“Sanctity properly consists in the conformity to God’s will, expressed in a constant and exact fulfillment of the duties of our state in life.”
One of the great gifts of being a deacon is the privilege and blessing of ministering to the sick and dying. I have found that occasions of illness or approaching death often brings about a sense of anxiety or fear. The Christian challenge, especially for older adults, is whether we can approach such times in peace and confidence, rather than anxiety and fear. As I reflect on aging and the experience of aging and illness by the saints of the Church, it seems clear that all of the saints experienced limitations and weakness like we all do, in ordinary and natural events of life, yet attained great holiness. Not the least of these was Paul, to whom our Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) And Paul embraced this truth, exclaiming, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10) This really exemplifies the experience of getting older and enduring illness with patient endurance in love. We tend to encounter increasingly — limitations and weaknesses in mind and body, but this affords us a powerful opportunity to allow God’s grace and power to transform our dependence and apparent limitations into powerful means for God to use for our own sanctification, for those dear to us and the world. This is the paradox and power of the cross in our lives.
St. Thomas tells us our sanctification — our holiness, consists in doing the will of God. This often takes the form of accepting the will of God, what He allows in His Providence for us. God has provided the perfect means of sanctification in each of our daily lives and duties, no matter how apparently mundane, ordinary or limiting they may seem. Pope Benedict XV said, “Sanctity properly consists in the conformity to God’s will, expressed in a constant and exact fulfillment of the duties of our state in life.” One who looks beyond their present circumstances (even with all its limitations and challenges) for holiness and God’s will is missing the very path and means to discerning and doing God’s will. Therese of Lisieux wrote in her autobiography, “Sanctity does not consist in these or those exercises and achievements; it consists in a disposition of the heart which allows us to remain small and humble in the arms of God, knowing our weakness and trusting to the point of rashness in His fatherly goodness.”
Let us thank God for providing us with the grace of His Paschal Mystery of Easter, that we might, like Paul and Therese, rejoice in our weakness and make it an occasion for sanctification … to turn to the Lord in complete, child-like trust in His Fatherly goodness.