The one goal every Catholic should have is to be holy. Now, holiness looks very different in different people. God did not create humans to be cookie-cutter images of Himself or each other. Holiness can look like Mother Teresa, or Solanus Casey, or John Paul II, or Elizabeth Lesuer. No matter who we are, what we do for a living, what our situation is, one thing is certain: we are made to be holy.
Peter Kreeft, Catholic philosopher and writer, in his book How To Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, says that God can sanctify us in two ways.
God makes us holy in two opposite ways, in the two parts of our lives. First, He makes us holy through our own will, our own free choice of faith and hope and love. (For divine grace does not turn off human free will; it turns it on.) And second, He also sanctifies us against our will, through suffering, because the other way of sanctifying us, through our own will’s choices is not strong enough, because our faith and hope and love are not strong enough. So He sanctifies us also through what He allows to happen to us against our will, in other words, suffering.
This makes perfect sense, of course. It is like the old prayer: “God, make me patient. But not yet.” Our own will and desire are simply not strong enough to overcome the weakness of sin.
How can suffering make us holy? Doesn’t it just make us cantankerous and bitter? Well, it certainly can. But if we recognize that suffering (although not pleasant) comes with gifts, we can allow it to sanctify us.
Illness can make us dependent upon others. If a person is strong-willed, this dependency can be grating. It can also be an opportunity to practice humility and patience and thankfulness. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, we are certainly allowed to be saddened. Yet if we are set upon holiness, we can use that loss to remind ourselves that life is short and precious. Our loss can spur us to be mindful of every moment God allows us.
Being holy is hard. We know this: just look at our world. We recognize holiness so easily because it’s rare; it’s like finding a gem while we are shoveling out the barn. If holiness were easy to achieve, everyone would do it. But holiness is only for those who pray, over and over, in the face of both good times and bad: “Thy will be done. Thy will be done.”