Pursuing holiness is the goal of many married couples who believe in God and want to live out that faith truly at every stage of their lives. The richness of the lives of the saints and blessed who have set the same goals in life in the past is an excellent inspiration for the Church. The following tips are based on the correspondence of The Church Blessed, Maria and Aloysius Quattrocchi.
1. A steady rhythm of the day
Maria and Aloysius began their day with Mass. After leaving church, they would buy a newspaper and return to their Roman apartment for breakfast. Later, they would take care of work until lunch. They ate lunch together, then had time to work again. In the evening, they prayed the rosary together. Such a rhythm brought order to life, including spiritual life. Children were also introduced into this domestic rhythm. We can see how young children need a daily schedule. By setting fixed times for work and prayer, we ourselves find it easier to fulfill our duties and grow spiritually. Even a short evening prayer together in front of the icon of the Holy Family, hanging above our bed, helps us invite God into our family.
Speaking of a fixed daily rhythm, it is worth referring to the practices of the Church’s saints. An excellent example would be Saint Benedict, who kept in mind the proper measure when establishing a schedule for the lives of monks. In doing so, this saint took over the monastic tradition, according to which monks were supposed to get up before sunrise to keep vigil before God and pray to Him during the night vigils.
However, both the times of prayer and the times of work were set by St. Benedict with moderation and, above all, so that they corresponded to the natural rhythm of man. The word rhythm has a similar meaning to mensura: the same measurement, symmetry, proper proportion. It comes from the word rythmizo, that is, to arrange in the proper ratio of time, symmetrically, duly orderly. In determining the rhythm of work and prayer, Saint Benedict reckoned with the special conditions of summer and winter. In summer, monks worked longer hours, while in winter they had more time for readings and meditation. This was in keeping with the inner disposition of humans, who are more extroverted in summer and more introverted in winter.
2. Abiding in God’s presence
In monasteries, the ringing of a bell calls monks to prayer multiple times a day. Eastern Church tradition recommends the practice of the Jesus Prayer. How do you apply this to the daily life of a lawyer, a dad and husband, and a socially engaged wife and mother of four? In asking themselves this question, the Quattrocchi discovered that one way is to arrange their home or apartment in such a way that the space itself reminds us of God’s presence. Maria and Luigi had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament in their summer home. We try to surround ourselves with icons, paintings, sculptures, quotes, graphics, so that when we work, rest, play with our children, cook, we are reminded that God is constantly present with us.
Learning to abide in God’s presence is worth starting by reading the text of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, “The Way to Holiness.” In this publication there is a statement that praying only on one’s knees is not sufficient prayer. Saint Alphonsus believed that silence and solitude can also be an opportunity to abide in God’s presence. With this practice, a person will be more inclined to avoid sin. Remembering God’s presence will help grow in virtue and unite the soul with God.
The saint encouraged imagining God’s presence, for example, in the mystery and figure of the child born in Bethlehem, or fleeing with his Parents to Egypt, or in Nazareth, or in the Passion. Another way that Saint Alphonsus recommended was to glorify God in created things, such as water, sunlight, food, etc.
The effort to abide in God’s presence will bear fruit in the spouses’ relationships with each other but also with other people. How important this is can be seen from the example of Saint John Paul II, whom God’s love inspired. All over the world he defended the dignity of the human person, the rights of nations, the rights of individuals and individual social groups. He was concerned with authentic rights, stemming from the profound truth about man as one who was created by God and redeemed by Christ.
3. Performing one’s duties well
Quattrocchi’s daily schedule is close to the Benedictine ideal of Ora et labora. Aloysius was a lawyer. He initially ran a law firm, years later becoming deputy attorney general of the treasury. He was a respected specialist in his field. Maria pursued her vocation not only as a wife and mother. She was also very active socially, writing books on education. The Quattrocchi couple strove to fulfill the smallest duties in an excellent manner. They also encourage us to take up the development of their passions, engage in apostolic and charitable activities.
Every job, as the Church reminds us, has great value. A proverb expresses this truth by stating that no work dishonors. This is because man’s work corresponds to God’s will. In undertaking work or creativity, man imitates the activity of the Creator, who called him to cooperate and commanded him to make the earth subject to himself (cf. Genesis 1:28). Scripture repeatedly depicts God the Creator as a craftsman who does his work and rests afterwards. This image is meant to encourage zealous imitation of God, and makes one realize that work is not a punishment for sins, but from the beginning in God’s design is a noble task.
History knows the case of Blessed Father Ignatius Klopotowski, who often said: “On the quality of your life on earth depends eternal life.” Blessed Fr. Ignatius’ daily life was filled with work and prayer. The Benedictine motto “ora et labora” often appeared on his writings. He recommended a balance between prayer and work to everyone: “The one will go through life best,” he wrote, “and most easily, who, like Christ, prays and works”; “Without prayer you will not live to see the true fruits of your labor in life. Nuns who knew him confirm in their records that he himself was a man of prayer and extraordinary diligence. He was conscientious in the fulfillment of his duties, and progressive as far as means were concerned, as evidenced by his use of the printing press as the most modern means of evangelization at the time. He valued the wise opinion of others and respected every job, even the simplest work in the kitchen, cleaning, gardening, because “every deed, the humblest, most inconspicuous, as long as it is done in a state of grace, with God in mind and offered to Him, brings us benefit and reward, if not in this life, then in the life to come.”
Fulfilling one’s duties should be characterized by mercy. Pursuing God’s will without an attitude of mercy inevitably exposes one to either pride or despair: the ability to accomplish beautiful things can lead one to believe that one is able to achieve holiness by one’s own efforts; if, on the other hand, a person fails to keep good resolutions, he or she will become overwhelmed with frustration. In both cases, a person remains closed to God’s love, because he will not be poor in heart. The attitude of mercy we are to live every day translates into our ability to forgive and seek forgiveness, into a kind and non-critical attitude towards loved ones, into the way we are able to admit our limitations and ask the other for help, into the humble tone of our prayer: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”.
4. Striving for inner peace
The spouses differed in character. Aloysius was calm and composed, while Maria – endowed with a rather tempestuous temperament. She had problems with patience and calmness. Spiritual work helped them grow in maturity, including psychological maturity. Maria became more calm, while Aloysius became open and flexible. We know that Maria was quite apodeictic and was characterized by perfectionism. For this reason, she agreed with her spiritual director on every renunciation and additional prayer practice, so as not to overdo it. We are constantly trying to learn how to remain calm in front of young children. On the other hand, nothing brings inner peace better than purity of heart and marital unity. For which we constantly strive.
In order to understand how fundamental it is for the development of the Christian life to strive to gain and keep peace in one’s heart as best as possible, the first thing we need to be convinced of is that all the good we can do comes from God and Him alone, “Without me you can do nothing,” said Jesus (John 15:5). He did not say little you can do, but nothing you can do. It is important that we are deeply convinced of this truth. So that it is clearly imposed on us, we must often go through many disasters, experiences and humiliations allowed by God. God could stake them away, but they are necessary for us to convince ourselves of our innate helplessness, in terms of doing good by our own efforts. As the experience of holy people shows, gaining this awareness is absolutely necessary for us. It is essentially a prelude to all the great things the Lord will do in us through the power of his grace. According to the principle: „power is made perfect in weakness” („The Lord God if he wants to use you, it is your weakness”- Fr. Dajczer T).
That’s why little Theresa used to say that the greatest thing God did in her soul was that He revealed her littleness and powerlessness. An important truth that the author would like to show is that God’s grace can work in us and perform in our hearts – with our cooperation, all those deeds that the Lord God has prepared for us. The most important thing is, so that we try to get and keep the inner peace, the peace of our heart. This can be illustrated by the example of a lake over which the sun shines. If the surface of the lake is quiet and calm, the sun will be reflected in it almost perfectly, but if the surface of the lake agitates, moves, the reflection of the sun will not be able to be reflected in it. The more the soul is quiet and calm, the more perfectly God is reflected in it, the more powerfully His grace works.
5. Working on the marriage relationship
Through gentleness towards themselves and perseverance, the spouses drew closer to each other and to God. They lived according to a clear goal, which they called explicitly – holiness. Initially it was Maria who was her husband’s spiritual director. He, on the other hand, eagerly followed in her footsteps, deepening his knowledge of theology and becoming involved in the spiritual life and religious upbringing of their children. The fact that their path to holiness was shared was crowned by their beatification as a married couple. In her memoirs, Maria writes this about their life together:
“Everything lived together, in a constant exchange of deeds and feelings, common aspirations and goals, with mutual respect and great love. (…) This is how it is in marriage. Thread after thread is woven into the warp, weft and warp are united in God so closely that one without the other has no right to exist – ever – even in eternity.”
When spouses enter into the Sacrament of Marriage they vow to each other love, fidelity and marital honesty. The text of this vow ends with the words ; “So help me Lord God Almighty in the Trinity and all the Saints”. Looking at it humanly – to keep the marriage vow without God’s help is very difficult, even impossible. What is needed, therefore, is a constant deepening of our personal and marital relationship with God. Believers are helped in this by daily personal prayer, marital prayer practiced every day, and regular reading of Scripture. The marital relationship can be deepened through marital dialogue and retreats experienced together. Marriage dialogue, is such a special meeting, during which important issues for the marriage and family are discussed, when you can talk about what hurts, what is unpleasant, but also you can rejoice in what good things have happened in the family. During this time, you should entrust all worries, anxieties, as well as joys to God.
Retreats are a time for self-reflection, a time to verify what is most important in life, but above all it is a special time to meet with God. Thanks to them, believers become happier people, more alive to the Word of God and the sacraments, more aware of their Christian vocation and the resulting tasks.
All of us as Christians are called to holiness, and holiness consists in rising from our falls every day. Awareness of our own weaknesses and sins encourages us to work on ourselves. Strength comes from the power that comes from the Sacrament of Marriage.
There is a danger that, when speaking and writing about holiness, we will either remain in the realm of lofty ideals, which – like a soap bubble – will very quickly burst (the first trap), or we will want – as A. Camus already wanted – “to be saints without grace”, on our own, on our own strength, heroically (the second trap). Wanting to avoid these dangerous snares, we must believe anew that the barren soil of this world will only bear true fruit when it is sprinkled with the grace of Christian holiness. The kind of holiness that unites heaven with earth, time with eternity, body with spirit, contemplation with action, grace with commitment.
For this to become possible, “Christians should not allow universities or broader politics, say sociology, to create a program for them. This program must flow exclusively from the mission Christ has entrusted to us. Only it can transform the world in a positive sense” (H. Urs von Balthasar). It is necessary, therefore, to reach anew to the sources of holiness and, in the first place, to discover the grace of baptism, to unfold the gift we have received from Christ, a gift we still keep sealed, without knowing its contents. And hidden there is the entire program, the entire mission of the Christian.
Only when we ourselves discover this gift will we be able, with St. Augustine, to encourage others without complexes: Say: “I am a saint. This is not the pride of the haughty, but the confession of not being ungrateful. For if you say that you are holy of yourself, you are a proud man. And again if you say that you are not holy, you are an ingrate. So say to your God: I am holy because you have sanctified me.”