A deacon friend of mine asked me a question after mass, very much out of the blue. He asked, if I could choose one word by which I hoped people would describe me, would I want to be known as ‘holy’ or ‘good’? As a person who thinks frequently about legacy, the question intrigued me, but it also set me on my heels because I’d been thinking during mass about that very question, about how I’m thought of, favorably or not. And I had been asking God for a new lens through which to measure myself, not through the eyes of people but only Him. Maybe this was it.
Holy or Good
It seems to me that a holy person has a strong, intimate relationship with God and that can’t help but be revealed through their good actions toward others. In the same way, a good person is serving an ideal higher than themselves and their appetites. A good person extends herself towards others, and those actions may draw the attention of others to God, or a higher power or system of belief.
Certainly there’s a relationship between the two. Maybe ‘holy’ represents a vertical relationship while ‘good’ is more horizontal. Maybe that’s the essence of the Christian road ideally, extending oneself higher to God and then outward toward people. It’s possible that if you drew those two lines, the intersection might look an awful lot like a cross.
Anyway, I chose ‘good’. If people see me as ‘holy’, it’s only because they observe my outward piety, which is basically meaningless in the end. Sure, I go to mass every week, sometimes more than once, and I sing there, and I go on retreats, but literally anyone could do that. Certainly, we’ve all experienced church people who are downright nasty, and at extremes, even criminal. Church attendance and leadership are no measure of holiness. Holiness has to do with the heart and mind, all of the interior places no one can see. However, people can measure goodness to a degree by a person’s actions. As it says in Matthew, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits.’ Any goodness or kindness I extend should make the lives of people better, emotionally, physically or spiritually, even in very small ways. A good person leaves a mark. He bears fruit.
To attempt fruit-bearing involves risk. When I offer a word, a gift, an invitation, a compliment, an idea, a prayer, or an action, it’s like opening a window or stepping out into a garden. I send something out or plant a seed with the best of intentions, but in exchange I may receive rejection, hurt, or misunderstanding. It might feel like an icy wind whipping through a room or hailstones on a budding flower. It happens that way sometimes. Sometimes the idea of closing the window and sitting quietly inside with the door locked is pretty appealing, truthfully. But I do put myself out there, time after time, nonetheless. It’s the last kind of life I would have thought I’d have as an overly sensitive, heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person, but here I am anyway. In my life today, one person’s unexplained ‘no’ still has way more impact to me than another person’s enthusiastic ‘yes’. I wrestle with feelings of insecurity and I seldom feel like I measure up, still. My overactive mind busily ascribes motivations of those who reject what I am offering, even though that’s unproductive and unhealthy. I know. I’m working on it.
So to answer the deacon’s question, I want people to think of me as good. I work hard every day to leave a good thought of me behind, and sometimes I succeed and sometimes fall miserably short. As I dig my roots deeper and look upward for my sense of worth, I get more fuel for the journey, more ability to reach out and impact the lives of those around me, and that’s as it should be. The road I travel along that way, becoming more transparent and less fragile, is what will make me holy in the end. As for how holy an utterly imperfect person like me will become, well, only God knows.