Jesus instructed: “Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3) The unfortunate and incorrect interpretation of that savory quote is often a less than adequate rendering of a simpleton’s understanding of a profound instruction by our blessed Lord; namely, to receive and act upon the Gift of the Holy Spirit known as Piety. To be perceived as a pious person in our society seems to indicate a form of docility that borders on being less than capable of contemporary social ability or simply not being “hip,” as we used to say. The difference we must observe here is that of being “childish” or “childlike.”
I made a pilgrimage to Lisieux, the earthly home of St. Therese, the Little Flower. She typifies, among the saints, the specific qualities of Piety. She chose to be humble and docile in a way that helped her to gather ‘spiritual flowers.’
Jesus looks for us to have an attitude of knowing, loving and serving God as our loving Father. This implies a reliance and dependence upon God in a simple and beautifully supernatural way. Piety encourages the quality of being religious or reverent. When we think of someone as pious, we often recognize that quality of being inwardly disposed to God. We often see it in someone who participates in the Mass with a sense of attentiveness and devotion. Many times, we can sense this in someone who has not yet grown jaded in the ways of the world. Piety encourages us to go deeper in the love of God and in the action of God in the world.
When we sense that love of God and we choose to go deeper into it, we are called to a relationship with God. This happens in prayer—not only prayer at Mass, but quiet moments of personal prayer. This time helps me to reflect on the fact that I know that I am a child of God and that God loves me. I respond to this love in simple ways: my conduct, my language, my action towards others. I don’t do things so that others will “notice” me “being holy.” I do things that I know will please God—it’s a love thing.
Recently, I made a pilgrimage to France, to the city of Lisieux, the earthly home of St. Thèrése, also known as the Little Flower. She typifies, among the saints, the specific qualities of Piety. She chose to be humble and docile in a way that helped her to gather “spiritual flowers.” She promised that she would send a “shower of roses” on those who would follow her “Little Way.” To discover a beautiful example of Piety—one that you can follow for your life—read her story. It will enrich your life and open your soul to the beauty of this Gift of the Holy Spirit!
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.
Published November 2019 Catholic Life Issue