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Holiness, an interior disposition

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I had a conversation in the car with my girls the other day. We tried to come up with our own words to define holiness. It’s an interesting exercise in really drilling down on a fundamental understanding of why we’re here. We’re here to become holy, aren’t we? We’re here to spend a lifetime — however long that is — knowing God better and becoming more like him.

In the practical sense, there are ways we manifest holiness, outward actions that we do because we are holy. My personal holiness affects other people because it influences the way I interact with other people. At its core though, I think holiness is an interior disposition. It’s really between God and me.

The truest way to holiness is constant companionship with God. The more I can be with God, the more he rubs off on me, the more like him I become. So, in pursuit of holiness — and happiness, frankly — I set my intention every day to live every part of life under the living eyes of the Father.

“It is also very important little by little to learn to live out every part of our lives under God’s eyes, in his presence and in a sort of ongoing dialogue with him, recalling him as often as possible in the middle of our occupations and keeping him company in all we do,” wrote Father Jacques Philippe in “Time for God.”

“Thus the practice of mental prayer should lead to continual prayer, not necessarily explicit, verbal prayer, but rather a constant awareness of God’s presence. Living under God’s gaze like that will set us free. Too often, when we feel other people’s eyes on us, it is because we fear their judgment or crave their admiration ... . But in learning to live under God’s merciful, loving gaze, we find only inner freedom.”

What Father Phillipe emphasizes in this passage is that when I am aware of God’s presence, I am unlikely to be swayed or influenced by the world. Instead, my thoughts and actions and even my feelings will be rooted in the truth of who God is and how God loves. There is tremendous freedom in knowing this is true and living in a way that reflects the glory of God’s grace and mercy.

I am a person who goes about my daily round having an internal dialogue with myself. Did you know that some people have this kind of running narrative in their heads and some don’t? It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like not to be silently narrating one’s way through life. The key to continuous prayer is to turn that interior narrative away from myself and to direct it toward God. I need to let Jesus hold every thought captive.

Sometimes, intentionally placed sacramentals and sacred items can help redirect thoughts and keep them on God. Even in the most secular workplace, discreet reminders are possible. For instance, a rosary bracelet might appear to be nothing more than 11 beads strung on an elastic band that wraps around your wrist. You know that it’s one Our Father and 10 Hail Mary beads. Perhaps you finger them as you pray a decade of the rosary in a stolen moment. Or maybe the mere sight of it is a reminder to mentally redirect your thoughts toward Jesus.

Similarly, we can cue ourselves to return our thoughts to God with the simple daily tasks that are already habits. Brushing your teeth? Offer a morning offering at the day’s beginning and examine your conscience while you brush before bed. Waiting for water to boil to brew your tea? Lay out your plans for the day and invite Jesus in. On hold? Pray for the person who is keeping you waiting. Folding laundry? Pray for the person who owns the item you’re folding. You get the idea. There are lots of things we do every day that we can do with more intention.

Holiness is the fruit of bringing God into all the places where we live, especially the interior spaces of our minds. Can we trust him with those most intimate thoughts? We can. We should. Our eternal lives depend on it.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021