The universal call to holiness is at the core of the life of discipleship, but it may be something that isn’t widely discussed. Young members of your parish or school community may have images in their heads of what holiness looks like, and frankly, they may not all be positive. I’ve sometimes asked the teenagers that I teach what holiness means, and I have heard answers like “staying home and praying all day,” “never making mistakes,” and “someone pious and serious.” As directors and catechists, we know that this is far from what holiness really is: living exuberant, radiating lives that glorify God. With All Saints Day just around the corner, how can we encourage students and their families to live lives of holiness like the saints did?
Just to make certain we’re all on the same page, let’s take a moment to define what holiness actually is. The universal call to holiness is upon the lives of all the baptized. Lumen Gentium defines it in this way:
“all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor” (Lumen Gentium, 40)
We’re called to be holy, called to devote ourselves to the love our neighbor and the glory of God. So, what does that look like in real life?
Holiness means living as the best version of ourselves—the version of ourselves God saw when he looked at the world and determined it needed us!
The second item that Lumen Gentium lists for living a holy life is that we are devoted to the love of our neighbors. Living out our baptismal call to holiness means we love those around us, close to us, and far from us, as God loves them. This should inform everything for our social activism, political stances, and our personal and family relationships.
So now that we’ve established what holiness looks like, how can we lead our families to holiness, and ultimately to sainthood?
The best thing we can do is show them how to live lives that glorify God and show love of neighbor in tangible, concrete ways. Help them understand that sainthood doesn’t come in the big picture, it actually comes from the small, daily, minute decisions we make moment by moment. Saint Therese of Lisieux was known for loving others in little ways. She said, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” This is a perfect time channel Saint Therese’s little way. Some may think faithfulness is about the core of who they are, and of course it is, but what’s most important is how that is lived out daily. Opportunities for holiness are immediately in front of us, every single day.
Our job as leaders in the faith lives is to support our families, young people, and children by helping them to live holy lives and eventually become saints.
One of the most effective practices I have instituted is to suggest a prayer journal. Provide families with a list of prompts and encourage family members to write in it frequently. Here’s a great prompt: Set a timer for 5 minutes and put yourself in a place of quiet and calm. Begin in prayer. Ask God to show you what specific gifts and talents he has blessed you with. Write them down. When the times goes off set it for another 5 minutes. Look at your list. Ask God how you can use those talents to benefit the world and others. Write those down. Pick one action item to perform this week.
All of the saints were incredible models for holiness, but moreover, the saints are dynamic models for how to love your neighbor in daily life. Part of leading our families to sainthood is teaching them to recognize the unique opportunities they have to love those before them.
Teaching Catholic Social Teaching and helping families understand the Church’s teaching on human dignity is the perfect primer in how to love your neighbor. Begin by helping your families understand our call as Catholics to care for those around us and uphold their dignity because they bear the image and likeness of God himself.
Discuss tangible ways to do this, but also help families realize that loving their neighbor isn’t just about going on a mission trip to the developing world. Sometimes, loving your neighbor looks like doing the dishes, driving a sibling to practice, or refusing to talk badly about a colleague or classmate at the lunch table. It may mean making time on a Saturday to assist grandparents with household chores instead of being with friends, or helping put away laundry without being asked.
Consider instituting a 30 day Love Your Neighbor Challenge with your families this year. Invite the families in your program or community to take part in this challenge over the course of thirty days. The items don’t have to be completed in any order, but we encourage starting thirty days before All Saints Day and attempting to complete them all before November 1st as a way to model the lives of the saints.
In the 30 day Love Your Neighbor Challenge, family members will be guided through thirty small acts of love for those around them. Promote a hashtag, for example #loveyourneighbor30 or one that is specific to your parish or program, so that families can share photos on social media and inspire others to join the challenge.
Download our 30 day Love Your Neighbor Challenge. It’s got thirty prompts ready to be distributed to the families in your religious education program!
Sarah Shutrop is the Director of Formation for Immaculate Heart Academy in the Archdiocese of Newark. She oversees the spiritual life of the school and formation of its students. She also coordinates the school’s service program, in which over 1,000 students have participated in the last 4 years. More than 200 of Sarah’s students have been recognized with the Presidential Service Award for their dedication to community service. She holds an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, and was recently featured as a presenter for Notre Dame & the USCCB’s pre-synodal conference, “Culture of Formation.” She resides in Northern New Jersey with her husband Kevin, her infant son Luke, and their dog Jacqueline.