My family and I love to go hiking. We have explored many trails throughout Connecticut, the Adirondacks of New York, and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Before we venture out into the wilderness, we make sure we have all the necessary things we need for the hike. Some of those necessities are enough water, some kind of sustainable snack for energy, bug spray, sunscreen, towels (in case we dip our feet in water or go swimming in a stream), and some first aid materials.
It would be really unfortunate if we forgot our backpacks. This would make our trip much more difficult. If we went all day on a hike without water, granola bars, nuts or another snack that provides energy, we would be famished, tired and would not be able to finish a 3 mile hike. We would be running on fumes for energy which does not get a person very far. Also, if we went without sunscreen, we would get burned by the sun and without bug spray, we would be eaten alive by bugs.
Just like we need a backpack to go hiking, we also need something to enter Heaven. Yes, there is such a place and does exist. It is not a myth and it is not a magical place. Heaven is for real (great book and movie based on the story of Todd Burpo) and it is up to us if we want to be there. Heaven is a place of Love, peace and joy. Heaven is a choice and it is union with God. It is what we are made for - it is our home. This time on earth is temporary and we are merely pilgrims traveling along. Believing in God is not enough and will not merit Heaven. There needs to be action/behavior that gets us there. If a person were to go to work everyday and just sit around and do nothing, do think that person will recieve a paycheck? Maybe, but eventually no product would be made, no fruit would come of his/her labor and eventually that person would get fired. The same is with the spiritual life. So, what is that "something" we need in order to spend eternity in Heaven? Holiness. Holiness is the garment we need. Holiness is the necessary ticket to enter the Kingdom. There are only two choices for eternity. They are with God which is Heaven or without God which is Hell. And yes, Hell also does exist and God does not want one soul to end up there. He does not put anyone in Hell. He loves us so much, that he reaches out to everyone everyday calling us back to Him even if its been years or decades.
So, what is Holiness? Holiness is living a life of virtue (goodness) or without sin. In the Old Testament, Holiness meant to be seperated from the secular or profane. It is seperation from all evil and dedication to God's service. Holiness used to be thought of only for the priests and religious orders. But that is not the case. Holiness is attainable and is open to everyone. Many Popes throughout history have mentioned holiness and it has always been the teaching of the church. It is rooted in its mission to take sinners and raise them from their sinful nature into saints by the glory and perfection of Jesus Christ. God in His infinte mercy and love desires all men (and women) to be saved. The story of St. Paul in scripture is a perfect example of sinner to saint story (as well as St. Augustine). St. Paul killed and persecuted Christians and when Jesus appeared to Him, he turned his life around and became one of the greatest evangelist and preacher of the gospel, even dying for the faith.
You may be thinking that "holiness is only for others, and not for myself" or "I am too far gone and away from the church, that God would never accept me back." But that is not true -Those are lies from the enemy - those are satan's lies. He wants us to think that because his ultimate goal is to keep others away from God. All those thoughts of not feeling good enough, being caught in a cycle of repetitive sin, feeling depressed, anxious are all spirits of the evil one. These thoughts and emotions cause suffering to the soul. We are made of mind (intellect), spirit (emotions), body (physical) which makes up our soul. We were never made for suffering.
So, how does one become Holy? With the Act of the Will and practice. God gave us free will to choose either good (virtue) or bad (vice). First, lets look at what sin is and how it is harmful to the soul. The definition of sin is going against God's divine plan for your life. "It is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity" (Catechesim of the Catholic Church, 1849). God made us to live in joy, peace, and love for Him and one another. When we sin, we don't expereince the fruits of the Spirit. Instead, the opposite happens when we sin. We feel shame, guilt, and heartache. The more we sin, the more our view of who God is gets distorted and we want to hide from Him. Sin paralyzes us. It can paralyze our emotional, mental and phsyical parts of us. Sin blocks God's grace which gives us abundant life. It is a cancer to the soul and eventually kills it leading to an eternal seperation from God (Hell). There are 2 levels of sin, mortal and venial. Mortal sin severs or breaks our relationship with God which leads to hell. Venial sin is not as serious and does not cause eternal seperation. Venial sin weakens the soul with sickness but does not kill the grace within. This is why it important to be in the "state of grace". If a person dies without being in the state of grace, his/her soul would not be able to reach Heaven. Three things have to be present in order for a sin to be considered mortal which are, it has to be a grave matter, meaning the act itself it intrinsically evil and immoral, two - there is full knowledge. The person must know what they are doing or plan on doing is immoral. Thirdly - there is deliberate consent, meaning the person freely chooses to committ the act or plan on doing it. The best place to check for different types of sin, is Loyola Press - Examination of Conscience. The good news is that there is a remedy to sin, and that is Jesus. He came on earth to cleanse us of sin through the blood of the cross. He also gave us the awesome Sacrament of Reconciliation where we can tell our sins to the priest who give us absolution (forgiveness of sins). Jesus works through the priest in the confessional. He also gives us our whole life to repent.
Holiness is also attained by practice. Working many years as a therapist, I have seen so many people struggle with sin. Holiness does not happen overnight. I had a client when I was working at a faith based recovery program who was clean from heroine for a year. He would mention God and the realtionship He had with Him in group, but then one night he used again and relapsed. He was striving to live a life of virtue and holiness but struggled with this sin. Once a person falls, he/she can get back up again. Jesus said we will have troubles and trials in theis life, but those that perservere to the end are saved.
Jesus wants to help us and free us from sin. He wants us to live in Heaven with Him. Where God reigns, sin does not. Therefore, we need to be clean and washed from everything that prevents us from entering. Purgatory is a place where that cleansing happens. Jesus is the great and Divine Physician, the healer of our souls. He understands people's struggles and that is why He came to save us. We have the chance now to do the work God started in all of us. All of our actions, thoughts and deeds are recorded. We will all have a time before God at the moment of our death, where we will be shown a life review. We will see how we made others feel and our consequences of our actions. Isn't it best to be prepared?
Of course, holiness is something that is not talked about in modern day culture. The culture we live in today does not acknowledge sin or holiness. A lot of what the culture says is good for us, actually is not. It is lying to people and robbing others of joy. If we follow the culture's way of life, it will lead us down a dark road. The way that leads to happiness is through the gospel. Jesus is the light in the darkness and when we follow Him, we won't be disappointed. Once we are living a Holy life, we will be truly happy. Just like, bringing a backpack on our journey for hiking, we also need holiness on our journey to Heaven.
In conclusion, holiness is attainable. It is reachable and it is the Act of the Will. If we want Heaven, we will work for it by our actions and behaviors - by our love. If we want to learn how to be Holy, we need to be connected to the source of Holiness which is God and His Church. God is love and our teacher is Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life. No one can get to the Father, but through Him. John 14:6. All we have to do is invite Him into our hearts and He can work wonders. Remember, God puts people in our lives for a reason. He places friends, family members, pastors, therapists, and youth ministers in our life to know Him, learn about Him and eventually be in union with Him. Because that is our goal, union with God which is Heaven.
About the Author: Donna L. Marotto is a Faith Formation Coordinator/Youth Minister; a Third Order Franciscan and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.