Holiness from a human point of view

Today is Holy Family Sunday. How might the Holy Family and our Catholic religion guide our families to become more holy, and more spiritual?

Holiness from a human point of view means "separate, other, enjoying the presence of the divine." We experience the manifestation of God in God's creation and creatures. We see some dimension of God when we talk with a good person, hold a baby, and when we admire the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. We love that experience because we are made by God, for God, in the image of God. Spirituality is the way of growing in relationship with God. In Catholic theology, we present the image of three foundational levels: the deepest and most important is doctrinal theology (what we believe about God), gives shape to moral theology (how we are to act in relation to God and humankind), which gives rise to spiritual theology (which develops our relationship with God and humankind). Today, many people reject Christian doctrine and morality, and hope to jump right into a spirituality, but they have built their house on sand. Spirituality without a foundation in doctrine or morality is an individualistic and narcissistic attempt to relate to God by one's own way, and without reference to the four thousand years of Judaeo-Christian history. This approach is popular currently: at nearby Thurmont, a pagan group has been public for many years; at Hollywood, the Church of Scientology gains much attention; across our entire country, non-denominational churches intentionally eschew doctrine, but nonetheless promise a supposed spirituality.

How did the Holy Family grow in holiness, and what spirituality supported them? Simply, the members of the Holy Family listened to and responded to the will of God. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamane prayed to his Father: "If this cup can pass from me, then let it do so, but not my will, but your will be done." Mary replied in conversation with the angel Gabriel, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me according to your word." Joseph listened to an angel three times, in order to serve and protect the Holy Family. Admittedly, the Holy Family is a lot different from our families. Two of the three members, Jesus and Mary, never sinned; and Joseph, heard and obeyed angels. The Holy Family is not the usual family. But they listened to, and responded to God.

May I share with you two personal experiences which helped me to grow closer to God: one experience occurred this Advent, and the other occurred during the Christmas holidays. At the beginning of Advent, I had resolved to take ten minutes during the middle of my day, to be quiet with God. I read the booklet we had distributed in the church at the beginning of Advent. I prayed simply "how has God made his presence manifest to me during this day?" I noted that God's presence was manifest in every breath I took, in the birds outside my windows, in the light snowfall on a holly tree outside my window, in the shut-ins with whom I spoke over the phone, in some confessions I heard. An experience over the holidays was that I visited one of my sisters. Six months ago, one of my nieces had adopted a baby girl from Guatemala. This child feels especially comfortable in the arms of men: her father, her grandfather, and her uncle. I was sitting on the living room couch, and offered to hold her. She fell asleep. For the next hour, she rested face-forward on my chest. I could not move. I did not want to talk. I appreciated her as a child, if not an angel, from God. While Christmas with my large family was much fun, just sitting still and connecting with this baby girl was the most meaningful activity with my family. This was spiritual. This activity was holy because the child clearly manifests God's presence.

How do we become spiritual? By grounding ourselves in good doctrine and good morality. If we are not moral people, we will never be spiritual people. And how do we become holy? By listening to and responding to God's will. We seek the ways of God which oftentimes are separate from, different from the ways of the world. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were always aware of God's presence in their lives. May I suggest that you take ten minutes a day to do nothing, except to reflect on how God manifests himself to you each day.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley