Files)

“Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make His spirit, His devotion, His affections, His desires and His disposition live and reign there. All our religious exercises should be directed to this end. It is the work which God has given us to do unceasingly.” — St. John Eudes, The Life and Reign of Jesus in Christian Souls


The pursuit of holiness is perfectly and absolutely impossible.

Despite this, the Church has been blessed by many countless millions of saints. The truth is that humanity is incapable of attaining sanctity on our own. Even the most scrupulously ethical person cannot attain holiness on his own. It can only be given to us by God.

When Pope John Paul II presided at Blessed Damien of Molokai's beatification, he said of the missionary:

Holiness is not perfection according to human criteria—it's not reserved for a small number of exceptional persons. It's for everyone—it's the Lord Who brings us to holiness, when we are willing to collaborate in the salvation of the world for the glory of God, despite our sin and our sometimes-rebellious temperament.

The following is a list of Christian truths that must be incorporated into one's life. Without them, faith, hope and love would be impossible. And, without these graces, the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be worthless being little more than a magic trick.


1. God loves us completely and wants our eternal happiness.

If this wasn't true, then it would be odd that God created this vast universe, fine-tuning it to support life here on this planet. Why would He have created us in the first place if He didn't want us to exist? Why would He want us to exist if not to love us for eternity? It would be odd indeed to think that He made us just so that He could then forget us.


2. This eternal happiness can be ours if we actively choose to live according to His will.

The Franciscan breviary's reading for St. Joseph of Cupertino's feast day reads as follows: “Clearly, what God wants above all is our will which we received as a free gift from God in creation and possess as though our own. When a man trains himself to acts of virtue, it's with the help of grace from God from whom all good things come that he does this. The will is what man has as his unique possession.” By freely giving ourselves over to God, we accept His grace which is both healing and fulfilling.


3. Though we might conquer against individual sins, we are helpless against our sinfulness. 

We must accept that we are helpless against the overpowering nature of sin and only Something greater than ourselves can save us. In many ways, our addiction to sin is equivalent to the addiction some of us have to alcohol. One drinks to excess to dull pain, to forget one's troubles or to escape responsibilities. As such, one can't habitually drink to excess or use recreational drugs and still hope to develop a healthy spirituality. Before embarking on a spiritual lifestyle, one needs to at least address one's emotional issues. A person who is already chemically dependent will only find peace in their heart by developing a proper and healthy relationship with Christ. 


4. Actively refusing to live by God's will is a sin.

The gravity of the sin depends on what we actually do or refuse to do, who it impacts, our intentionality, the circumstances in which we find ourselves and our degree of awareness. All sin is an act of ingratitude, pride and rebellion against God's love.


5. By sinning, we turn away from God and toward lesser creatures.

Our love and attention should be directed to God alone. Lesser creatures (i.e., created things,) including power, fame, wealth, sex and pleasure, are not worthy of adoration and will ultimately ruin us. As Christ teaches us:

No servant can be the slave of two masters; such a slave will hate one and love the other or will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Luke 16:13)


6. By sinning, we damage the relationship between ourselves and to others and between ourselves and the Creator. 

This is not in keeping with the Creator's established order. Keeping a right relationship with others, that is, by treating them with love and dignity, we are honoring God Who is Love Itself.


7. God will always forgive us.

God always wants us to be with Him. He always wants to love us. He always wants us to rely upon Him. Thus, He will always invite us back just like the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32) If not, then He wouldn't be perfect—He wouldn't be Love Itself.


8. If we want to be forgiven, we must sincerely want to be forgiven.

God is neither stingy nor persnickety with His forgiveness. He lavishes it like all of His graces upon us but we must admit fault, stop sinning, accept His just punishment for those sins, abandon situations in which we might sin again and return to Him with a contrite heart. 


9. Only the Church has the authority to forgive sins.

If Christ meant to say that all Christians had the authority to forgive sins rather than just bishops and their priest representatives, then there would be no need for Him to specifically mention it and specifically and solely give that authority to His Apostles.

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so I send you.’ Then He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people's sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ (John 20:21-23)


10. The Sacrament of Reconciliation has real effects upon us.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is neither a mere formality, high theater nor magic. It's the acceptance of God's forgiveness which produces in us a real spiritual resurrection in which we are spiritually healed and rise again in Christ to a new life filled with grace. The Sacrament of Reconciliation reconciles us with God, with the Church, with our neighbor and with ourselves. Once reconciled with the community, we can then partake in Communion which unites us with one another and with God Himself. Once forgiven, the penitent will inevitably report feelings of joy, hope, a firm resolve and inner peace.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.

Representing the Holy Spirit that descended “like a dove” and hovered over Jesus when he was baptized.

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