A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Becoming Holy

By Fr Kevin Bates SM

These August days we are surrounded by images of real holiness. We will celebrate this month, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, our first canonised Australian Saint. We also celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven. In between these two we celebrate other notable Saints in our weekday liturgies such as St Lawrence, a Roman martyr from the third century.

In each instance we see God’s hand at work in hearts that listened and responded as God called them to lives of great holiness. 

In the case of Mary, the Church has always believed that she was blessed from the time of her conception and that through her life she knew no stain of sin. We needed her to be the perfect vessel for bringing God’s Word into the world. 

St Mary of the Cross - Mary MacKillop

Having said that, I’m really looking forward to having a good chat with her when we meet face-to-face. There are so many questions that cry out to be answered.

For instance, how did she manage that difficult pregnancy in such a highly structured and controlled society?  How did she cope with all the travelling she endured so close to the time of Jesus’ birth and then their flight into refuge in Egypt?  How did she and Joseph resolve their issues when they forgot Jesus and left him behind at the temple for a couple of days? 

Her grief at the foot of the Cross must have been overwhelming and must have put her perfect holiness to its ultimate test. Unfortunately, by the time I get to chat with her face-to-face, I won’t be in a position to give you any feedback on our conversation! 

What we do know is that Mary is the first believer, our sister in faith, along with all the other titles with which we’ve blessed her. As the first believer, she has much to teach us as our faith journey unfolds and struggles towards the holiness that is the goal for each of us. 

This is where Mary MacKillop and our other Saints come in handy. They were all born with the same human frailties as the rest of us and their paths to holiness invariably involved the same kinds of struggles that beset us. 

They were all as prone to the seven deadly sins as us! They were often eccentric, neurotic and struggling as they worked out their paths to holiness. Their sinful selves became integral parts of their path to holiness as they came to terms with whatever it was that burdened  them. 

They are wonderful reminders to us that God never lets go of us and that God’s grace can accomplish so much when welcomed into hearts who find a moment to recognise the hand of God at work in them. 

It could be a moment, such as St Paul’s conversion or St Ignatius Loyola’s encounter with God, or it could be born of a long and even painful journey through darkness and uncertainty. 

The lockdown here in Sydney felt a bit like one of these protracted journeys without any obvious sign of coming to an end. Who knows what grace God is offering us when we hunker down, keep safe and endure the isolation and limitations that isolation imposes on us. 

We could well hope that if we play our cards right, we’ll grow into something of that holiness that is the destiny of every person. God’s grace is never beyond our reach.  Nor is the possibility of each one of us living a truly holy life. 

If now and then we can lift our eyes beyond the struggle, the inconvenience, the isolation, and listen for where God’s hand may be at work in us, new saints may well be on the way! 

We pray that Mary and our other favourite Saints keep an eye on us during these uncertain days and months. The great Litany of Saints that we sing on special occasions may then need an exciting update! 

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