The other day I had a discussion with my soon-to-be 5-year-old daughter about the long path to holiness. She was having a difficult day. We had just spent three weeks visiting my family in my native state of Montana. We were on our way back to Virginia and had already spent three days in the car. Exhaustion was wearing on all of us and parents know that children are creatures of habit. Taking a child away from their routine usually results in some tears and difficult behavior. After the irrationality subsided, my daughter came to me in tears asking why she can never seem to be good. This is of course an exaggeration. She is good most of the time, but has her moments throughout the day. It seems that she has stumbled upon St. Paul’s words to the Romans: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” She has discovered the battle we wage daily in the spiritual life.
My daughter wanted to understand why she does “bad things” so often. She understands when she does wrong, but she cannot fully grasp the why of her choices or even the emotions blinding her choices. She is not yet at the age of reason, but she is beginning to see her Fallen nature and she doesn’t like it. I re-visited the sin of Adam and Eve with her and how human beings must now wage war against their own sinful nature. We discussed again how this is why Jesus had to come die for us and rise again. Once we reviewed the beginning of sin and our need for redemption I tried to explain a few different things about the journey to holiness.
We cannot do it alone
My daughter tearfully expressed her frustration and kept on telling me that she cannot seem to do good on her own and she fails all of the time. I told her she is absolutely correct; she cannot do it on her own. We are powerless in the face of sin. It is through the Paschal Mystery that we are given new life in Baptism. Sin is a life-long struggle. We have to crawl back to the Confessional repeatedly confessing the same sins over-and-over again. We must fall on Christ. He is the only way we can achieve holiness. The go it alone attitude will not fly in the Christian life. We need Christ just like we need the very air we breathe. My daughter, you, and me cannot achieve holiness without relying totally on Our Lord.
We will fall daily
We sin daily. We are not yet saints, so we will fall every single day until we reach our eschatological end. My eyes were opened to how often I fall and the habitual sins I struggle with when I started going to regular Confession. Going to Confession every two weeks or monthly will open our eyes to how short we fall of our Baptismal promises and in our vocation. This knowledge is not meant to lead us to despair. It is meant to show us how much we need Christ. I have already said we cannot go it alone. Examining the areas where we fall daily shows us where we need to improve, but it also shows us over time where we are improving. The path to holiness is one of small steps and small successes. Very few of us will progress in leaps and bounds. I explained to my daughter that she will fall every day and so will I.
We must get back up
Knowing that we will fail daily means that we must also get back up by the grace of God. Each time we lose our temper, look at another person in lust, lie, forget to pray, cheat, gossip, or commit sins both mortal and venial, we must dust ourselves off and allow Jesus to bring us to our feet again. He is calling us to persevere. He knows that perfection is a journey we must walk over time. He desires that we keep walking forward, even if we wander completely off the path for a while. The point is to get back on and to follow Him.
Seek forgiveness immediately
Our daughter is being taught to seek forgiveness from the person she has hurt and God immediately. It’s a habit my husband and I still need to work on because we are not very good at seeking forgiveness or forgiving quickly. We are called to forgive, so it is a habit we must foster in the spiritual life. One of the great dangers we can run into in our culture is a lack of forgiveness. This includes in our relationship with God. God forgives us every single time we seek his forgiveness. It is a good habit to ask His forgiveness immediately after committing a sin and then make it a priority to get to Confession as soon as possible. Mortal sins must be confessed within the Sacrament of Penance. We must also learn to put our pride aside and seek forgiveness from those people we hurt through our sin. The point of this habitual action is to establish an openness to God’s forgiveness, the forgiveness of others, and our own need through humility to seek forgiveness. Pride can often blind us to our need for forgiveness or to be forgiven that is why it is good to establish a habit of forgiving and seeking forgiveness quickly.
Holiness is the goal
The goal for our lives is Heaven and that means attaining holiness and sainthood. Sainthood is not only for lofty souls. It is our mission. Every single person is called to holiness whether they know it or not. This desire in every human heart is on display when people respond to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or Saint John Paul II. The holiness of these two saints radiated from their person and it was infectious. Keeping this goal at the forefront in everything we do helps us in those times of failure. Holiness is a life-long journey. It is an arduous path. That is precisely why we must rely on Our Lord to guide us and pick us up when we fall again-and-again. If we ask ourselves: “Will this make me holy?” throughout the day, then we will make wiser more prudent decisions.
Being a mother has taught me more than I could have imagined beforehand. My daughter’s own struggles on the path help me to better understand my own sins, failures, and shortcomings. She is opening up the path to me as we walk it together. In her desire to be good, to be holy, she shows me my own desire to be holy. There is a reason Our Lord teaches us to be like children. Every one of us does the ‘very thing they hate’ at different times. It’s what we do afterwards that matters. We have to get back up, ask Christ to lead us, seek forgiveness immediately and through the Sacrament of Penance, and we must pray for the grace to persevere.