“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
Here’s what St. Paul is trying to tell us: We’re cracked pots that hold the treasure of God’s divine life within us. (Don’t go looking for “crackpot” in Scripture! I’m saying we’re “cracked pots.”) An earthen vessel is a thin little thing, fragile and imperfect. But that’s St. Paul’s point: He’s trying to make us understand that we are imperfect.
You think, “Well, I’m imperfect so I can’t be holy,” or “God doesn’t love me,” or “He doesn’t live in me.” You have all these excuses tucked away in your heart and your mind. But the apostles struggled, and the saints struggled, and you struggle, and I struggle, and the whole world struggles to be holy. We’re just not going to make it overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will you be.
The Woman at the Well
I want to talk about the woman at the well. Scripture says that “Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well” (John 4:6). (Can you imagine God tired? It’s very hard to know that someone would love me so much He wanted to feel like I feel.) “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water” (John 4:7). Now, a Samaritan woman would have been a heretic. And Jesus looked at her and said, “Give me a drink.” And she looks at Him and says, essentially, “What? Why?.” In those days, a Jew would never ask a Samaritan for a drink. There was a tremendous amount of prejudice. And here Jesus broke down prejudice.
You know, you and I can be prejudiced in our own families. You can write off your children as hopeless, or you can write off your husband as an old goat. The most beautiful thing a family can do is to be what God made them to be, including growing old together! Nobody wants to be old today. But part of family life is living and being old (or young) and being not just accepted but loved as you are. See, we’re trying to make the young grow fast, and we’re saying to the old, “You’ve had it.” We have to be family first in our heart, but that starts with being family with Jesus, family with the Trinity.
The Life of the Trinity & Your Neighbor
The Trinity lives in you and me! If only we were alive to the truth that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit live in us just as in a church! When we go into church, we genuflect because we know there is a presence. And that presence is Jesus in the Sacrament, but that presence is also in your neighbor.
Do you realize what it would be like if you put the holy and the human together? It would be you! Our concept of saints is all-holy, all-divine; and our concept of ourselves and our families is all-human. So we cannot conceive of the saints as being faulty.
You can’t read the Scriptures without finding this human nature creeping, almost oozing, out of their pores. Oh, Our Lord must have been aggravated sometime. He was the Master, the Son of God, incarnate in human form to explain the mysteries of the Father to these people. Here is a vast crowd, thousands of people, and here is the in group, the apostles, sitting near the Lord. And everyone’s saying, “Wow, it must be wonderful to be so close to the Master, to know so much!” But the Scripture says that, at night, when everybody had gone home and had digested what the Lord had said, the apostles would go to Him when He was tired and say, “Master, will You explain the parable to us again?” And I can imagine Our Dear Lord looking at them and saying, “I don’t believe this.”
We Can Be Holy, Even in Difficulty
You’ve got to read between the lines and see that Our Lord had to be absolutely and totally frustrated. Sometimes it comes through more clearly, such as when He asked the apostles, “Then are you also without understanding?” (Mark 7:18). He was tired; He was ready to go to bed; He was ready to just lay His head down and forget the crowds, and they come up asking for more explanations!
I’m not saying that you have to be frustrated, or that it’s not wrong to be frustrated. I’m saying that it’s part of our nature, that we can control it, but that there are many times when we have to understand that frustration will come no matter what — over your job, over your family, over your friendships, over your talents and weaknesses, over the traffic. Jesus came to give us Himself so that we would have the power of God in our hearts, but the difficulties are still there.
But what we end up doing is thinking that because we experience difficulty, holiness must not be for us. But faith is to have one foot on the ground, one foot in the air. It’s more than an intellectual assent to truth: It’s to believe what Jesus says and apply it to our lives. But there’s always that scary feeling of uncertainty.
People ask me, “Well, Mother, how do you know all this stuff you’re doing is God’s will?” I say, “Ask me next year, and then we’ll know whether it was God’s will.” The Lord probably isn’t going to come down and say; “Look now, sweetie, I want you to do this little thing for me.” He gave you a brain, a memory, an intellect, a will. He gave you grace, His presence in you.
Holiness Presses Forward in Love
Do you realize that if you’re a baptized Christian, you have sanctifying grace in you; part of God is in you! And it’s a part that must shine. You can’t be in love and not show it.
You have a struggle inside that’s really unnecessary because we think that holiness is never to feel angry, never to feel impatient, never to feel anything at all. But holiness is about recognizing those feelings and pressing forward in love anyway.
You’re alive. You’re a person whom God created to be special. So special are you that He had you in His mind before time began; so special are you that He lives inside you; so special are you that He wants you to be like a big beam on top of a mountain for all men to see by.
Holiness is to struggle day after day, to forgive seventy times seven times; to be hurt and to say, “Lord, forgive my enemy; forgive the person who hurt me”; to be able to see yourself and not fall apart. All of that is holiness.
Sainthood is Possible
There are just so many saints and holy people in the past and the present. I think there are a lot of really holy people out there. You can’t go downtown anywhere and not rub elbows with somebody who’s holy — some earthen vessel, cracked and struggling, trying to keep the whole thing together but doing so confidently because they know Jesus. Jesus lives in them.
And that’s the Good News: that as we struggle and God pours grace into us and we rise and fall, God in His infinite mercy loves us, keeps us going, gives us strength and courage and joy. Be joyful! It won’t hurt you! Even if you have a problem, smile at your neighbor!
Remember: You may be the only Jesus your neighbor will ever see. I’m going to say that many times, because I want you to know your dignity. I want you to know how great you are before God when He lives in you.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in the book Mother Angelica’s Guide to the Spiritual Life. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.