We are the children of God, called to be holy. But it’s often difficult to feel that holiness in the midst of daily life—and that’s even more true now, as we adjust our lives to the COVID-19 pandemic, than it was even a mere two weeks ago. Before, it was merely easy to get caught up in the minutiae of things—the dry cleaning, the coworker talking loudly on the phone, soccer practice, forgetting to buy tomatoes at the market; these days, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear, the isolation, the loneliness of being so distant from each other. Without going to Mass on Sundays, even the day when it used to feel like we were at least a little sanctified is feeling less so. So what time is left for holiness?
It’s a special challenge for those of us who do not live in religious communities. While monks and nuns share many of the same drudgery and distractions we experience—dishes to be washed, appointments to be kept, accounts to be balanced—they also have reminders of holiness stitched into the fabric of their daily lives. Set times for prayer in community. Time carved out for contemplation and private prayer, for spiritual reading, for adoration. Daily Mass. These daily reminders of who they are and to whom they belong are both grounding and liberating.
Those of us fortunate enough to be able to occasionally take time to go on a retreat or participate with other Catholics in a week of volunteer work have had a taste of this liberation. When the expectation of prayer and quiet is part of the framework of your day, it becomes natural, familiar, and sustaining.
Perhaps you’ve also experienced this. I have come out of a retreat resolved to take that expectation with me into my daily life at home. And that resolve lasted… until. Until the morning after a sleepless night when I didn’t get up in time to recite morning prayer. Until the deadline I faced at work precluded that hour of meditation I’d promised myself. Until, until, until…
All this has taught me a few things about holiness. Working with the Daughters of St. Paul has also taught me more than a few things about holiness. I’ve learned that we can sanctify our daily lives, but only if we take on a different perspective. And that perspective is: start small. Start where you are right now.
Holiness isn’t a destination. It’s a choice of how you do the things you do every day. It’s not something that happens “out there,” it’s a change of heart that happens at home, with the people who are around you right now.
There’s something else about religious communities: while we tend to make distinctions between the drudgery of washing dishes, for example, and the joy of prayer, they don’t. When I see the Daughters of St. Paul cooking for each other, cleaning each other’s dishes, listening to each other in conversation, praying for each other, what I see is everyday life infused with holiness because of their love and awareness of Christ in all things. Drudgery becomes privilege when it is performed with love.
I used to complain of my stepchildren’s messy rooms, having to tell them yet again to pick things up, get their elbows off the table, not interrupt… I experienced these times as interruptions to my real life. What if, instead, I had stopped to marvel at how fortunate I was to have these two children in my world? What if I had imagined Jesus by my side, laughing gently as I tried to teach them manners? Weren’t those, in retrospect, moments of holiness?
It’s a challenge, for sure. Joy is rarely my first reaction when I have a chore to do, when I see a dish in the sink, or when I have laundry to fold! But thankfully we have help, because Jesus is with us when we do things that imitate him, like paying attention to the people around us—whether physically or, these days, virtually—and treating them with love.
If holiness means a change of mindset, an attitude of joy and love, then what are we waiting for? There are many small choices we can make today, right now, to grow in holiness:
- Ask yourself a few questions: Who are the people I see every day? How do I treat them, and what do I do for them? Is there room for a change?
- Start a conversation with God. Prayer can happen anytime, and this quarantine is a good opportunity to keep God as your companion all day long.
- Read about an inspirational saint. Getting to know more about them will show you the struggles they went through. Their stories prove that holiness is possible for everyone.
- Find community. With churches shut, it’s easy to lose sight of community. But our community is the whole of the Church, not just one church. We can reach out, become part of prayer circles online or via video, participate in Mass.
It might feel like we don’t live in the same age as the saints we’ve read about and admired. They lived in different worlds and had different graces suited to their times. But God has asked us to live in this world. To sanctify it somehow. To make of all the distractions and drudgery and lack of time a holy thing, an offering of love. That is holiness in daily life, lived out every day, every hour, every minute.
We can do it.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
image: Umit Bulut for Unsplash