Sparking the Catholic Imagination 5

Learning Holy Living

We continue our look at imagination, specifically, Catholic imagination, inspired by John Cardinal Henry Newman’s work.  If you’ve not read the four blogs before this one, click here.  Won’t you join us in praying for imagination…the playground of the Holy Spirit?

So far we’ve explored thinking the whole, as in looking for a more complete picture, and learning Christ.  For the next two weeks we look at Newman’s third principle, “Learning Holy Living.”  Newman says the following about this practice:

  • God’s revelation was not given primarily for the sake of notional information, but for the sake of the genuine transformation of the recipient. First, I love the phrase “notional information.”  My experience, personal and as a faith leader, is that a LOT of people (including myself) intellectually assent to all kinds of faith tenets, but that’s as far as they ever go.  No time or effort is made to move them from the notional to the potentially transformational.  We say we believe, but really, we are just intellectually assenting.
  • The aim of God’s revelation is the divinization of humanity, which is achieved in the holiness of everyday life. If you missed our second set of blogs on “Learning Christ” where I talk about incarnation and divinization a bit, go here to read them.  Divinization of our lives is a powerful, awe-inspiring idea that Jesus means to be more than an idea.  He told us that He would send his Holy Spirit to continue to teach us[i] and that we would do the things He did and even greater things! [ii]  During our ordinary daily lives, just as His signs and wonders were parts of His ordinary life.
  • Authentic personal discernment regarding both the illusory and the real nature of our faith commitment is the key to ongoing transformation. We have to tell ourselves the truth about our faith commitment and that truth will be revealed to us in prayerful discernment.  Newman indicated a daily examination of conscience is a reality check in this regard.  I don’t know about you, but this point feels both frightening and fraught with possibility.

So, let’s examine this idea of “learning holiness” through some questions and responses.

  1. What does “holy” mean? Here’s where I think it is so helpful to get to the root meaning of the word holy.  The Hebrew word for holy, “qodesh” means apartness, sacredness or separateness.[iii]  I like to substitute the word “different” for holy when trying to grasp deeper meaning.  God is completely different from all of God’s creation.  And God made it clear throughout salvation history that God wants God’s children to be different also, to be apart from this world, to serve as its salt, light and leaven.
  2. Who said we need to learn holy living? God did.[iv]Jesus did.[v]  The Spirit does.[vi]  Our Church does.[vii]
  3. What does “holiness” look like? How do I recognize it?  Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsulate-Rejoice and be glad, articulated these 5 marks of holiness in today’s world:
    1. Inner strength from the Lord: This is a solid grounding in the God who loves and sustains us.
    2. A joyful sense of humor: Recognize God’s gifts, give thanks and that brings joy.  With joy comes a sense of humor.
    3. Passionate boldness: This boldness echoes Jesus’ boldness in proclaiming God’s loving presence and will to all He encountered, using the gifts and talents given to Him by doing just as He did, use the gifts and talents given to each of us.
    4. Community: The Pope says, “Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you Father, are in me, and I in you.’”
    5. Constant prayer. By this the Holy Father means a constant openness to the transcendent, a searching for God-with-us, a looking for and toward the coming Kingdom, a move out of narrow self-interest, and an embrace of contemplation, praise and adoration.[viii]
  4. What is “authentic discernment”? This is a bold prayer that asks the Lord to show each of us the depth of our commitment to living holy lives, to following Jesus, to picking up our crosses and to standing with Jesus for nonviolence and justice defined God’s way.  Newman advocated for a daily examination of conscience.[ix]  Keep in mind though that this is to lead to conversion.  Remember that this is to be authentic, which means we tell ourselves and the Lord the truth about our thoughts, feelings, practices, beliefs, fears and more, trusting the Lord will show each of us and all of us what needs to grow, to change or to be eliminated.

Next week, we’ll take a look at some tough questions that are part of an authentic discernment.  Until then, reflect on holiness.  It’s our baptismal identity:  to live as a people called out, set apart for God’s mission of the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!  See you next time!

[i] John 16:13
[ii] John 14:12
[iii]  For more insight into the word holy and holiness, see https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/what-is-the-biblical-definition-of-holy/
[iv] Leviticus 19:2
[v] Matthew 20:26
[vi] John 14:26
[vii] The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) Chapter 5 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html 
[viii] See https://epicpew.com/pope-francis-holiness-world/
[ix] For several examinations of conscience  https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/examinations-of-conscience
For a daily examen in the Ignatian tradition see https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/


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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.