Question How can you distinguish real holy men from charlatans?
Rev. KEVIN FLYNN is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.
The Christian will discern holiness in another (it’s much too risky to try to do so in yourself!) by observing the fruits of the other’s life. St. Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Or we might recall Jesus’ message of love that calls us to love other people in the way one takes care of oneself (see Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:39).
Jesus’ own life was a demonstration of the holiness that flows out of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). This is the morality of being happy with less instead of always wanting more, of being gentle rather than aggressive, of being compassionate rather than cold-hearted, of being fair-minded rather than prejudiced, of being merciful rather than vengeful, of having pure rather than mixed motives, of making peace rather than seeking victory, of risking persecution rather than playing it safe.
The holy women and men of Christian history have understood faith to be not so much a matter of belief but of trusting that this way of life is the way God wants us to live. This is living the paschal mystery, the way of dying in order to rise to newness of life.
Most of us do not live this way of life very well. The distinction between the saint and the charlatan is less a matter of moral perfection than of the recognition and acceptance of our weaknesses, and the searing contrition that follows.
What makes for trouble in the spiritual life is not weakness, but rationalization, denial, lying and the hardening of our hearts in the face of truth. Anyone who purports to be a person of holiness but cannot acknowledge honestly his or her shortcomings is not likely to be the real thing.
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