There are at least two reasons why we may find it hard to believe that being holy starts with being ourselves. First, before many of us can accept this truth, we may find ourselves trying to be someone who we are not, based on another person’s interpretation of holiness. And second, once we finally set aside the notion that we’re supposed to be someone else, it’s a long process discovering who we really are.
At the heart of this understanding is accepting who you are before God. “For it was you who formed me in my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” says Psalm 139. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The beginning of sanctity is loving yourself as a creation of God. And that means all of yourself, even the parts of you that you wish weren’t there, the parts of you that you wish God hadn’t made, the parts of you that you lament. God loves us like a parent loves a child—often more for the parts of the child that are weaker or where the child struggles or falters. More often than not, those very weaknesses are the most important paths to holiness, because they remind you of your reliance on God.
Believing that God wants us to be ourselves has been a fantastically liberating idea for me. While I’m always called to grow, God asks only that I be myself, no matter what situation. So when I’m listening to a friend tell me his problems, or hearing someone’s confession, or standing before a homeless man in the street, I don’t have to say, “What would St. Peter or St. Francis of Assisi or St. Thérèse of Lisieux or Blessed John XXIII do?” Certainly they can be models of Christian action for me. But God has not placed them in this particular situation. God, in his mysterious wisdom, has placed me there, with my talents and skills, as well my weaknesses and limitations. Therefore, a better question is, “What should I do?”
As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
“for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs not his...”
In other words, my eyes and your limbs. Your eyes and limbs.