Holiness doesn’t just happen. We need to be intentional about our faith and work to grow into the person God is calling us to be. And that comes with challenges. St. Paul compares our spiritual life to running a race, and if you want to run a race well you need to train. The same is true for holiness. We need to train in order to grow and reach our goal, which is heaven.
To share some tips on how to train in holiness, Fr. Sam Martin, a priest in the Diocese of LaCrosse, WI, stopped by The Inner Life® recently. He pointed out that, unlike training for a race, training in holiness is not simply a matter of the number of rosaries we pray, or the amount of hours we put in at the adoration chapel. Holiness is about our relationship with Christ.
Fr. Martin advised, “The best place to start, of course, is Jesus – the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of all things, the truth that will set us free. Being in a relationship with Him, that’s what awakens in us a desire. What is holiness but to live the life of our Lord?”
“As we come to know Him, not just in our head but in our heart, we want to live like Him. And then holiness is something that is not just a seven-point plan or a method, but it’s a relationship. It’s a friendship that Jesus extends to us.”
But if holiness is simply about loving God, why would we need to train? Fr. Martin pointed out that in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy he says that all Scripture is inspired by God, and it is useful for teaching, for training, and for righteousness.
“So the training is indispensable to becoming like Jesus. It’s a long life of formation,” said Fr. Martin.
In order to deepen our relationship with the Lord and grow in holiness, the Church offers many opportunities for formation. This formation helps us overcome challenges in our spiritual life so that we can be more and more Christ-like in our daily lives.
“We offer more formation, as a counterbalance to those challenges that are just a part of our life now,” said Fr. Martin. “So formation, training in holiness is all about Jesus. As we get to know Him, we want to be like Him. We want to spend time with Him, we want to believe in His love for us, that He really cares about us. And that fortifies, that strengthens us for the many challenges that are part and parcel of our time and place.”
The spiritual life is a beautiful life, but a very difficult one. Not only can it be difficult to grow in holiness, but it can be even more challenging to not regress and become discouraged.
“I think many of us feel like I tried, but I failed. I tried again and I failed again and I gave up,” acknowledged Fr. Martin. “So it takes a very humble person to keep trying. Don’t ever give up, be persistent in prayer. It’s a battle. … The formation that God wants us to begin will help us to be consistent. We’re not going to be perfectly holy by the end of the week or the end of this year. But with God’s help we chip away at it.”
But the paradox of training in holiness is that rather than simply seeing how strong we have become, we recognize more and more how weak we are, and how much we need to rely on God for growth. As St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me … for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Fr. Martin said, “By the end of our life we look back and say, ‘Lord, I wanted to do all of this for you, but somehow you did it for me. It was your gift to me, not my gift to you. And for that I thank you.’ And the world is a better place when a person lives like that.”