Answering the call to holiness means being brutally honest with ourselves and others
He who loves correction loves knowledge but he who hates reproof is stupid.—Proverbs 12:1 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing, not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.—Revelation 3:17-18
St. Francis, known as the most Christ-like man since Christ, was once found weeping over his sins. He declared that he was the greatest sinner in the world. Shocked, his companion pointed out the heinous sins committed by so many. “But if they had been given the grace that I have been given,” Francis responded, “I’m sure they would love God much more than I. I know what I have been given. I do not know what they have been given.”
Humility might be the most striking characteristic of the saints, humility so profound it’s almost ridiculous. The more a person loves God, the less he thinks of himself. I imagine that as one gets closer to the Light, one’s defects stand out in starker relief, casting longer shadows than much larger flaws in one far from the Lord. And so the holier you get, the humbler you get.
The trouble is that most of us stop short of the point of holiness. We work to become “good people,” people who don’t steal or sleep around or cheat on our taxes, and then we settle there. We think rather well of ourselves, especially as compared to the rest of the world. “I thank you God,” we pray, “that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous …” (Luke 18:11) not actually thanking God but congratulating ourselves. And then we return to our petty jealousies or selfishness or anger, pleased that we’re not as bad as the rest of them. “I have prospered, and I need nothing.”
But the call to follow Christ isn’t a call to be a good person. It’s a call to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Obviously it’s not something we can do without grace — every good thing comes from God. But for the vast majority of us (everyone who isn’t called to be a hermit, I’d guess), it’s also not something you can do without a community. By community I don’t just mean people who are glad to see you at the fish fry but people who love you enough and have courage enough to tell you when you’re not living the way you should. Without that fraternal correction, we stagnate, convinced that since we’re better than others we’re good enough. And while this merciful God of ours is easy to please, he’s hard to satisfy. He wants more than just good people; he wants saints.
What this means is that we have to be honest with ourselves — and with others — that there are parts of our lives where we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Maybe it’s our refusal to tithe or our inclination to gossip. I’m quite sure the Lord will have a lot to say to me about ugly comments I’ve made just to amuse people. It might be mortal sin or only a minor imperfection, but your heart needs to be refined and refined by fire.
This is why God made us to live in community. You may not be able to see the splinter in your eye and it’s not everybody’s business to point it out. But you gave your wife permission to correct you when you asked her by your vows to help you become a saint. And your roommates or your brother or the people in your Bible study may also see something in you that’s keeping you from God, if only you give them permission to say something.
It’s not easy to be challenged, especially if you (like me) think you’re pretty awesome at this Jesus thing. But it’s a foolish thing to try to go it alone when your eyes are clouded by sin. This week, I’m praying that God will help me to see myself as I am and that he will show me the people he’s put in my life to challenge and correct me. And then I’m going to swallow my pride and ask them: what do I need to change so that I can be a better lover of God? I’m already dreading it, but I trust that this dying to self will be followed — as always — by a resurrection.
Meg Hunter-Kilmerwrites for her blog, Held by His Pierced Hands, and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults and leading retreats and parish missions.