Wisdom of Solomon 12:2
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!
Little by little – from the first reading. This may be one of the most important phrases when it comes to understanding how God works with us and tries to get us to a new level of holiness.
If you have ever read any of the lives of the saints, they seem to think they are the biggest sinners in the world. It is not that they have committed any huge amounts of sin, it is that they have become more and more aware of the holiness of God and how weak we are in comparison to that.
As we begin the journey of holiness in our lives, we find many big sins or annoying habits that we have to deal with. The great saints had some of those too, but as they became holier, or more aware of God in their lives, these big sins and annoying habits disappeared.
But they were not through with their development of holiness. God continued to show them how every little sin was an offense against him who is all holy and worthy of complete devotion. As we grow in holiness, we become more aware of how sin damages our relationship with God.
This greater awareness causes us to be more vigilant over the small things. But for us, as we grow in holiness, the small things become big, because the big things disappear.
Look at what happened to Zacchaeus in the gospel: the big thing in his life was the extortion he did in collecting taxes. After meeting Jesus, he chose to repay four times more than what he had taken! That sounds to me like a very powerful conversion. He wasn’t the same man.
I like to imagine Jesus reaction was filled with laughter, not at Zacchaeus, but in joy that a soul had been saved. From then on, I imagine Zacchaeus continued to grow in holiness, but there was a much different level of working on holiness that he had to do from then on.
What about you? What are some of the things in your life that have already been dealt with? How has God shown you things in your life that were a problem that now you wouldn’t think twice of doing?
Or, maybe you’re still struggling with some of those major things. God wants us to be victorious. He wants us to be able to complete the path of holiness as much as possible while we are here on earth. Of course, if we don’t complete the path of holiness here on earth, we will do so in purgatory. I think this is why the church gives us the feast days it does that we just had. All Saints and All Souls Days are days for us to be reminded that God plans for our success in holiness.
It is not boasting, even to ourselves, to acknowledge successes in the spiritual life. We should expect to have successes. That’s what God plans in our lives. This is what Paul was saying in our second reading. “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…”
This is God’s action in our lives. This is why the saints pray for us. They want us to get to the place where they are. We can only do that if we dedicate ourselves to a life of pursuing holiness. The founder of the Institute of priests that I belong to was fond of saying that God issued a universal call to holiness. That phrase “universal call to holiness” made it into documents of the second Vatican Council and was repeated by Pope St. John Paul.
We are called to holiness. How many times should I repeat that today? We are called to holiness. God issues that call to every soul, and every soul responds to that call differently. Some seem to make huge strides toward holiness early in their life. Some struggle with sins and addictions all their lives. But what counts most is that we detest – detest — the inclination away from holiness that is part of the human condition.
Now I will turn the question to the other side of the equation. I have asked you to think about the things that God has had you deal with already that he does not want in your life, be that sin or some attitude that is not quite holy.
But this is a far more important question: how have you grown in holiness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit doesn’t just take some things away from us, he replaces them with attitudes of holiness. So I ask you now: where have you seen a growth in holiness in your life? Because you keep coming to mass, there’s something there of holiness. How has God made you… more… holy?
Answer that question, and you will be well on your way down the path of holiness and sainthood.
Jesus, this weekend I have a simple prayer. I ask you to show every single person here how you have drawn them out of sin and into holiness. Make them more aware of the call to holiness that they have already answered so that they can hear the call ever more surely, and evermore powerfully. Help your people to see the pleasure you take in them for the holiness they are living today so that they will be able to see more clearly your call to holiness tomorrow. Amen.