Saturday, June 27, 2009


“Holiness” or “sanctity” (Latin, sanctus, “holy”) can be defined or explained in various ways. It is “union with God”. It is also our “perfection” as human persons, which our Lord meant when He said, “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48); and this means acquiring all the “virtues” (habits or stable dispositions of doing good).

To be holy also means fulfilling the New Law of Love, to live “the fullness of charity” (loving God above all else for His own sake and our neighbor as oneself for the love of God); to be Christ-like. It is also “to see God face to face”, to share in God’s intimate life of Love, in God’s eternal happiness, to be happy or “blessed”; to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is the final cause, the end, the ultimate purpose, the meaning, of human existence.

Of course, one of the best ways of putting it is the way our Lord did in the Eight Beatitudes (Latin, beatus, “blessed”):

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3-10)

Though, like the virtues, the Eight Beatitudes are all ordained to holiness (“the kingdom of heaven”, to “see God”, to be “called children of God”, etc.), the virtues refer to specific acts while the Eight Beatitudes are broader categories of interior dispositions that can perhaps be called “attitudes” or “orientations”.

Spiritual writers (cf. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life) see in their enumeration in the Gospel an “ascending” order in the Eight Beatitudes:

The first three, “the poor in spirit”, “the meek”, and “they who mourn” would highlight the “purgative way” of a “beginner” who has undergone his “first conversion” and has made the decision to turn his life’s trajectory towards God. One might say that “poverty” here would mean "detachment" vis-à-vis creatures. To a great extent, “meekness” here would consist in “humility”, a growing awareness of one’s littleness before God. “Mourning” would refer to "sorrow for sin".

The next two beatitudes, “they who hunger and thirst for justice” and “the merciful”, are said to highlight the “illuminative way” of a “proficient” who has undergone his “second conversion” and the “passive purification” or “dark night” of the “senses”, thenceforth to be carried more by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit rather than his own virtues. Those who “hunger and thirst for justice” would refer to those who seek holiness, i.e., with an effective (operative) desire, to want with deeds. To be “merciful” would mean “forgiving”, the height of loving our neighbors.

The last three, “the clean of heart”, “the peacemakers”, and “they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake”, belong to the “transforming way” of one who has undergone his “third conversion” and the passive purification or dark night of the “spirit”; in short, the height of sanctity possible on earth.

The “clean of heart” would be those whose intentions are “pure” or have been purified, for whom it could be said that everything they think, say, do, suffer, desire, etc., were all for the glory of God. The “peacemakers” would be those who have interior peace—“tranquility in order”—resulting from victory over their former disordered tendencies; and being at peace, they bring peace to others as well. The eighth category, “they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake”, could be understood as an “entitative” category that captures all of the preceding beatitudes: those who suffer martyrdom (in various ways and degrees), who are dead to self, dead to sin and to the world.

The call to holiness is a call to live and grow in the Eight Beatitudes. This is where true happiness—beatitude—can be found.

Our life on earth must be a struggle for sanctification. While the work, its progress and completion would be God’s, we must put in everything that we can, applying the means available to us: frequenting the sacraments, prayer, study, the effort to keep presence of God, doing everything with human and supernatural perfection, i.e., doing everything well and out of love for God. We must tend, with our human freedom, towards this end, our sanctification, which is really “the one thing necessary”.

St. Josemaria writes: “A secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints. God wants a handful of men 'of his own' in every human activity. And then... 'pax Christi in regno Christi — the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ’” (The Way, No. 301).