Ordinary Holiness

Gaudete et Exsultate is the Pope’s document on God’s call to holiness for each of us. The Pope says: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality, or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self” (Gaudete et Exsultate 32).

Holiness really is for everyone. Let’s not be afraid. It will make us happy and fulfilled. It is not about doing extraordinary things, but learning to do ordinary things with extraordinary love, as St. Josemaría says: “Do everything for love. In that way there will be no little things: everything will be big. Perseverance in the little things for love is heroism” (The Way 813). The Pope quotes Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân who said, ‘live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love… seize the occasions that present themselves every day… accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way’ (in Gaudete et Exsultate 17).

The Pope notes—quoting Vatican II and St. John of the Cross—how each person should follow his particular path to holiness,

“‘Each in his or her own way’ the Council says. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness. Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them ‘in his or her own way.’ For God’s life is communicated ‘to some in one way and to others in another’” (Gaudete et Exsultate 11).

Each in his/her own way, finding holiness in the ordinary events of each one’s life, as St. Josemaría notes: “I like the motto: ‘Let each wayfarer follow his way,’ the road to God has marked out for him, to be followed faithfully, lovingly, even though it is hard” (Furrow 231).

Becoming a saint is what’s going to fill our lives and make our lives fruitful. As the Pope says: “To the extent that each Christian grows in holiness, he or she will bear greater fruit for our world” (Gaudete et Exsultate 33). [He] goes on to say,

“Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, ‘the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint’” (ibid. 34).

Let’s strive for true “success” by striving for holiness, learning to be “contemplatives in the middle of the world,” as St. Josemaría so often said. The Pope does, too: “Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission” (Gaudete et Exsultate 26).

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.