An acquaintance of mine once described a mutual friend as being “very holy”. It was said in a way that was more disparaging than complimentary. In hoping to defend my friend, my retaliatory response was: “There are worse things than being ‘holy’.”
When I reflected on what my acquaintance meant by “very holy”, it encompassed things like never missing Sunday Mass, wearing a cross, displaying reverence in church, fasting during Lent and an ability to speak knowledgeably about the Scriptures. I could see these activities could indeed be regarded as indicators of holiness.
However, these activities done without an interior holiness would be false holiness. When done sincerely, with the intention to draw closer to God and to become a better person, this is a good thing and should be commended. This was the type of holiness I believed our mutual friend aspired to in his everyday life. His reverence and love for God and the Church was matched by his all-round kindness, honesty and generosity towards all people.
In 2018, Pope Francis wrote the document, “On the call to holiness in today’s world”. His aim was to “repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time” and in accordance with Jesus’ call to each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).
Pope Francis proposes that holiness is present in the most ordinary of life’s activities, for example, by parents who raise their children with immense love and work hard to support their families.
However, he also points out that true holiness is only attained when our daily activities are nourished by prayer. Such prayer can take many forms, such as meditation on the Scriptures, personal prayer and, for Catholics, the Mass.
These days, when I see someone displaying signs of holiness, I not only think of that earlier conversation, but I’m also called to reflect on my own level of holiness. I’ve come to see that when my prayer life is healthy, and I’m working hard to live a life that is holy, I seem to be able to live and love better. When those holy things are neglected, then life tends towards a downward spiral.
Pope Francis writes, “The path of holiness is a source of peace and joy”, two things which are much needed in our world. Francis also points out that holiness is not just for the saints – it’s for all of us ordinary souls living ordinary lives. He invites us to aspire to, and encourage others, to live holy lives. And, in so doing, “we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us”.
Have you ever considered what “being holy” looks like in your life? Is holiness something you aspire to?
Pope Francis. Gaudete et Exsultate: On the call to holiness in today’s world. Promulgated 19 March 2018, St Peter’s, Rome.
Bishop Robert Barron. What are the laity supposed to be?. 21 December 2021.
Words: Sharon Brewer
 Pope Francis. Gaudete et Exsultate: On the call to holiness in today’s world. Promulgated 19 March 2018, St Peter’s, Rome, para. 2.
 Ibid. #2.
 Ibid. #7.
 Ibid. #147-#157.
 Ibid. #164.
 Ibid. #177.