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Common Mistakes Made on the way to Holiness

I would not be surprised if you told me that you desire holiness. After all, those who have had an encounter with the Lord, an experience of conversion, a little glimpse of the sweetness of God and what he offers us, should desire nothing less than holiness which is perfect union with God. Our desire is important, since without it we will not move towards the necessary practices of spiritual exercises which give birth to those realities that are from the good and loving God. It is good, therefore to begin with a desire to be a saint. This desire will grow in you as you pray for that grace. It will also increase in your soul through the practice of being inspired by the example of other holy people. If you want to grow in your desire for holiness it is important to allow yourselves to be inspired by the lives of the saints. As Catholics we have a beautiful tradition of venerating saints, praying through their intercession, learning about their lives through books and movies. Become a great admirer of the saints and you will begin to see an increase in your own desire to reach holiness.

During my years as spiritual director I discovered certain mistakes in attitude that many people make in their spiritual journeying. The first one is that desire to be a saint is important, but it alone will not suffice to make you a saint. Once I desire some good, such as holiness, I must now form my will to take the necessary steps to achieve that which I desire. This means that I must sometimes engage in practices which may not be most comfortable for me at the time. Assume you desire to be a great musician, a concert pianist. That desire is in your heart because you have spent time admiring the beauty of piano music, because you have immersed yourself in that reality. Now that you have the desire you must begin to take lessons and practice the craft. Your desire, though essential in your pursuit of becoming a concert pianist, will not get you there all on its own. This desire pushes you to do something practical: to take lessons, to practice daily, to allow your fingers, your eyes, and your mind get used to working together as you create beautiful music. You know that your pursuit of perfection as a musician will take time and much work. This is why you do not give up when your fingers hurt from practising, but you continue to listen to great pianists performances so that your desire will not be quenched by the rigor of your training. The same is true for our spiritual life. Our desire to be a saint grows as we spend time with saints and begin to appreciate the beauty of their lives. It is that desire that pushes us to action: and so we pray, we do spiritual exercises, we go to confession, namely we try to imitate those who have become our heroes in faith. Do not be surprised when the practice of the faith, just like the practice on the piano, gives you some pain and discomfort. Continue to feed your desire for holiness through your friendship with the saints, for it is this desire for holiness that will allow you to continue the practice of faith even in moments of discomfort.

This principle is very important: what we feed our souls and our minds with will make a difference in how we feel and in what we desire. St. Ignatius of Loyola experienced this when he was wounded in battle and had to spend many months in bed recuperating. He was bored and because television did not exist in the 16th century he read books. After a little while he noticed that his desires changed based on the books he read. Whenever he read worldly novels he experienced pleasure and joy, but those experiences never remained with him for very long. Not long after finishing a novel he would feel empty and indifferent. After some time he read all the novels that were at the house and the only other books that were available in this house were stories about the lives of the saints. Out of boredom he began to read the books about the saints, for he was not a religious man at this time. He noticed that after reading about the saints he would be filled with a desire to be a saint himself, and that desire filled him with great joy and satisfaction, which would last a long time after finishing the book. It was from that experience of reading the lives of the saints that he began his conversion, which led him to becoming one of the greatest saints and a founder of the Society of Jesus.

What do you desire in your life? Is it holiness? Before you can grow in the practice of the faith with joy, be sure to fill your heart with a desire for God. Spend time getting to know God and his saints and you will discover a new thirst for holiness.

Fr. Kuzma

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