When I entered the convent I had a pretty self-confident, completely unsophisticated idea of what holiness would look like. I expected to be able to identify the holiest sisters because they would have a retinue following them, hanging on their every word and helping them with daily tasks.
Hey, that is what Padre Pio pretty much had right?!
I was expecting holiness to have clear outward markers. I thought I would be able to identify the “holiest” of sisters immediately. It didn’t really work out that way. I began to learn from my sisters about real holiness, the kind of holiness that is hidden, disguised, confusing, and sometimes, well strange.
Here are some things I have learned about holiness from my sisters:
1. Holiness is Eccentric: Holy people are different. My sisters’ personalities are really developed. It reminds me of the quote from St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Well, these women are fully alive. They are uniquely themselves, so much so that it makes me want to become totally myself. Each of my sisters is so different from all of the others because each has been transformed under the loving gaze of God into the unique and beautiful creature he intended when he created.
2. Holiness is Generous: All of my sisters are different and holy in their own way. But the ones who are noticeably holy set themselves apart in one major way: they are generous. They are really, really, silly generous. I have seen sisters stay up all night to care for a sick sister, sisters who drop whatever they are doing to drive someone to an appointment, sisters who give up their plans and their schedules to serve, and perhaps most noticeably sisters who see other people’s flaws and failures with such generosity that it sometimes seems ridiculous. These sisters do not act this way because they are codependent or fake. There is no inner bitterness and resentment building up because they are always doing what others may not even notice. No, these sisters are living in the generosity of our Savior.
3. Holiness is Hidden: I know I just talked about sisters who are “noticeably” holy but holiness is actually pretty hard to pinpoint. Outward conformity to the rules and the traditional expectations of holiness does not always a holy sister make. Sometimes, the sisters I least expect to be really holy are actually quietly living a deep suffering with such grace and kindness that it astounds me. And occasionally our familiarity with each other can cause us to lose sight of the wonder that each of us is in the eyes of God. When I see the admiration of a stranger for one of my sisters, it sometimes helps me to see her holiness through God’s eyes.
4. Holiness is Disguised: For some reason I have found that many holy sisters often struggle with one “thorn in their flesh” that can keep others from seeing their holiness (2 Cor 12:7). It can be a bad temper, loquaciousness, an off-putting personality, a lack of discipline or a tendency to work too much. Whatever it is, this one difficulty in their life can disguise their holiness. It can give others an excuse to write the person off. I know I have done this. But whenever God helps me to see my sisters as he does, I often find that the least likely sisters are really very holy. Sometimes they don’t even know it themselves. But God knows.
5. Holiness is the Perfect Balance of Assertiveness and Charity: I don’t know about you but it’s hard for me to know when it’s time to draw the line with someone. I have noticed that holy sisters draw boundaries very clearly. You know that they will do anything for you but at the same time you know not to mess with them. They call people on their issues with the most startling tactfulness and care, but they will call you on your issues if it needs to happen.
and a bonus…
Holiness is LOVE: This may sound obvious but the way that I have seen it played out is not so obvious. Holy people make other people feel like they are the center of the universe, not in a obsequious way but in a self-forgetting, non-envious, totally centered on God way (very key!). Holy people see others like God sees them. So, when you walk away from interactions with a person who is holy you often feel like a million bucks. Sometimes normal people experience this radical love from another person and wonder, “What is this person’s agenda? Why are they being so nice?” But over time they come to realize that, like God, this person just loves them and really thinks they are wonderful.
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Needless to say I have a long way to go on each of these points, but I am glad that I have some pretty awesome role models.
Please add anything else you have noticed about the holy people you know in the comments!