What Should I Do to Be Holy?

For Me to Be a Saint Means to Be Myself

by James Martin, SJ

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.

 from My Life with the Saints

James Martin, SJ 

James Martin, SJ, is associate editor of America magazine and a prolific author, writer, and editor.

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Books by James Martin, SJ

A Jesuit Off-Broadway

Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness, and More

An Off-Broadway cast has plenty of questions about life and faith - and Fr. James Martin, author of My Life with the Saints, is just the right person to offer some answers in A Jesuit Off-Broadway.

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Mi vida con los santos

En Mi vida con los Santos James Martin, SJ nos presenta una conmovedora experiencia respect a su relación con los Santos—desde María, la madre de Jesús, hasta San Francisco o la Madre Teresa—y la manera personal en la que ha side dirigido por los heroes de la Iglesia a lo largo de toda su vida.

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Who Cares About the Saints?

Let James Martin, SJ author of the bestselling book My Life with the Saints introduce you to his favorite Catholic saints in this exciting new saints DVD.

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Lourdes Diary

Seven Days at the Grotto of Massabieille

Fr. Martin's illuminating and humorous account of seven busy and gratifying days at Lourdes is a vivid description of a place with a special, mysterious spiritual presence.

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My Life with the Saints (10th Anniversary Edition)

This best-selling memoir of spiritual self-discovery is an homage to the Catholic saints who have accompanied Fr. Martin throughout his life. Click here to download the discussion guide for My Life with the Saints.

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A Jesuit Off-Broadway

Center Stage with Jesus, Judas, and Life’s Big Questions

Theater and theology share the stage in Fr. James Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway, the true story about the making of a celebrated play.

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Awake My Soul

Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions

A contemporary look at traditional devotions from well-known Catholic writers.

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Praying with America

100 Years of Encountering God in Prayer with America Magazine

Praying with America presents and celebrates the diversity of prayer over the past century and offers readers the wisdom and inspiration of leading Catholic thinkers on the practice of prayer.

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