Summary of How to be Holy by Peter Kreeft

How to be Holy: A Festooning of Abandonment to Divine Providence by Peter Kreeft

“This book is not a great chef serving up a gourmet dinner; it is one desperately poor bum telling another where there’s free food… I’m about as close to being a saint as I am being a salamander” (Peter Kreeft).

“All things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

This is the hardest verse in the whole Bible to believe, precisely because it seems literally too good to be true. In fact, it seems far worse than “too good to be true.” It seems like the most ridiculously Pollyanna-ish romanticism and sentimentalism.

But Romans 8:28 does NOT say that everything is good. That’s insane. I refute that in 3 words: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, ISIS. Evil is real. Horribly real. That’s what makes this verse so radical. It doesn’t say merely that there is good as well as evil or that good is greater than evil or that God makes many good things happen; it says that He makes good come even out of evil.

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Romans 8:28 does say that God’s goodness and power and wisdom are so great that He allows evils to exist in order to bring out of them an even greater good in the end.

These 3 attributes of God – omni-benevolent, omni-potent, omni-scient – are the most necessary for us to know. Deny any 1 of these 3, and the true God disappears and all the false gods, all the idols, reappear, from Zeus to Baal.

  1. Omni-benevolent = God wills your best good and nothing but your best good, your true happiness, all the time. A God who is not all-good is not totally trustable, for he is half God and half devil, like “the Force” in Star Wars.
  2. Omni-potent = God is all-powerful, whose will is always infallibly done. A God who is not all-powerful is not totally trustable, for he is just a big brother.
  3. Omni-scient = God is all-knowing and infallible. A God who is not all-knowing is not totally trustable, for He is like a well-intentioned but incompetent surgeon (He makes mistakes about what is best for you).

“A bad God, a weak God, or a stupid God is not God and cannot merit, demand, or receive that total trust, that “abandonment,” which is the point of this book and the road to holiness. The three attributes of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience are absolutely non-negotiable, foundational, necessary.”

Romans 8:28 is the practical consequence or corollary to these 3 attributes about God. All things are a part of a perfect divine providence that comes to us from God’s will. When we accept this, Romans 8:28 is the most radical and life-changing idea that has ever entered the human mind and the necessary source of the active choice to be holy.

Romans 8:28 does say that all things work together for good for only those who choose to love God. This is important. Only those who “abandon” themselves to God will experience the pure goodness of God’s will.

“If God wills nothing but our best good, and if He has the power always to get what He wills, and if He makes no mistakes about what is in fact our best good, then it necessarily follows, it infallibly follows, it follows with certainty, that all things work together for good for us.”

We must believe in Romans 8:28. We must surrender to God’s providential will and allow Him to sanctify us against our own will through suffering because we are not strong enough on our own to become saints. We must believe that God is omnibenevolent (He wills our greatest joy) and omnipotent (He is able to “work” all things together for that end, since all things are His things, His creation), and omniscient (He never makes mistakes about what really leads to our greatest joy).

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We do not have to fully understand Romans 8:28. God is God. We are not. God inspired St. Paul to tell us this precious and amazing truth in Roman 8:28. Do you really want to correct Him? Will you be God’s teacher instead of His pupil? Will you be His copyeditor instead of His reader? Do you want to edit His mail before you deliver it? Did you write the Bible? Did you design the saint-making machine that is the universe?

The Practice of the Presence of God + The Sacrament of the Present Moment

“The practice of the presence of God”, in Brother Lawrence’s felicitous and unforgettable phrase, the habit of seeing God everywhere (by faith, of course, not by sight), is the most effective way to become a saint because it is a foretaste, however dim, of the Beatific Vision in Heaven, when we shall see God face to face. In heaven, we will be in the presence of God eternally, so we might as well practice it now.

“The sacrament of the present moment” is what happens when we practice the presence of God and see God everywhere and everywhen.

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How do we do this? We must live out Romans 8:28 and see with the eyes of faith, see God acting in all things and in all people.

As C. S. Lewis says, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him Christ vere latitat [truly hides]” (The Weight of Glory).

This happens in the daily grind of little things, in pursuing the God who hides from our feelings and well as from our senses (in order to test and strengthen our faith and love).

Saint Thérèse says: “I have no other means of proving my love for you than that of . . . profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.”

“Spectacular heroism, even martyrdom, is easy; the daily grind is hard. Many can respond to emergencies heroically; few can keep up their charity day to day, especially when no one notices. That’s why picking up a scrap of paper for the love of God can be more of a proof of sanctity than martyrdom.”

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The present moment is a “sacrament” because it is holy and can make us holy.

In fact, only the present moment can make us holy. The past cannot, because it is dead, and the future cannot, because it is not yet born. Twist and turn as you will, you cannot be, you cannot live, you cannot act, anywhen except in the present moment. You are always confined to that one time just as you are always confined to the one place of your body. You cannot escape your skin.

“He is knocking right now, at this exact present moment, at the door of your life, of your life’s time; and that door is the present moment. Open the door of your heart and your life to Him now. (The door to your life is your heart.) Now!”

“Bottom line: If this is all true (and you know it is), then just give yourself, your whole self, to God right now, at this present moment, irrevocably and completely and forever. For there is no other time than right now to do it. No, don’t just read about it. Don’t go from paragraph to paragraph like a hamster on a wheel. Stop the wheel and get off. Enter eternity by dealing, at this present moment, with the eternal and therefore present God right now. In other words, in a single word, pray.”

God is holding us in existence at every moment. Unless God said “Be!” to us at every moment, we would cease to be. God’s command to “be!” echoes from the single Now of eternity into every now-moment of time. That is why every moment is holy: because it is filled with the presence and will and activity of God, at its very center, its very existence.

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Abandonment is an active, freely chosen receptivity.

Like a catcher catching whatever pitch the pitcher throws to him, abandonment is not passive, but an active reception of God’s will, a freely chosen “yes” to God’s grace.

Whatever is received, is received according to the nature of the receiver, says the wise maxim of the philosophers. Water takes the shape of the bucket into which it is poured, and so does grace. It looks Petrine in Peter, Marian in Mary, and Johannine in John.

We can practice the presence of God while we work only if we abandon ourselves wholly to God’s will.

To do the works of Martha in the spirit of Mary, we must focus on the same single motive for both – freely willing God’s will. When God interrupts your action and wills you to pray or contemplate, even virtuous acting becomes a vice. When God interrupts your prayer and wills you to act, praying instead of acting becomes disobedience, even if that praying reached the highest levels of mystical prayer.

I think it was Saint Francis who told his monks something like this: If you are rapt in ecstasy in contemplative prayer, and a hungry beggar knocks at the door, you must immediately (important word!) leave your ecstasy and open the door to him, because God has left your ecstasy and has entered that beggar, and you must do the same; you must go where God is.

Comments

  1. Mary Donahue says:

    This one really hit home. Ever so often I hear the phrase “God breaks into our lives”. By living in the present moment I think we can be more attuned to God’s breaking through what ever barriers we have set up. God’s continued blessings on your ministry!

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