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Attaining Holiness: Our Efforts and God’s Grace

Although asceticism is necessary for the spiritual life, we must realize that in a certain sense all asceticism is destined to fail. Human beings cannot change themselves by their own power.

We must desire holiness and do all we can to acquire it. [Saint] Therese said: “I don’t want to be a saint by halves!” But the more the we drive ourselves to attain it, the more we realize that it exceeds our human capacity. When a ray of sunlight cuts through a dark room, we see that the air is filled with many more dust particles than we could have imagined. Just so, the closer the soul is to God, the more it sees its own poverty—its hardness of heart, its faults and blemishes.

Testifying in her autobiography to her awareness that she stood in relation to the saints as a grain of sand to majestic mountains—and yet she also wanted to be a saint!—Therese concluded that she must not become discouraged, that holiness was possible for her because God had given her this desire and that he is just and faithful. “I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.” After searching the Scriptures, she decided that she must let God act, and for that, she must remain little and become ever more so. We can’t transform ourselves or effect our own conversion: only God’s grace can reach the extremity of our weakness…. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, but we should see our efforts in context.

—from Fire & Light by Fr. Jacques Philippe, Ch. 3: “When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong!”



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