Question How can you distinguish real holy men from charlatans?
Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.
St. Anthony Mary Claret once observed: “Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and in all of them we see people who achieved sanctity by fulfilling their obligations well.” One way we can determine whether a person is genuine is by looking at their behaviour — is it consistent with the message that they teach? Jesus warned his disciples about listening to charlatans and he gave them some advice for detecting “phonies”: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7: 15-18) The example of the saints, like Paul, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Therese the Little Flower, Edith Stein and countless others teach us that holy people don’t stop being real people with the struggles, personality quirks and failings that we have too.
But they make a conscious effort, with the help of God’s grace, to live a Christ-like life and the consistency of their desire for holiness and their actions are in harmony. In my experience I know when I have met a genuinely holy person by the sense of humility, peace and genuine joy that they exude.
They consistently behave in a Christ-like way. Perhaps this observation might help in telling real holiness apart from an act. Someone once remarked that “our reputation is how we behave when others are watching; our character is how we behave when no one else can see us” (except God who always has His loving gaze directed toward us!).
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