During my undergraduate years, many of my friends and I read Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. It’s a challenging book in many ways. And many of my friends found it to be a very difficult read, mainly because it demands a lot. After all, abandoning yourself to anything in our society is a risk. Even more, it is contrary to how we are supposed to act according to popular thought. We are told that we are supposed to put ourselves in first place, to look out for Number One, to seek our own will above that of others–even God.
What de Caussade explains is holiness is attainable by submitting ourselves to the will of God and developing the habit of aligning all our actions with that divine will.
In reality sanctity can be reduced to one single practice, fidelity to the duties appointed by God. Now this fidelity is equally within each one’s power whether in its active practice, or passive exercise.
The active practice of fidelity consists in accomplishing the duties which devolve upon us whether imposed by the general laws of God and of the Church, or by the particular state that we may have embraced. Its passive exercise consists in the loving acceptance of all that God sends us at each moment.
At first glance, these are simple principles that should be easy to implement. Essentially, de Caussade says to fully live out your vocation and to accept the will of God when and how it comes. But it’s never that easy.
But there are some practical things that make living out the principles de Caussade presents a bit easier, or at least more comprehensible. And that is the great genius and practical help offered in Peter Kreeft’s new book, How to be Holy. Kreeft calls his work a “festooning of Abandonment to Divine Providence,” and it is just that. Kreeft calls out the most prevalent themes in the book and rifts on them in a way that is both informative and whimsical–classic Kreeft.
For example, Kreeft explains the twofold active and passive means of being faithful noted above:
God makes us holy in two opposite ways, in the two parts of our lives. First, He makes us holy through our own will, our own free choice of faith and hope and love. (For divine grace does not turn off human free will; it turns it on.) And second, He also sanctifies us against our will, through suffering, because the other way of sanctifying us, through our own will’s choices, is not strong enough, because our faith and hope and love are not strong enough. so He sanctifies us also through what He allows to happen to us against our will, in other words, suffering.
Whether we actively pursue holiness, or accept suffering and grow holy through that passive acceptance, Kreeft reminds the reader that God’s word remains true: “For those who love God all things work together for good.” Rom. 8:28. All things. Because God is love and the source of all good, we can trust–we must trust–that He is working for our good, for our holiness. This trust is the foundation of our ability to abandon ourselves to His will to follow Him and accept what comes.
To live in this way is to simply live in reality: “Sanctity is only sanity, that is, living in the real world.” (48) Kreeft adds: “Nothing is more reasonable than living in reality. And the only way to do that is to be holy.” (49) These statements only make sense if we appreciate “reality” in its truest sense–the eternal reality in which God is over all and wins the ultimate battle against evil. Yet despite that reality, we still must wage our own wars against the inclination to sin: “our reason, our passions, and our will are all fallen.” (57) And we wage that war through living in reality, in connection with God.
Kreeft’s practical means of maintaining this connection is “the sacrament of the present moment” or the “practice of the presence of God.” (57) As Kreeft puts it simply, “[a]nother word for it is ‘prayer.'” (58)
Prayer is, according to Kreeft, “our umbilical word to God”; it “can and should become habitual”; it is “our foretaste of Heaven”; it is a lifeline to the divine. And the closer we get to God, the more we experience the reality that “God is a consuming fire.” Heb. 12:29. “That’s why we have to learn to become more solid, more real: so that we can endure that light, that fire.” (59)
As Kreeft said, this prayer life, this search for holiness, is to become habitual.
Spectacular heroism, even martyrdom, is easy; the daily grind is hard. Many can respond to emergencies heroically; few can keep up their charity day to day, especially when no one notices. (75)
The hardest test is not the martyrdom of the body but the martyrdom of the feelings, the daily grind, the life of faith that is often without the aid of feelings (the saints call them “sensible consolations”) and also without seeing with the external eyes or the internal eyes of our merely human reason. (77)
But that’s why my friends found de Caussade so difficult. “The martyrdom of faith,” “the daily grind.” These are the difficult things in life that are the stuff of saints. Saints are laser-focused on their goal: “If only our will is single and wills just one absolute, God–His truth and His goodness–we will find His presence and providence and peace everywhere.” (145)
Although it is difficult to align our wills with God’s, it is possible through continual practice. For that is what life is all about, a rehearsal for the eternal wedding feast. We must live in reality, in the true reality that reflects the divine life of heaven. And to do that, we must be holy. We must pursue holiness as our primary task in life, both in an active way and through suffering what God allows to happen to us. In both ways, we will become more united with God, Who is the goal and exemplar of our faith.
Let me end with the same urgency that Kreeft has:
So let’s begin. There isn’t must time left. we have to rehearse, to practice here what we will be doing there forever. It is like a dance, and we are clumsy and tempted to give up. But God will never let us go until we do it perfectly, for He will never let us go until we have the joy for which we were created, and we will never have that joy until we do the dance.
For an honest review of this book, I received a complimentary copy.