29 May 2012

Gettin' holy ain't for sissies!

NB.  Normally, I'm off on Tuesday's.  Fr. Mike and I switched days-off, so here's today's homily from 2010.

8th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

There's a bumper sticker popular among our older citizens: “Gettin' old ain't for sissies!” Aging is a long haul. It's hard work. It take courage, perseverance, and strength. Chances are that those who lack the required virtues for “gettin' old” never make it past retirement age. They falter long before the really tough stuff begins. Catholics, never shy about using what we're given to preach the gospel, should take this bumper sticker and revise it to teach another ancient truth: “Gettin' holy ain't for sissies!” All the virtues required for enduring old age come in quite handy for traveling the way of holiness. Standing up to the rulers of this world; confronting one's own demons; and coming out victorious, requires courage, perseverance, and strength. Despite the dangers of aging, many manage to do well enough without ever receiving all that God has to give them. No such thing is possible in our travels toward holiness. Peter writes, “. . .as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy.” 

 The saints and doctors of the Church teach us that we are made to be holy. We are designed in such a way that we are not only capable of being holy but are, in fact, compelled to seek out holiness. Why then do we find being holy so difficult? Why do we expend so much time and energy fighting against who we were made to be? Peter gives us a hint when he teaches us how to be holy: “. . .gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If these are the things we must do to grow in holiness, then it makes sense that our resistance to being holy rests in our failure to follow through with this admonition. The creativity and productivity of our minds is scattered, loose, unfocused. Our daily lives show us to be immoderate, irrational, anxious. And we have set our hopes on the fleeting goodness of people, ideas, and institutions who are in themselves incapable of making us Good. If we fail to understand that God is the only source of holiness, then we are doomed to falter long before the way before us gets really tough. God says, “Be holy because I am holy.” 

Being holy, like growing old, is hard. We have to grow old. No choice in that. But do we have to be holy? If it's so difficult, why bother? First, we are called to it. Drawn to God by His love for us, we are seduced into wanting to be perfect as He Himself is perfect. Without the desire for holiness, we are just animals, creatures eating, breeding, and dying without a purpose larger than our biology. Second, by accepting the graces of baptism and the Holy Spirit, we are shown who we are (sinners) and who we can be (saints). To endure the difference between the two without seeking to close the gap is unbearable. Third, as St Augustine says, we are restless—agitated, unhappy, aimless—until we rest in Him. Seeing that we are capable of being like God, can we ever be truly satisfied with being like anything less than God? 

Peter says to Christ, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Surrender is the first step and the last step. But the steps in between must also follow Christ. With hearts and minds focused on Christ; our lives lived in the sobriety of his commandment of love; and our hope resting solely in the one revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, we can surrender everything unholy and become holy for no other reason than that He is holy. For those who love him, this is reason enough.

Give me some feedback in the combox!  Good, bad, ugly. . .


  1. Overall I have to say that it is a pretty good homily but I am not sure this quote fits: “. . .gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    I will have to get back to you on a quote I think would fit better right now but I had to read it two or three times before I could make sense out of it in terms of what you were speaking of in the sermon. One last thought; adding one simple example of how a person could help increase their personal holiness such as the habit of making a daily offering in the morning might have been useful. But not bad overall, I would have walked away with plenty to think about, which to me is one of the signs of a good sermon.

    P.S. I am a layperson living in CT

    1. Mark, thanks for your comments. The quote you mention is a riff from Peter's letter. What drives us away from our goal of salvation is an unfocused mind, a double heart, and a refusal to hope.

  2. Father,
    For me, this was powerful; though if I had heard, instead of read, this homily, I probably would have taken a detour about a third of the way into the first paragraph! One of the definite advantages of being able to read the words, not just hear them. Your words immediately made me think of my mother, who died 4 years ago at the age of 62. She did not have, or more accurately couln't access, the requisite characteristics you mentioned, and had "given up" on getting old several years prior. Your words left me torn and wondering what caused this in her life, as a Catholic she had somehow not found the hope and the joy within the faith but instead had sunk into despair. She lost her focus, lost her footing on the path to Christ, drifted further and further into her alcoholism. I want to offer a critique, but you have left me pensive and I am unable to get beyond the question, unanswered - perhaps unasked, how do you keep from falling off to one side, unable to find your way back?

    1. Shelly, never underestimate the power of God's mercy! Addictions--if left unaddressed--will eventually consume a person, leaving him/her enslaved. God is well aware of what we most deeply desire and count our failures accordingly. It is God's unwavering will that we spend eternity with Him. Only the stubborn refusal to accept His invitation will persuade Him to let us go.

  3. Ma Tucker4:58 AM

    I don't understand some things here. I've tried to become holy myself but I can't. I've prayed very much for help with this or that sin to no avail. However, when I go to a good and holy priest for help in confession. I get the help and the strength. I've come to accept that I can't get holy without the graces that are channeled through good Catholic priests through the sacraments. I sometimes wonder whether I'm becoming fixated on this approach but the results are definitive - the sacraments work, I don't!
    It seems to me that my sins flow from a hole inside me, battling the sin is pointless. Getting to the source and closing the hole is the key. I can't do anything but point out the sin. God then finds and closes the hole in confession. Then it's on to the next sin ........

    1. The sacraments do work. . .but they work best when we work with them! Grace is freely given but it must also be freely received. God will not destroy our free will in order to save us. Grace perfects nature; it doesn't eliminate it.

  4. ...and if you're old and trying to be holy...oy vey