St. Irenaeus, a bishop and early Church Father, wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I love this quote. In one sentence he describes what it means to be holy. To be holy means being fully alive; to be holy means being fully the persons God created us to be.
To be fully alive is not equivalent to the modern notion of “living life to its fullest.” When many people talk about living life to its fullest, what they really mean is that we should indulge in as many pleasures as possible, pamper ourselves, and just be comfortable. Not that there’s anything wrong with pampering ourselves once in a while, but that’s not exactly what St. Irenaues meant.
To be fully alive means enjoying a deep friendship with the Lord, the effect of which is a life of virtue (faith, hope, love, charity, justice, fortitude, prudence, and all the other virtues). And living virtuously has a beautiful reward: in the depths of our souls we experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit for which we all long (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, self-control).
Isn’t it true that we all desire to be fully alive? We want to live each day knowing that our lives have meaning and purpose. Our hearts long for love and fulfillment. The good news is that we can satisfy this longing by living in friendship with the Lord, which is really what it means to live in holiness.
The saints are our models of what it means to be fully alive. When I think, for example, of Pope John Paul II or Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I think of two people who were fully alive. They radiated the fruits of the Holy Spirit. People are attracted to saints—or, should I say, people are attracted to God through them. Saints are fully alive because they live in deep friendship with Jesus, Who is the glory of God in the flesh. Saints are fully alive because they are not enslaved to their passions or negative emotions; rather, the virtues have fully flowered in their lives; and living virtuously is exactly what leads us to have true peace and happiness in life.
Being fully alive means living the fruits of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. As the fruits of the Holy Spirit grow in us, people begin to identify us with the fruits: he is always joyful; she always seems so peaceful. In a sense, we can say that we become the fruits of the Holy Spirit. True, we’ll all have bad days when we don’t feel the fruits as much, but they are still alive in us.
I know, it sounds so appealing but it seems so difficult to live. Maybe it sounds like pie in the sky, too good to be true, not possible. But it is possible. So what can we do to be fully alive? What can we do so that when we get out of bed in the morning we are grateful for the day, filled with joy, and open to all that God has planned for us? There’s no shortcut. It begins by asking the Lord in prayer to conform our wills to the His will. It begins by surrendering our lives to Him.
How to be fully alive today
While it’s true that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are an effect of a deep friendship with the Lord, I also believe that the more we choose to live the fruits, the more they will grow in us grow in us. I like to say that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are both gift and choice. If we really want to experience what it means to be fully alive, to be holy, then we must choose to live the fruits of the Holy Spirit every day. Today, we must
- Choose to be loving to each person we encounter
- Choose to be joyful even in the midst of difficulty
- Choose to be peaceful in times of adversity
- Choose to be patient when our patience is tested
- Choose to be kind to those who are unkind
- Choose to be gentle when we’re tempted to be harsh
- Choose to be generous with our time and resources
- Choose to be faithful to prayer and our vocation in life
- Choose to live in self-control when temptation comes our way
No, we won’t be perfect; but the more we cooperate with God’s grace, the more the virtues will be alive in us.
Here’s a tip: on an index card write: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, self-control. Tape that index card to your bathroom mirror so you see it every morning. Put another copy on your desk at work or some place where you’ll see it. I know, it sounds corny, but the more you remind yourself that you’re calling is to be fully alive in the Lord, the more fully alive you will be. And to be fully alive is our deepest desire and our ultimate calling.