Fr. Paul Murray, a professor in Rome, often recounts an event that occurred when he was a Dominican novice. One of the older Dominicans was well known for his prayerfulness, charity, kindness, and holiness of life. And so some of the novices asked him, “What is you secret to holiness?” He responded, “Don’t tell the Jesuits this, but this is the secret: there is no secret. Our secret is the Gospels.”
He was making a point that the Church has made many times when refuting Gnosticism, a heresy that among other things maintains that one must be initiated into secrets to be truly holy. The Vatican II Council, following the Bible, instead says that all people are called to the heights of sanctity. See Lumen Gentium (1965) 40; Catechism 2103. Likewise, Saint Paul describes the whole Christian community as the “holy ones” or those “called to be holy.” See, e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1.
And what is holiness? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, holiness means purity of the soul and a consistent dedication to God; to be holy means being more and more free from sin constant, unflinching friends of God. See Summa Theologica II-II, question 81, article 8. In achieving such holiness, some common sense is very helpful. First, it is important to be regularly working on goals that free us from sin and bring us union with God.
Taking from prayer a definite resolution each day and each week (e.g., speaking well of others, kindness to a co-worker, listening without interrupting, working on project that one has been putting off) gradually builds a life of holiness as a mansion is built one brick or stone at a time. Second, it is important to be careful about the images one is putting into the mind through such things as entertainment, social media and the news.
There is a saying among the Cherokees. Within every man there is a wolf of kindness, bravery and love and a wolf of greed, cowardice and hatred; the one who wins is the one you feed. Third, it is important to keep good company and friends, both on earth and with the communion of saints. We have to deal with people in the world, good, bad and indifferent.
But we should be wise in choosing those we trust and spend time with, and those whom we are influenced by. Fourth, we should both delight in the good things that God has given us and recognize that sacrifices are needed to join in the ministry of Christ, who sacrificed Himself to us. In that way, both joy and sorrow, like the sun and the rain, will make our lives fruitful in prayer and good works here and bring us to the new heavens and new earth.