God created you as a man. He created you as a son. He desires your heart, soul, and strength. Above all else, He calls you to embrace your identify as child of the Father, as coheir with the Son, and empowered by the Spirit. He calls you to be set apart from the world. This is what holiness: being consecrated or set apart. As men, how can we grow in holiness?
This first part of a two part series will focus on what you can do personally to grow in holiness, rooted in prayer and the Sacraments. In part two, we will explore virtue, grace, and community.
First, we have to understand manhood. Manhood is in crisis in our modern world. Man and woman were created different to be complements of the other. Modern society seeks, in many ways, to blur any differences. To the contrary, our identity as a son of God is rooted in our being a man. Adam, in the garden, was given the role of caretaker, protector, and priest. He was to guard, love, and honor his wife and be a good steward of creation. Similarly, men are called to a very active holiness. Our posture cannot be that of passive receptivity.
We are called as men to be the best husbands, fathers, sons, and friends we possibly can be. To begin, we acknowledge our utter need for God. We can do nothing without Him, and so we must learn as much as we can about Christ and our Catholic Faith. Being filled by God is the first step to overflowing with grace to those around us.
We need men of passion who take the Faith seriously and are so in love with Jesus Christ that we cannot wait to share the Faith with everyone in our lives. Whatever our sphere of influence, we must be an authentic witness to Christ’s life within us. Below are some practical steps that we can take.
“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324).’” The Mass is the cause of communion with God and is the visible sign of our unity with one another. Without a heartfelt devotion to the Holy Mass, we cannot hope to grow in holiness as Catholic men. Going to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, including each Sunday, is a necessity, but devotion to Daily Mass, even one or two days a week, can bear great fruit. In the Mass, we are fed with the proclaimed Word and with the Body of the Lord. By attending Mass more regularly with devotion we grow in thanksgiving and are transformed to be more like Christ.
The more time we spend with Christ, the more we become like Him. Therefore, it is important for us as men to be active in our pursuit of holiness. One such action is coming before our Blessed Lord in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Many parishes offer exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but we can adore our Lord in any tabernacle in any Catholic Church in the world. We can pray the rosary, read Scripture, read a good Catholic book, or just sit in our Lord’s gaze. St. John Vianney when asked what he does in adoration for hours said, “I look at him and he looks at me.”
“Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion (CCC 1422).”
In Baptism, we were washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb and were justified with God. We died to ourselves and were reborn in Christ. However, the inclination to sin remains. And so, we need the Sacrament of Penance to be reconciled to God. We approach His plentiful mercy, with sorrow for our sins, and we ask for His forgiveness. We confess our sins to the priest. We make satisfaction for our sins as best we can and do penance. Through repentance, confession, and satisfaction, we are put right with God and convert away from sin.
Penance is about more than doing works to “make up” for our sins. By doing penance, we mortify our sinfulness and learn self-control. By being in control of our passions, rather than the other way around, we are able to grow closer to the Lord. Many saints throughout the ages have availed themselves of the Sacrament of Penance once every two weeks. We are obliged by the Church to go to Confession at least once per year. However, there are great benefits to regular Confession, including a restoration in God’s grace, an increase in self-knowledge, and sanctifying grace to avoid sinning further.
We must find time each day to draw into our inner chamber and pray before God. This can begin very simply with a few intentional minutes of prayer each day. This can mean fifteen minutes, half and hour, or even making a holy hour each day. The most important thing is that our prayer is genuine, even when we may not feel like praying. God knows our hearts, but He also knows how much we need prayer. Especially when we do not feel like praying, it must be a priority.
There are many options in prayer. We can pray the rosary, read Scripture, meditate in silence, sing in praise, pray the Jesus prayer, pray the Divine Office, or countless other methods. However, prayer cannot be optional. Prayer, for the soul, is like food for the body. Without it we become weak and unable to grow in holiness. The more time we spend with Jesus in prayer, the more we become like Him.
Listening in prayer is also a grace that we cooperate better with through practice. Hearing the voice of God is not often like hearing the voice of a person speaking to you. But listening in prayer is the goal. We can talk and talk and talk to God, but if we are not listening, how can we follow God’s will for our lives? If you struggle with listening in prayer, spiritual direction is a great thing to seek out.
St. Jerome says that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we are to be disciples of the Lord, then we be following Him so closely that we are covered in the dust of the Master. One beautiful way to enter into dialogue with the Lord is to read the written Word. The Sacred Scriptures can be daunting if we do not know how to read them, but there are so many good resources.
The first step is to get a good Catholic Bible. In the English-speaking world, the Jerusalem Bible is used in the Sacred Liturgy. In the United States, the New American Bible Revised Edition (NAB) is used. For personal Bible study, the best translation in English currently is the Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition (RSV-CE). The RSV translation, as well as the NAB translation, are available from Ignatius Press as the Didache Bible. The great thing about the Didache Bible is that the footnotes refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are also excellent study Bibles available such as the Ignatius New Testament Study Bible with commentary by Dr. Scott Hahn.
It is important in our own meditation, as we grow in holiness, that we seek to dialogue with Sacred Scripture. As Catholics, we have a progression when we read Scripture. First we read a passage, then we seek to understand what the passage means according to the Church (this is why a good study Bible is vital), and then we seek to apply the message to our lives. The Catholic reading of the Bible by the laity seeks to learn and apply rather than try to do the work of interpretation.
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mk 8:34).” Without sacrifice, we cannot be followers of Christ. As men, we must lead by example. As men of action, we must lay down our lives daily for our family and friends. Sacrifice is an act of love, just as Christ’s supreme act of love on the Cross. By denying our desires in order to serve those around us, we model Christ-like love.
A weak man will serve his needs first. A weak man settles for mediocrity. A weak man throws down his cross and puts his hands up in surrender. When the going gets tough, we must dig in our heels and unite ourselves to Christ crucified. If we seek to do this only in the tough times, we will fail. Therefore, our growth in holiness begins in small acts of sacrificial love each day.
Therefore, your journey and relationship with Him will differ from every other man’s. However, the practical advice listed above is a great place to begin. Holiness does not happen overnight. Conversion is a lifelong journey. But each day is a new day.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).” No matter where you are in your walk with God, your heavenly Father beckons you further. Accept His invitation today and live for greatness. We were not made to be mediocre. Take heart in our Lord’s words, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”
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