From The Joy of Full Surrender
If the work of making us holy seems such a hard and impossible task, it is because we do not have the right idea of what it truly is. In truth, holiness consists of one single thing: faithfulness to the will of God. Now, this faithfulness is within the reach of everyone, whether it calls for active or passive practice of our faith.
Active faithfulness means fulfilling the duties that are ours by the general laws of God and of the church, or by our particular state of life. Passive faithfulness consists in the loving acceptance of all that God sends us each moment.
Is either of these practices beyond our ability? Not active faithfulness, because any duties it might impose are no longer duties when we do not have the power to fulfill them. If the state of your health does not permit you to attend church, you are not obliged to go. The same rule holds good for all the precepts that have to do with duties to fulfill. Only those that forbid things that are evil in themselves are absolute, because it is never allowable to commit sin. Can anything, then, be easier or more reasonable? What excuse can we offer? Yet this is all that God requires of the soul for the work of making us holy. God requires it of both the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak – in a word, of everyone, always and everywhere.
So it is true that God requires nothing from us but what is simple and easy, for this simple method is sufficient to enable us to attain an eminent degree of holiness.
If, over and above the Ten Commandments, God shows us the Evangelical Counsels as a more perfect aim for our efforts, he is always careful to accommodate the practice of them to our position and character. As a principal sign of our calling to follow them, he gives us the attraction of grace that makes them easier. He never urges any of us beyond our strength, nor in any way beyond our aptitude. Again, what could be more just?
All you who strive after perfection and who are tempted to discouragement by what you read in the lives of the saints and what you find prescribed in spiritual books, you who are overwhelmed by the terrible ideas of perfection you have formed for yourselves: it is for your consolation that God wills me to write this. Learn what you do not seem to know.
In the realm of nature, the God of all goodness has made easy the things that are universal and necessary – breathing, eating, and sleeping. No less essential in the supernatural realm are love and faithfulness. Therefore the difficulty in achieving them cannot be as great as is generally thought. Consider your own life. Is it not made up of numerous, unimportant little actions? Well, God is quite satisfied with these. They are the very things in which we must cooperate in the work of our perfection. God himself expresses it in terms too clear for us to doubt: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). That is to say, this is all that is required on our part – that is what makes up active faithfulness. If we fulfill our part, God will do the rest.
Grace, working by itself, will achieve marvels that surpass human comprehension. For neither has ear heard nor eye seen, nor has it entered into the mind, what things God plans in his infinite awareness and insight, resolves in his will, and carries out by his power in the soul that is given up entirely to him.
The passive aspect of faithfulness is easier still, since it consists only of accepting what most frequently cannot be avoided, and in bearing with love, consolation, and sweetness what we too often endure with weariness and irritation.
Once more, then, here is the whole sum of holiness. Here is the grain of mustard seed that is the smallest of all the seeds, which, being so tiny, is unrecognized and lost. It is the lost coin of the gospel, the treasure that we do not search for and do not find, because we imagine it is too far beyond us.
Do not ask how it may be found. It is no secret. The treasure is offered to us at every moment, in every place. Our fellow-creatures, friends, and enemies pour it out liberally for us, and it flows like a fountain through every part of our bodies and souls, even to the very center of our hearts. If we open our mouths wide they will be filled. God’s action floods the whole universe; it pervades every creature. Wherever they are, there it is. It goes before them, it goes with them, and it follows them. All we have to do is to allow ourselves to be carried forward on its waves.
Would that it might please God that kings and their ministers, princes of the church and of the world, priests, soldiers, commoners – in one word, all human beings, might know how easy it is for us to arrive at a sublime holiness! All we have to do is to fulfill the simple duties of a Christian and of our state of life, and bear with submission the crosses involved, and to accept with faith and love the work and suffering that, although we do not search for them, come endlessly to us through God’s own providential designs. This is the spirit by which the patriarchs and prophets were moved and made holy before there were so many methods of direction and so many directors of the spiritual life.
This is the spirituality of all ages and conditions. Surely no state of life can be made holy in a more exalted manner or in a more wonderful and easy way than by the simple use of the means that God, the sovereign Director of Souls, gives us to do or to suffer at each moment.