Once a week I get up early and drive to church for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration. And promptly fall asleep. Nod off, before the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes I wake myself up with my snoring.
And what Pope Francis says in the first chapter of his most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, “Rejoice and Be Glad,” is that I’m on the path of holiness. I don’t have to be perfect, and I can’t be. I just have to do the best I can and trust in God, because it’s not we who are ever holy. It’s Christ in us. “When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness,” the Pope says, “raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: ‘Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.”
This is freeing advice, wonderfully freeing, but it’s also very challenging. For one thing, I don’t have any excuses anymore. I have to get going. And for another, to be holy doesn’t mean doing grand and noble things that will get me a lot of attention. It means slogging along in my ordinary life day to day, and not just at church but at home and in my job and in my own heart.
The Pope talks about the holiness of our next-door neighbors, of the woman, for example, who refuses to gossip in the checkout line, who cares for her family even when she’s completely worn out, and as deacons we all know women like this. The Church is always being attacked for its hypocrisy and rigidity, but when I think of the Church I think of all the people I know who are building wheelchair ramps, or stocking shelves at St. Vincent de Paul, or caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s or a disabled child. I think of countless, quiet acts of heroism. Of self-sacrifice.
The path is different for each of us. The Pope stresses this again and again: “each in his or own way.” I know a writer who makes the sign of cross before she opens her laptop. I know a woodworker who makes the sign of the cross as he enters his shop. All work done with integrity and skill is holy, because Christ is present in all that is good. Just being patient is an act of holiness, one of the hardest of all—with the telemarketer, with the tailgater, with the homeless person sleeping in the passageway. “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves,” and this is a call that as deacons we are in special position to celebrate, as we are men who often have families and ordinary jobs and so know firsthand that prayer isn’t just kneeling in a shaft of stained-glass light, that we are always deacons, or are supposed to be, even when we’re not wearing our albs and stoles.
And so, still groggy, I stop for two Americanos with cream on the way home from Adoration, and when I walk through the door my wife is on the deck, watering the marigolds and the delphiniums. It’s a cool, summer morning, and suddenly I’m filled with joy, a quiet joy, because this is the point: that God exists, the Resurrection is real, here and now, and holiness is the stumbling, human effort simply to be aware of that, to glimpse that, if even for just a moment. Your life is a “mission,” the Pope says, the entirety of it, and “the Lord will bring it to fulfilment despite your mistakes and missteps.” We just have to try to stay awake a little bit longer each week, before the Blessed Sacrament. We just have to rejoice and be glad, for the marigolds and the delphiniums and all the things in our lives.
We are only the farmer, and the seeds we plant grow in the night, in the darkness, we know not how.
We are not the source of holiness or of grace, God is, and He neither slumbers nor sleeps.