What is 'Sanctity'? And How Does One Achieve It?

A friend of mine has waited a long time for me to answer this question for him online. So first of all, Tom, thank for your patience. The truth is I had to LIVE the answer a bit more before I felt I could really write on it with any confidence I knew what I was talking about. Tom had asked:


Please define "sanctity." How does this word apply to a soul in St. Faustina's Diary? ... If I want to achieve sanctity, what must I do?

Well, Tom, "sanctity" is another word in the Catholic tradition for "holiness," and true holiness is the perfection of the virtue of charity that Jesus spoke about when he gave us the two great commandments: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:29-34). Jesus said that "all the law and the prophets" - indeed, everything in the life of His disciples - is meant to have this authentic love as its goal. Saint Faustina teaches us the same thing in her Diary. She gives a nice summary of it all in entry 1107:

Today during meditation, God gave me inner light, and the understanding as to what sanctity is and of what it consists....Neither graces, nor revelations, nor raptures, nor gifts granted to a soul make it perfect [note: "by gifts" and "graces" here she means special gifts, like the gift of prophecy or healing], but rather the intimate union of the soul with God. These gifts are merely ornaments of the soul, but constitute neither its essence nor its perfection. My sanctity and perfection consist in the close union of my will with the will of God. It is up to us whether we want to receive God's grace or not. It is up to us whether we will cooperate with it or waste it.

In fact, in the gospels Jesus goes so far as to say that as His disciples we are called to nothing less than the perfection of love for God and for each other: "You must be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Mt 5:48). In other words, our surrender to our heavenly Father's will and loving plan for us must be complete and total, without any reservation whatsoever.

Yikes! How can we possibly do that? I took a long time (months, in fact) before I finally sat down to write this answer to Tom precisely because (like most of you who are reading this column, no doubt) I am so far from living that ideal myself at the moment as to make any instructions to others on how to do so an exercise in sheer hypocrisy!

But I realize now that we are all in the same boat, so to speak: sinners not yet fully cured (not by a long-shot, in most cases). And that means, if we want to get well, we need to be willing to go in for the full treatment. So the rest of this column is really no more than one of God's patients writing to other patients about how to take best advantage of our Doctors instructions and how to make the best use of the medicines He prescribed for us.

C.S. Lewis said it best in his classic book, Mere Christianity (Book 4, chapter 8):

Christ says, 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time, and so much of your money, and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your [sinful] self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked - the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.'...

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self - all your wishes and precautions - to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call "ourselves," to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time to be "good." We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way - centered on money or pleasure or ambition - and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. ...

When He said, "Be perfect," He meant it. He meant we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard: but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder - in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you can't go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched, or go bad.

In St. Faustina's Diary, we find a whole series of guidelines as to how to go in for that full treatment program, the complete cure. Here are just a few of the highlights.

1. Draw near to the Merciful Heart of Jesus. For He is the only Source of the sanctifying grace that can heal our hearts:

[Jesus said]: My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy, graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled. All misery gets buried in the depths of My mercy, and every saving and sanctifying grace flows from this fountain. (Diary, 1777)

2. Put all your trust in the Merciful Love of Jesus; entrust your entire self to His care. Jesus said to her:

How very much I desire the salvation of souls! My dearest secretary, write that I want to pour out My divine life into human souls and to sanctify them, if only they were willing to accept My grace. The greatest sinners would achieve great sanctity, if only they would trust in My mercy. Diary, 1784)

Sister Faustina entrusted herself to Jesus at the time of her novitiate with these tender words in entry 228. This can be a prayer that any of us can use to entrust ourselves to Jesus every day:

With the trust and simplicity of a small child, I give myself to You today, O Lord Jesus, My Master. I leave You complete freedom in directing my soul. Guide me along the paths You wish. I won't question them. I will follow You trustingly. Your merciful Heart can do all things!

3. Center your life on the Holy Eucharist, because it is only Jesus Himself, dwelling within us through Holy Communion, that can truly make us saints of His merciful Heart. Saint Faustina wrote in entry 1489:

Jesus, there is one more secret in my life, the deepest and dearest to my heart: it is You yourself when You come into my heart under the appearance of bread. Herein lies the whole secret of my sanctity. Here my heart is so united with Yours as to be but one.

4. Make a firm resolution to become a saint, a true disciple of Jesus - and keep your eyes open for opportunities to follow God's loving will each day. We read in Diary entries 1361, 666, and 1487:

[Jesus said to St. Faustina] This firm resolution to become a saint is extremely pleasing to Me. I bless your efforts and will give you opportunities to sanctify yourself. Be watchful that you lose no opportunity that My providence offers you for sanctification ...

[St. Faustina wrote] I understood that all striving for perfection and all sanctity consist in doing God's will. Perfect fulfillment of God's will is maturity in sanctity; there is no room for doubt here ...

[And Jesus said to her] Entrust yourself completely to My will, saying, "Not as I want, but according to Your will let it be done unto me." These words, spoken from the depths of one's heart, can raise the soul to the summit of sanctity in a short time.

5. Strive for sanctity for the sake of the Church. Saint Faustina wrote:

I am striving for sanctity, because in this way I will be useful to the Church. I make constant efforts in practicing virtue. I try faithfully to follow Jesus. And I deposit this whole series of daily virtues - silent, hidden, almost imperceptible, but made with great love - in the treasury of God's Church for the common benefit of souls. ... I know very well that I do not live for myself alone, but for the entire Church. (1505)

6. But above all, seek to be a saint to bring joy to the Heart of our Savior. Jesus said to St. Faustina (recorded in Diary entries 1784 and 164):

The very inner depths of My being are filled to overflowing with mercy, and it is being poured out upon all I have created. My delight is to act in a human soul and to fill it with My mercy and to justify it. My kingdom on earth is My life in the human soul. ...

My child, you are My delight. You are the comfort of My Heart. I grant you as many graces as you can hold. As often as you want to make me happy, speak to the world about My great and unfathomable mercy.

7. Don't get discouraged when you fall flat on your face sometimes along this path to sanctity (and you will for sure): the merciful Jesus is near to pick you up with His forgiveness (if you let Him), wash you clean with His grace, and enable you to try again - indeed, nothing brings Him greater joy than that! As Jesus said to St. Faustina:

What joy fills My Heart when you return to Me. Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father. ... (1486)

My mercy is greater than your sins, and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of My goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed Myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let My Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. (1485)

What is the final result of going in for the full sanctification treatment? I'll let St. Paul have the last word on that, because no one could say it better:

When you were slaves of sin ... what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:20-22)

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

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