Fruit of the Mystery: Desire for Holiness
I have always loved St. Peter’s response to the happenings of the Transfiguration. His desire to stay on the mountain and dwell with Moses, Elijah, and God Himself is all too relatable for me. Surrounded by such glory and fellowship, who would want to leave? Awestruck and excited, St. Peter wanted to set up tents and stay on the mountain with these holy men. However, Peter, James, and John were called to action — to listen to Christ.
In this life, we are not called solely to bask in the glory of the mountain, the revelation, or the “retreat high.” We are called to know, love, and serve God by growing in holiness, striving for heaven, and walking with others on their spiritual journey.
As a new wife and mother, I often find myself yearning for that peaceful glory and bliss — and more times than not, the duties of my vocation can seem to stand in the way. It is all too easy for me to get swept up in the day and its struggles and forget the reason I am serving and sacrificing for my family.
In the trenches of early motherhood, I kept falling flat. I was losing my peace. I felt like I was growing in anger and impatience daily. I knew something had to change, but sometimes, all you really want on the particularly difficult days is a nap. My tendency toward irritability, impatience, and anger seemed to rob me of the ability to faithfully and joyfully live out my vocation as a wife and mother. I was begrudgingly doing (or neglecting) duties and quick to be irritated by interruptions.
Enter the grace of confession. The holy priest on the other side of the screen called me to task, which surprised me a bit. Perhaps I had expected a bit more sympathy, since I had told him I had a nine-month-old and was pregnant with my second child. However, holiness does not depend on our external circumstances. Tired, nauseous, and pregnant or not, I am a mother, and I am called to love my family in such a way that leads all of us to heaven. This holy priest affirmed that vocation. He told me to read “An Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales and encouraged me to strive to grow in the virtue that naturally counters anger. Then, he said, the joy of living out my vocation would follow.
The virtue he called me to grow in was meekness. Although I initially resisted focusing on growing in this virtue, St. Francis de Sales tells us that “in practicing any virtue, it is well to choose that which is most according to our duty, rather than most according to our taste.” Every calling stands in special need of some special virtue; those required of a prelate, a prince, or a soldier, are quite different; so are those beseeming a wife or a widow, and although all should possess every virtue, yet all are not called upon to exercise them equally, but each should cultivate chiefly those which are important to the manner of life to which he is called.”
St. Francis de Sales goes on to say that it is better to practice interior mortifications and virtues than exterior mortifications and discipline, although it can certainly be more appealing to focus our efforts on virtues that touch us more concretely and sensibly (such as fasting, exterior discipline, and bodily mortification). He advises that it is much better to focus on growing in meekness, cheerfulness, modesty, and other interior mortifications: “Do you then, my daughter, choose the best virtues, not those which are most highly esteemed; the most excellent, not the most visible, the truest, not the most conspicuous.”
I had not reflected on meekness enough in the past, so I subtly held a rather worldly view of it — as if one could be too meek (or overly submissive or compliant, passive, or weak). But, in Matthew 11:29, Jesus called us to imitate him in his humility and meekness “as though [these virtues], above all things, drew us to Him and taught us to imitate Him.” St. Francis de Sales compares these two virtues to holy chrism: “Balm, sinking to the bottom of all liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it does to the top, is a figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all things, and excelling all things, the very flower of Love, which, so says S. Bernard, comes to perfection when it is not merely patient, but gentle and cheerful.”
The more I have pondered the true meaning of meekness and the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the more peace I have felt in my vocation. Our Lady’s meekness, docility, and obedience to Christ’s will was unshaken, even though many of her external life circumstances were enough to make anyone full of uncertainty, worry, frustration, doubt, and anger. She responded to every inconvenience and cross with humility, meekness, and trust in God’s will. And that response is not passive. It is not weak. It is not overly compliant. Through her interior strength and heroic virtue, she was able to unite her sufferings to Christ, and He gave her the grace to continue on the narrow way. How blessed our husbands and children would be if we could all faithfully emulate Our Lady’s virtues!
This supreme desire for holiness that imitates Christ and His Mother can feel a bit daunting and perhaps even unrealistic sometimes. Perhaps that is why we make excuses for ourselves; blame our external circumstances; and vow to grow in our spiritual lives tomorrow, next week, or next Lent. I believe the key to tangible growth in holiness is simplicity. St. Gregory Nazianzen said, “Sometimes a person has attained the height of goodness by one single act of virtue performed with the greatest perfection.” This statement has brought me much hope. In my littleness, God can sanctify me through my focused growth in a single virtue that directly counters one of my greatest sinful tendencies. Once I have grown in habitual virtue through practicing meekness, I can be free to move on to another virtue.
Our Father is so patient with us, and He loves our efforts to grow closer to Him. When I was watching my son take his first steps, I was not wondering why he was not starting to speak in sentences. Similarly, we, God’s children, must start taking baby steps in our path towards holiness. Otherwise, we will remain stagnant and will only go further from our end goal: union with Christ and the communion of saints in heaven.
May our desire for holiness continue to grow, so that one day we may behold the glory of the beatific vision alongside our domestic Church. Peace, sweet sisters.
About Briana: Briana Talley is an Ave Maria University grad, a Theology of the Body enthusiast, a lover of aesthetics, a Shakespeare and C.S. Lewis fanatic, an amateur writer, and a wife and mother. She relishes in intentional friendships and a hot cup of coffee – preferably both at the same time. To read more from Brianna, visit her blog, What Thou Will.