A life of holiness is not for the faint of heart. While you may not be asked to undergo the persecution and martyrdom that many saints endured, being a disciple of Christ means seeking the perfection of the Lord even in the little things. And often just the small thoughts and decisions we have can determine whether we are settling for mediocrity in our spiritual life, or seeking excellence.
Just one such example is in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-46)
When we think of being lukewarm in our faith we often think that means being apathetic and ambivalent. But it can also mean settling for mediocrity. Because mediocrity and holiness are in contradiction to one another. Recently on Morning Air®, Fr. John Gordon of the Archdiocese of Newark discussed moving from mediocrity to excellence in our spiritual life, and that the path to holiness often lies in the little things.
“This sense of moving from mediocrity to excellence really grabbed me,” he said. “Because I think too often in our lives we allow mediocrity. Good enough is good enough. Maybe not in everything that we do, but in many things that we do. We allow whatever it might be – my office, my room, my desk, I realize I’ve made a mess of things. That’s not being excellent. Yes, there are some areas where I strive for excellence but there are areas where I do not.”
Fr. Gordon pointed out that in our earthly life excellence is not something we can simply achieve and then sit back assured of heaven. It doesn’t mean just being more holy than you perceive other people to be. It is a constant journey as we seek to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
“[Excellence] is something I need to constantly strive for,” said Fr. Gordon. “And I think the Ignatian discipline of the examination of conscience at the end of the day is a way in which I can examine myself. Is excellence the norm here? Is that what I’m striving for here? Or did I get the job done and that’s good enough?”
While we should strive for perfect holiness, we must also realize that we’re human, and we will always have certain imperfections. The saints are not people who never sinned, but those who repented when they fell, sought forgiveness, and started back again on the path toward heaven. They realized that their excellence does not rely on their own goodness, but on the goodness of God.
Fr. Gordon explained, “I think the converted heart would strive for perfection, not in a frantic, frenetic way, but in a trusting way. If this move from mediocrity to excellence is an expression of goodness or holiness, that’s really about God’s goodness in me. It’s not about my goodness. John the Baptist says it well, ‘I must decrease and He must increase.'”
“Real excellence, real patience, real holiness, real virtue is about the spirit of God that was given to you at Baptism, strengthened at Confirmation, and floods you over and over again as you encounter the sacraments, and allowing that Holy Spirit who makes Jesus alive in me (as He did for Mary at the Annunciation), and allow that grace of God to grow and grow in me.”
If you feel like life has you mired in mediocrity, don’t give up hope. Moving forward on the path of holiness is done one step at a time. The most important thing is to start – and you can do that today.
“It’s a lifetime project,” Fr. Gordon acknowledged. “But it’s one where the needle is moving one way or the other every day. Every moment, every decision I make, every comment I utter, every thought I have – is that leading me more toward heaven or excellence? Or is it aligning me away from it?”
Listen to the full conversation below: