The Everyday Path to Joyful Holiness

On March 20, 2014, Fr. Ray Ryland passed from this life into eternity at the age of 93.

Having served in the Navy during World War II, Fr. Ray later studied at Harvard Divinity School and was ordained an Anglican clergyman in 1950. He and his beloved wife Ruth had five children. After ministering in the Anglican Church for many years and searching for many years for the fullness of Christ’s truth, Fr. Ray entered the Catholic Church on Pentecost, 1963.

Granted a special dispensation from the Vatican (one of the first given after a 1980 special Pastoral Provision was implemented in the United States), Fr. Ray became one of the first married priests in this country, receiving Holy Orders in 1983 in the Diocese of San Diego.

For nearly 15 years, Catholics United for the Faith was blessed with to have Fr. Ray as our chaplain and spiritual advisor. He was a true father to our apostolate, personifying our mission to love Christ and His Church. Fr. Ray exemplified a balance of intellectual formation and charity rooted in the Lord. Always prepared with a ready defense of the faith and armed with his gentle smile, Father challenged us individually and our apostolate as a whole to “speak the truth in love.”

Please join us in praying for the gentle repose of his soul.

From all eternity God has chosen each one of us for a unique role in serving and loving our Lord. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him [that is, in Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3–4).

From childhood in a farming town I remember old men who in fair weather liked to sit around talking to their friends and whittling. With a sharp knife you slice away on a soft piece of pine until there’s nothing left but shavings. When you whittle, you don’t make anything; you just whittle.

My point is: God never whittles. Everything He makes has eternal significance, especially we who are made in His image. He calls each of us into existence for a particular purpose. That eternal call from the Father to each one of us constitutes our basic vocation—the reason for our very existence.

The chief document of Vatican II, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, sums up our vocation in these words, “All the faithful are invited and obliged to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state” (no. 42). Holiness consists in doing God’s will rather than our own.

Ordinarily, God reveals His divine will to us in His commandments; in the teaching of the Church; and in the duties of our state of life. We readily acknowledge the binding force of God’s commandments and of the teaching of the Church. But we can too easily forget that the duties of our state of life have anything to do with our holiness.

The fulfillment of the duties of our state of life is our path to holiness.

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that our cares and responsibilities conflict with our growth in sanctity. Like, “how in the world can I find time to develop my relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when I have all this work to do?”

This is exactly what the Vatican II fathers warned us against, in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. Laymen [and this applies to religious and priests as well] must “not separate union with Christ from their life but rather performing their work according to God’s will they grow in that union” (no.4).

And then the Council fathers quote Colossians 3:17—“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Pope Benedict XV assured us, “Sanctity does not consist in doing extraordinary things, but . . . essentially [in] the fulfillment of duty; therefore it is possible for me.”1 And by that, he means everyone. St. Bonaventure wrote that the perfection of Christian virtue lies in performing our ordinary actions well. “The perfection of a religious man is to do common things in a perfect manner. A constant fidelity in small things is a great and heroic virtue.”4 This is precisely what St. Josemaria Escriva tried to tell us; it’s the basic message of the whole Opus Dei movement.

You can put the matter this way: my daily duties specify how I must act in order to conform my life to God’s will. Right now, think of things you must do this afternoon and evening: things pleasant, maybe some of them unpleasant.

Do they seem to you like just plain grin-and-bear-it duties? Now think of them as God’s call to you: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock . . . ” (Rev 3:20). With regard to each one of those duties, keep in mind that God is trying to tell you that doing your best in fulfilling each duty is exactly how He wants you to serve Him.

Think about it! Seeing, hearing God’s call to serve Him, to love Him in carrying out all our responsibilities, can transform our attitude toward them. We can begin to see them not only as duties but also as opportunities to grow in our devotion to our Father. And that realization will probably enable us to do a much better job.

The fact is, as we read in Romans 8:28, “[I]n everything God works for good with those who love Him.” Everything that happens, even the worst, is permitted by God—we might even say, ordered by God—for our sanctification. As St. Therese of Lisieux exclaimed, “Everything is a grace!” Or as Fr. Gabriel, a distinguished Carmelite mystical writer puts it, “Everything that surrounds me—every incident, event, sorrow and joy—all express Your will and tell me at every moment what You desire of me.”3

Not only in our duties, our responsibilities, but also in the very circumstances of our lives, we must try to discern God’s continuous call to us. In the fourth Gospel we read that the Beloved Apostle was the first to recognize the risen Lord standing on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. He exclaimed joyfully to his fishing companions, “It is the Lord!” (Jn. 21:7).

You and I must strive to recognize the Lord coming to us in all our duties, all our responsibilities—yes, in all our sufferings too. But this requires discipline: we must remember at various times during the day to call out to the Lord, “Help me to do this for You!”

We have one basic call—the call to holiness and the call to achieve that holiness, under grace, in our state of life. But as we grow in grace, by His continuous calls, God deepens our sensitivity to opportunities for service to Him. He sends us new invitations which more and more enlarge our spiritual horizons, enabling us to see more and more opportunities for serving Him.

Because my duties are summons from God to serve Him, I must be punctual in my recognizing and responding to those calls. I must also be persevering, faithfully fulfilling my duties and responsibilities regardless of how I happen to feel at the moment.

One of the great problems in the spiritual life is the matter of waste. We waste suffering—suffering of all kinds—by simply enduring it, rather than identifying it with the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world. We waste countless opportunities to serve God and grow in our devotion to Him by treating our duties as something which has to be done just because it’s our duty.

Finally, each of us must regard his or her call from God as a great privilege and blessing. Next to life itself, and eternal salvation, our vocation is God’s greatest gift to us. Each of us must realize—and never forget—that for our part in God’s plan of salvation, He could have chosen countless others far more deserving, far more gifted, far more virtuous.

Every one of us should sing a Magnificat now and then: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savor, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden” (Lk. 1:46–48). In your vocation and mine, God has regarded your low estate and my low estate, and still has called us to unique service.

Don’t forget: “[W]hatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:17).

Remind yourselves of this fact several times a day. Then let the joy of serving the Lord shine through.

1 Pope Benedict XV, as quoted in Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D., Divine Intimacy (London: Baronius Press, 2008), 18.

2 Alban Butler, Herbert J. Thurston, and Donald Attwater, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, vol. 3 (Christian Classics, 1956), 98.

3 Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D., Divine Intimacy (London: Baronius Press, 2008), 19.

This article is adapted from a homily given by Fr. Ryland at St. Peter’s Church in Steubenville.