Growth in the spiritual life involves becoming holy. Originally the term “holy” meant simply something set apart for worship. For example, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10). In the Sacred Scriptures the term holiness takes on a deeper significance by implying that the person “set apart” would be made special by becoming like God in a moral sense. “For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). The Lord himself becomes the definition of holiness. In essence, the word holy is a technical term for moral excellence.
The Church teaches that every baptized Christian is called to a life of holiness. Since we are all called to holiness, Christians in every walk of life should desire to be holy. Our first intuition upon thinking about becoming holy is to dismiss the thought by saying, “True holiness is for priests or religious, but not for ordinary folks in the midst of the world.”
Following up on the vision of Sacred Scripture and the later intuitions of many of the Fathers of the Church, the Second Vatican council affirmed that there is a universal call to holiness based on our baptismal vocation which results in an apostolic outlook toward the world around us (Lumen Gentium 30-36). By calling this vocation “universal” they are underscoring that this is a common vocation for all baptized faithful of the Church.
In one sense the task of attaining holiness is beyond our power. Holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday is a special day in the Church’s liturgy when we are reminded that we are to be friends with the Holy Spirit. The graces we receive in the Sacraments and the intimate life we enjoy in our prayer are all the result of the Holy Spirit calling out in our hearts, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
Because we are each totally unique, the manner in which the Holy Spirit acts to give inspirations to us varies from person to person. As each of us attempts to correspond to this calling, God deals with us in a distinctive way. We must attempt to let God have his way, to become disciples in the school of the Holy Spirit.
This does not imply that we are entirely passive. Certainly the path to holiness will require effort on our part, but it is important that the effort is directed at the right end. We must struggle to open ourselves fully to God’s grace. By means of our baptism we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit which make our soul capable of submitting to the motions of God. These inspirations of grace should be the object of our prayer and intense desire. Although God will grant these inspirations in greater or lesser degrees, they are not an optional extra for the Christian life but the secret to holiness and the decisive means for spiritual progress.
Our life in the Spirit begins at the depth of our being. We are created in “the image and likeness” of God. The human heart was created with a God-shaped hole in it. Like the first man we are alone, like a lover seeking our beloved. When we find our beloved we break forth in spontaneous praise and thanksgiving. God has created human love to be a reflection of his own divine love. Has our love for our beloved grown cold? Let us fan the flames of this love with praise and thanksgiving in the intimacy of our prayer and in the great thanksgiving, the Eucharist.
The second principle would be to genuinely ask for holiness. Pray to God and ask Him with a sincere desire to be made holy. Invoke the intercession of the saints and of your guardian angel that you might find the path to holiness. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7). St. James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2b). Let us ask God for this marvelous gift.
Finally we must renounce our tendency to manage ourselves. We might call this docility to God’s will or docility to the Holy Spirit. As we pray the words, “Come Holy Spirit,” this Sunday let us be like our Blessed Mother as we learn to trust and open ourselves up to the wonderful plan God has for our life. With her we must cry, “Lord, let it be done to me, according to your word.”