Be You. Be Holy.
Many years ago, on a silent retreat at Montserrat, I heard an interesting thing from the priest leading the prayer talks. He was expounding on the idea of imitating Jesus. This notion is not about us trying to be Jesus. We cannot be Jesus. There was only one Jesus, Son of God, Son of Mary. He went on to say it is even hard to be like Jesus because though He is fully human, He is also fully divine. If we are judging our spirituality on how closely our lives resemble Jesus, the miracle worker, we will probably always be disappointed.
Rather, he said we can strive to be like Jesus in that He was the perfect realization of what the Father imagined Jesus would be when He implanted Him in Mary’s womb. Thus, we are to strive to be the person God created us to be. Only one Jeffrey David Hedglen was born in Simi Valley, Calif. on Jan. 8, 1965. God has a particular image in His mind of whom He knows I can be. It is my job to strive to develop into that person.
Last month at SEEK, a Catholic collegiate conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Jason Evert, one of the keynote speakers, said something that brought to mind the message from that silent retreat. He said, “Sin dulls our individuality but striving for sainthood helps our true self bloom to fullness.” What Jason said gives us a clue about how to achieve the Father’s plan for whom we can become.
The idea that sin dulls our individuality really resonates with me. When we sin, we become like everyone else. We bow to the lowest common denominator. Oftentimes, it doesn’t feel that way. Sin is so deceptive. It can make us feel special and, at least momentarily, like we are living our best life. But the reality is that we all sin. There are only so many commandments we can break and vices we can succumb to, so sooner or later we are all swimming in the same cesspool of sin.
Yet, when we strive for holiness we rise out of the homogenous pool and into the realm of our individuality. The more we grow in holiness, the more our true giftedness can shine. God made each of us purposefully. Sure, we have many of the same gifts, talents, and characteristics, but each of us also shines in a particular way that sets us apart.
Armed with this new information about how sin dulls my true self, I am gearing up for Lent as a time to grow in holiness and become stronger so as to avoid temptation more. I am doing this with two of the classic Lenten practices. I am fasting from things I really like to do and I am going to pray more.
But I plan to take it up a notch from my usual efforts. I am considering giving up one or more of these things: all television, all social media, music that doesn’t lift my heart to God, warm showers, sugar, snacking between meals, staying up late at night, alcohol, and sweetened drinks. Whatever I decide to fast from, I want it to impact my typical day to the point that I notice it and that it even hurts a little bit. I also want it to free up some time because the other part of my plan is to pray every day for an hour, with at least 20 minutes of that in silence.
Striving for sainthood means acting like the saints, and they are known for doing some pretty radical penitential practices and spending a lot of time in prayer. This Lent let’s stop letting sin dull our individuality and strive to shine as the person God has made us to be. The world needs us to shine the light of God’s love. But before we can reflect the light, we have to dust ourselves off and bask in the glory of His presence.