Monday, November 30, 2009

Praying for holiness

Have you ever prayed for holiness? What do people pray for? Many pray for other things– a job that which they hope to get, good grades in some important examination or a cure for some illness that has beleaguered one in life. And not all of them get answered in the way that they expect. To be sure, there are many who speak up and share about how God had not been listening to their prayers, or has been dawdling over answering such prayers.

Yet, by the same token, it makes me wonder how is it that I have yet to hear anyone speak about how loathe God seems to be in answering prayers imploring Him to bring one to heights of holiness. Of course, it could well be that such prayers have promptly been answered by God, negating any need for one to bring it up as a ‘problem’, but my gut feel is that I don’t think many people have thought it appropriate or even necessary to pray for holiness in life.

Why would this be the case? Perhaps the fear is that once a person begins to walk the path of holiness, one will begin to ‘lose out’ on life’s joys, thinking (erroneously, of course), that a holy person, or one who makes holiness a quest, rarely, if ever, is joy-filled in life. Could it be that for many, it is better to enjoy life sans holiness, before holiness becomes no longer a choice, but something mandatory. Someone put it so succinctly recently to me – “instead of praying for holiness, perhaps most of us are really praying for hollow-ness” in the things that we are asking of God, leading us to hollow lives, rather than holy lives. St Augustine’s famous prayer of “Lord, make me holy, but not today” comes to mind.

But isn’t this good to know? That if St Augustine, a GIANT of the Church and someone who reeks of holiness could think this way, so can many, many others too. I am wondering if many feel that goodness and holiness appear to be direct antitheses of wayward, carefree and joyful living. Who would want to lose out on what the world deems as ‘fun’ and ‘entertaining’? But what we need to ask ourselves in the face of these ‘sacrifices’ is whether these are indeed what they purport themselves to be. In most cases, these thrills and joys are often fleeting and momentary, leaving us exhilarated albeit for a moment, and parched and wanting the very next. This being the case, then the ability to peer through the veneer of what doesn’t last must be a grace that helps us to enter into truth that lasts, and love that perdures.

The search for holiness is not something only for the elite. That is a misconception. It is for everybody. And if we have never prayed for this before, Advent is a good time to start on that search for holiness. And I am sure that it is one petition that God will never leave unanswered because it is a prayer that requests a closer walk with God, and to live and love like he does. It’s not the holiness bit that is difficult. It’s the ways in which God wants to lead us to the green pastures of holy living that are often problematic and a bit of a challenge for us. Sometimes it can be through a winding path of disappointments, failures, illnesses, death of loved ones, or some struggle in life. We’d rather a joyful and uplifting journey all the way, but hasn’t it been shown that failure and success are the ‘two hands of God’?

In our fervent prayer for holiness, which is a prayer for wholeness and Godliness, we will be stretched to live within expanded borders and greater unconditionality. It will be a ‘dangerous’ way to live, because you are allowing God to reveal mystery to you. May this be an Advent that is ‘dangerously blessed’ for all.


  1. Thank you for pointing that the search for holiness is joy-filled. And it is through prayer. Many times, I have experienced people who thought they are pursuing holiness but what they unknowingly end up chasing is their polarized view of what elite world is.

  2. In Church History, holiness is ascetic, mystical and sacramental. It's not just achieving it through prayer vigils, fasting, selfmortification etc. To rise above it is a ladder of holiness with various stages such as purgation, illumination, contemplation until there is spiritual absorption in God. Holiness imparted through the supernatural grace of the sacraments unlike ascetic and mystical is available to all. The objective infusion of holiness, though of a lesser degree than that attainable by ascetic or mystic, is given objectively without all the struggle involved.

  3. i like this post. it reminds me that one has to want to be holy and pray that God will help them to be holy and i wanna be holy too. :D

    happy new church year. :)


  4. “Lord, make me holy, but not today”

    Guess i am in the good company of pre-saint Augustine!

    May my prayer be "Lord, stop my 'ifs and buts'. Let me allow you to make me holy".

  5. You are partly correct to say that in our prayers, we seldomly ask for holiness per se, for the word brings to mind demure saintliness, a state of sinlessness or complete sanctity which seemed so 'other-worldly', so 'unachievable' for us 'the adams & eves - made of clay'.I've often wondered how " to be holy for I am holy" God asking for the impossible ? When Advent or Lent draws near,we are exhorted & beseiged to participate in the flurry of 'holy' activities in response to the call to holiness....( not that I'm complaining but just to register this awareness) However, on reflection, we may have emphasized holiness as a matter of 'externalism' rather than a matter of the heart. It is a choice to live not as our society encourages us, nor even as God requires us but for us to desire things which He delights we have to be like Him....just "to be" .So when Rohr says " Jesus shows us what God looks like, much more than to do this or that and God will like you " - speaks to me about what holiness is. That's why...there is a 'hollowness' in me which prompts me to pray for 'hallowedness' though I do not know it's name is holiness ( see Micah 6:6-8)Thks for this catalyst for reflection. God bless you Fr.

  6. Hi Fr Luke,
    "Good Morning!"My previous SD's last words to me: 'Be Holy as Your Father in Heaven is Holy'! Comes to mind.Thank you Fr and God Bless.

  7. Advent: Tis the season to be jolly as the world knows it rather than tis the season to be holy. Though sharing food and giving presents are the mainstays of this holiday season, it's more important for us to pray for a holy advent where we'll remember the significance of the birth of Christ and the hope it brings to our world. So Have a Blessed Advent Father Luke but not "dangerously" because forgetting about Christ during Christmas is more dangerous.

  8. Dear Fr

    I've had a challenging week and at one point I was physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally drained. During that time, I pondered at the back of my mind the questions you posed on your blog, and I wondered who in a similar state of heart and mind would pray for holiness. Honestly, it's a tough thing to do when things aren't going your way and I think more so when one has unfulfilled dreams and wishes. I read your blog a few times for inspiration and there it was - "...must be a grace that helps us to enter into truth that lasts".
    I thank God for the grace to see the things that prevent me from experiencing His love and peace. Thanks Father and have a blessed and holy Advent!

    BTW, I do look forward to Mondays now :)

  9. Hi Fr Luke,

    The publicity from the Christ@Work session yesterday led me to your blog. And having read your first posting right up to your latest, I must really say thank you for translating these wonderful reflections into writings. This definitely takes time and effort.

    And while you are at the topic on holiness, I’d like to recommend a good read - Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton. Merton approached this topic of holiness in a manner different from what is generally understood by many, and he made it very practical and applicable to the man in the world. I will leave you and your readers with some quotes from the book:

    “The spiritual life is not a life of quiet withdrawal, a hothouse growth of artificial ascetic practices beyond the reach of people living ordinary lives. It is the ordinary duties and labors of life that the Christian can and should develop his spiritual union with God.”

    “If we are called by God to holiness of life, and if holiness is beyond our natural power to achieve (which it certainly is), then it follows that God himself must give us the light, the strength and the courage to fulfill the task he requires of us. He will certainly give us the grace we need. If we do not become his saints, it is because we do not avail ourselves of his gift.”

    “The way of Christian holiness is, in any case, hard and austere. We must fast and pray. We must embrace hardship and sacrifice, for the love of Christ, and in order to improve the condition of man on earth.”

    shn (St Anne's Church - Sep 2002-current)