Whenever you encounter real holiness, you know right away that you have encountered “the real thing.” For most of us these encounters are rare. They come as unbidden revelations, encounters of Real Presence in living human form. You know the unmistakable truth of these encounters with holiness because they immediately enable you to be more fully your authentic self-in-God.
I think back to the early 1980s, when I was in graduate school. We were a mix of lay men and women preparing for lives in service to the Church, along with men in formation for priestly life in religious orders. We all were awakening to God’s deeper calling in our lives—eager, hopeful, on fire with the Gospel. We went to class, spent hours in the library, wrote papers, sweated through exams.
And then there was Larry. A student like the rest of us. But he seemed to understand that he had a different role. He was present, actually present, to each fellow classmate, to each faculty member, to each person who came through the school.
I first met Larry in the week before school started. I was nearly 30 (almost “old,” considering my much younger peers), and sitting alone in the farthest corner of the school dining room. I felt terrified and overwhelmed and completely out of place as I tried to put together my class schedule. This fellow student, even older than me, came over. I’m pretty sure he could see how lost I was feeling. He said, “My name is Larry.”
As I explained how lost I felt in this graduate school environment, having been away from studies for nearly ten years, and trying to figure out classes and where I needed to be, he simply looked into me. He did not look at me, but into me, spiraling down directly to the place of fear.
More accurately, in that moment I encountered the Lord’s own penetrating gaze of compassion and acceptance and love. In an instant I understood deeply that I was in the presence of holiness, in the presence of the Lord himself. In that instant I was filled with “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). On that day I honestly could not tell you where Larry left off and the Lord began. The line was blurred, the identities too completely merged.
Not long ago I traveled to the 30th anniversary celebration of Larry’s priestly ordination. A little less hair, a little more plump, but there he was—joy-filled, transparent, still revealing Real Presence in living human form. Holiness—not snatched, not earned, but God’s own holiness—was simply free to radiate through an unobstructed lens, the lens of one person’s humanity.
A recent article in the secular media described Pope Francis in similar terms, stating how the Holy Father reveals “a holiness that comes only when you are living your vocation.”
My classmate Larry and Holy Father Francis, along with, say, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, or perhaps someone you know personally, become remarkable vessels of the Divine. But aren’t we all meant to be vessels of the divine? Are we not all equally baptized, anointed, and missioned forth into our particular world to reveal God—Real Presence—in such unobstructed ways? Others rightly should be saying of us, too, “I do not know where he leaves off and the Lord begins.” Or, “When I look at her I find only the Lord.”
St. John the Baptizer had a similar understanding: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
This will always be our vocational invitation and challenge: to reveal the Lord; to get out of the way and simply let the Lord himself encounter others through us. Our lifelong vocational task is to learn, humbly and well, how to disappear in Christ, to practice that self-effacing joyful work of holy vanishing until the day of our final disappearance in him.
Copyright 2014 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.