Philosopher Peter Kreeft Offers Advice on Holiness, Saintliness

Book Pick: How to Be Holy


First Steps in Becoming a Saint

By Peter Kreeft

Ignatius Press, 2016

172 pages, $16.95

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In How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, popular author and philosopher Peter Kreeft offers information, encouragement and advice to all who desire to become saints. He effectively explains what holiness is and how we can cultivate it, drawing upon the wisdom contained in the great spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jesuit Father Jean-Pierre Caussade.

The central theme of Father Caussade’s timeless treasure is that God reveals himself through the daily events of ordinary life and that we can experience spiritual growth only by fully acknowledging and embracing his merciful will in every circumstance of our lives.

Kreeft begins his book by giving 10 relevant reasons to read it. With characteristic humor and wit, he explains that experts are often the last people to trust, using his own field of philosophy as an example: “Brilliant philosophers are often quite insane. Genius and insanity are often closely connected.”  Kreeft admits that he is not an expert in sanctity, but is only a novice in the area of holiness. He analogizes that this book is not about a “great chef dishing up a gourmet meal,” but is about “one poor bum telling another where there is free food.”

Other reasons he gives for reading his book include: It is short (170 pages); it is the most important topic he has ever written about; the wisdom he is passing on is not his own, but is from God and the saints; it’s simple and makes only one point rather than hundreds of points; it is powerful and nourishing; it sits light on methods; it is universal: It is for everyone, no matter what their religion; it focuses on the meaning of life; it is simple; and it will give the reader joy.

Kreeft emphasizes that love is a crucial part of holiness, defining it as an act we make that emanates from our own free will. Faith, hope and love are all part of Father Caussade’s definition of abandonment (surrendering our will to God’s will): “a blending of faith, hope and love in a single act.” Kreeft describes abandonment as more than a mere blending of the virtues, but as one simple act. He tells us that “when we say Yes to God with our whole heart, we are also saying Yes to Him with all three powers of our heart, the intellect (faith), the will (love) and the desires (hope).” Kreeft breaks down each of these three theological virtues, giving us several examples and analogies to clarify what Father Caussade expresses.

Unpacking Father Caussade’s core teachings, using a combination of philosophy, theology and down-to-earth examples, Kreeft illuminates readers’ minds and opens up hearts to truth on such topics as: love and sex, peace, failures, spiritual warfare, suffering, grace, duties, detachment and gratitude.

In his beautiful chapter entitled “Suffering,” Kreeft stresses that it is important to realize that suffering is only God’s love in disguise. When we suffer, we should listen to the voice of God, who speaks to us thus: “Weep. There are things to weep over. If you don’t weep, then you’re not completely human. But, remember, in your weeping, those tears are precious jewels. Offer them to me in faith.”

Kreeft also presents Romans 8:28, reminding readers throughout his book that when we surrender or abandon our will to his merciful will, we have hope that what is happening to us is coming from an all-good, all-powerful and all-wise God whose deepest desire is our peace and joy. Why then is suffering a blessing? Because it brings us closer to the one who love us, the one who suffered and died for us and the one who knows better than anyone exactly what we need.

Kreeft has written this book to reach out to all who seek holiness: It is truly an evangelistic feat.

Jean M. Heimann blogs at