The Pursuit of Holiness is the Pursuit of Wholeness — So What Are We Missing?

COMMENTARY: While the current issues in the news are important to the faithful, there are a thousand implicit Catholic realities that barely ever see the light of a newsletter or a homily.

John Everett Millais, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” ca. 1850
John Everett Millais, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” ca. 1850 (photo: Public Domain)

Recently, my wife and I received the Office of Family and Life e-newsletter through our local diocese. As often is the case, it is full of interesting articles, resources and notifications of upcoming events. 

In this particular edition, there were multiple pieces about creating a foster care network, a notification about an upcoming NFP presentation and marriage prep event, an announcement for a Heroic Discipleship Summit and several pro-life features about post-abortion counseling and nationwide legislation updates. Information about Religious Freedom Week was also included. As always, there was a smattering of various matters that intersect with the Catholic Church.

Yet as I was skimming over the newsletter, I was once again struck by a thought I have had many times over the past decade. Simply put, 90% of what is written or spoken about in Catholic circles has to do with 10% (or less) of our lives. 

To illustrate this, let me start with a typical life of many Catholic families. It begins with sleeping, which although we as human beings are designed to get about 25 years of it in our lifetime, doesn’t always come easily with an active family. From there, eating, working, school, shuttling, chores (or failed attempts), homework, medical appointments and … well, you get the picture. But this is just the typical specs of our day. 

Beneath the routine daily schedule goes something like this: 

I really want to eat healthy, but I can’t sustain it. Why can’t I get my kids to put their clothes away? If I can just find some time to exercise, I would do it. This house is a pig sty; where is that other shoe? I hate lying awake at night just thinking about what I need to do the next day. When did youth sports become a full-time job? She is driving me CRAZY. If I hear that one more time, I think I am going to lose it! Boredom sounds wonderful; where do I find some? Could someone please fix the toilet so it stops running? You said what? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the dishwasher and the screaming.

Okay. So it isn’t always this dramatic, or necessarily fraught with problems to solve. But I think you get the point — our Catholic lives are complex and always full of challenges and considerations amid the obvious joy and meaning. 

Back to the 90% argument, what I have realized over the years is that, for all that is spoken about abortion, sexuality, confession and whatever explicit Catholic idea that exists, there are a thousand implicit Catholic principles, and realities, that barely ever see the light of a newsletter or a homily. 

Years ago, I felt called to write the book Wholiness: The Unified Pursuit of Health, Harmony, Happiness, and Heaven, for two reasons: One, I really believe that the pursuit of holiness is synonymous with the pursuit of wholeness — if God created us in his image and likeness, then surely that includes our whole being (physical, psychological, social and spiritual), not just our religious self. But the second reason was that while I felt that the explicit Catholic practices — such as the sacraments, Mass, adoration and outward prayer — were essential to our being, it was the implicit life that largely determined how we lived out the totality of our faith. 

Take, for example, the imperfect analogy of the acorn and the oak tree. The acorn is much like our explicit Catholic life — it is composed of the necessary “wisdom” and ingredients to make an oak tree possible one day. But it’s the composition of sunlight, soil and water that determines whether that acorn survives to be a tree, and even if it survives, just how well it grows and flourishes. This is the implicit Catholic life. 

Ask yourself this: Just how much time each week do you actually spend at Mass, confession, pro-life gatherings or even in formal prayer? If you are like most, it is a miniscule part of your week, likely well less than 10% at most.

So what about the 90%? If you are like me, you probably have heard and read very little about the Catholic perspective on sleep, media, technology, diet, activity, communication, household responsibilities and all those other really important matters that make up our week. I daresay that the newsletter that spurred this article looks very much like diocesan newsletters all over this country. Again, let me be clear: I think it is great that information for foster parents, those who have had an abortion and engaged couples is readily available. Efforts to make these services available are praiseworthy and much needed. 

But again, I ask you: Of the 168 hours this past week, just how much did this information impact and involve your particular life? As Catholics, we are not alone in the fact that much of what we speak and write about has little to do with our living. Any perusal of an online secular news magazine will quickly remind you that people love to talk and read about things that don’t pertain to the core tasks of our daily lives. Just when was the last time you have heard a good Catholic perspective on sleep, something that God designed us to spend doing a third of our entire life?

Yet as Catholics, I think we should expect better. If we are truly the universal Church, then the universality must start at home. Being Catholic should apply to everything we do —especially to what we do a lot. If not, then just what is it that we have to offer to other people if we leave a large gaping hole in our own lives?

I love Mass, especially daily Mass, when I am not corralling my youngest two in the pews while cleaning up Cheerios on the floor. But as much as Mass can inform and give grace for the rest of my life, I know I am not alone in wondering if our Church really considers what I do each day, and how our Catholic faith applies to this. 

We were founded as a missionary Church. It is long overdue that we become missionaries in our own homes, and really enter into the fabric of our everyday lives. All of it is God’s creation, even if at times we go astray from his call and his ways. Why leave our families in the dark for what are some of the most important, and most common, aspects of their lives? Rather, shouldn’t we teach and nourish them in being whole all day, every day, in the sacred places outside of the doors of the Church?

Ary Scheffer, “Christus Consolator,” 1851

Human Wholeness Is Found in Christian Holiness

“The human body shares in the dignity of the ‘image of God’ — it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (CCC 364)