“And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God
and I’d get Him to swap our places”
– ‘Running Up That Hill’ (Kate Bush)
In her song ‘Running Up That Hill’, Kate Bush was describing that sense we sometimes have when we wish we could be in someone else’s place in life – and have them be in ours – in order that they might better understand where we are. Looking at the life or the situation of another, we can have a belief that things must be so much better for them in comparison to ourselves; or that if we were that person, we would do things so much better than we think they are doing.
We can find ourselves in a similar position in our spiritual lives.
As Saint Matthew reminds us in his Gospel (cf. Mt.5:48), every single one of us is called to holiness; and we are tasked with answering this call not in that place where we might like to be; not by an imaginary living of the life of another; but precisely where we find ourselves right now, right here, where we are in this very moment.
And there is a very good reason for this – whilst every single one of us is called to holiness, the paths to that holiness are as many as there are people. Every single such path is entirely different – our path is made specifically for us and the path of another is made specifically for them.
Over the centuries, many Saints and holy people have written broad methods of trying to answer that call as perfectly as possible. Thomas à Kempis wrote out such a method in ‘The Imitation of Christ’; later on, St Louis de Montfort gave us his ‘Treatise On the True Devotion’; St Francis de Sales wrote his ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ as way of answering the call; St Thérèse of Lisieux proposed her ‘little way’ in ‘The Story of A Soul’; St Faustina gave us her ‘Diary – Divine Mercy In My Soul’. And there are many similar examples. Each one proposes much the same thing, each in it’s own way and coming from a slightly different angle. But all of them have this one single intention – to assist us in walking that path to holiness to which we are all called.
Speaking at his General Audience on 13 April 2011, Pope Benedict commented on holiness and who it is intended for –
“I would like to offer some thoughts on what holiness is. What does it mean to be holy? Who is called to be holy? We are often led to think that holiness is a goal reserved for a few elect.. The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, speaks with clarity of the universal call to holiness, saying that no one is excluded..”
This mention of the Council takes us to ‘Lumen Gentium’, the ‘Dogmatic Constitution On The Church’. The document looks at what the Church is and what her function is. The fifth chapter devotes itself to this ‘universal call to holiness in the Church’. What it teaches can be summed up in these lines –
“The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition.. all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity“ (LG, para.40)
That means you and me – we are called to holiness. Every one of us.
Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, took up the theme on the feast of Saint Joseph, 19 March 2018, when he published his beautiful Apostolic Exhortation ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’ (‘Rejoice And Be Glad’). Introducing the document, the Holy Father tells us very simply –
“My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all it’s risks, challenges and oportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before Him in love’.” (para.2)
In this document, the Pope reminded us of this truth preached over and over by the Lord, by His Church and by the Saints – we are all called to be holy. Pope Francis reminded us that there are many around us who are already seeking to answer this call and are doing so very well – he calls them ‘the saints next door’. Speaking about the call to holiness itself, he moves on to speak of the enemies of holiness and then of signs of holiness in today’s world. If you seek one single and very up to date resource to support you in answering that call which the Lord directs toward you, this is it – ‘Rejoice And Be Glad’ is an exceptional support in helping us to answer the call.
What is clear, then, is that every one of us is called to holiness – there can be no doubt on this point, since the Lord, His Church, the Saints and many Holy Fathers have consistently offered us the same invitation.
But I return to my original point, made at the start of this piece – the path to answering my call to holiness exists right here, right now, precisely where I am; and yours is exactly the same – your path is where you are right in this moment.
I think this means that all of us need to try see our lives in a new light; to view each struggle and every challenge in our own lives as an opportunity to experience grace and mercy, to let go of ourselves and to hold on only to the Lord. In other words, we are asked to seek His divine will in all things, not our own.
Perhaps the specific challenges of my life are designed precisely with me in mind, as oportunities to become just a little bit more holy. And perhaps the challenges you might be experiencing have the very same goal and offer the exact same opportunity.
Not every saint lives in a convent; or wears a clerical collar; or evangelises in far-off lands; or dies a martyr.
But all saints became saints precisely where they were – which, often, was not where they might have liked to be. Little Thérèse did not go to the missions, but remained hidden behind a high wall. Saint Peter did not spend the rest of his life quietly fishing in Bethsaida – he was called to fish elsewhere. And Venerable Matt Talbot – his path to canonisation is presently underway – lived a quiet, hidden and deeply holy life in the slums of Dublin while working in a brewery.
So what about you and what about me? Where do we find ourselves? What opportunities and routes to holiness are our lives currently presenting to us – and what use are we making of them?
Are we answering that call?