There is only one way to be happy — be holy

This talk was originally given at the Voice of the Family conference, “Created for heaven: the mission of young Catholic adults in today’s world” (Rome, October 2018). We are pleased to reproduce it here, at the beginning of a new academic year, hoping that it will be of use to students, to educators, and to all.

What can I say to the youth of today? I can say nothing other than what I tell myself each day — be holy. Holiness is not an abstract; it is concrete and concerns each one of us: man or woman, young or old, nobody is excluded. I need to be convinced of this: I might attain all the fortunes of life — health, wealth, pleasure, honours and power, but if I don’t become holy, my life will have been a failure.

On the other hand, I might experience trials and tribulations of all sorts, I might appear a failure in the eyes of the world; but if I become holy, I will have attained the true and only purpose of my life. Man was created to be happy. There is only one way to be happy — be holy. Holiness makes for man’s happiness and the glory of God.

But how can I be holy? By following my vocation. The vocation to which God is calling me. Following one’s vocation means doing the will of God. Whatever our vocation, it is all about God’s will for us.

Each person has his or her own specific vocation. What God asks of each soul, represents its vocation, which is the special form in which Providence wants each person to work and grow. Every man has a special vocation, since each is wanted and loved by God in a different way. There are no two creatures alike — nor, in the course of history, have there been two vocations absolutely alike — seeing as the will of God is different for every creature and every creature to have entered time from nothingness is unique. Father Faber dedicates one of his spiritual conferences to this theme: “All men have a special vocation.” Each man has a specific vocation, different from that of any other man, since God loves every one of us with a special love.

Of what does God’s special love for me consist? First of all, God created me, giving my body and soul the characteristics and qualities that pleased Him. God did not only create me: He keeps me alive, providing me with the being in which I live. If God ceased even for a second to imbue my being, I would fall into that nothingness from which He brought me forth. God, after creating us, has not left us to the mercy of chance. “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt 10:30), and “not a hair of your head will perish” (Lk 21:18). And if the number and fall of my hair are all calculated, what then is not going to be calculated in our lives? “God does not look at us merely in the mass and multitude,” writes Father Faber.

“From all eternity God determined to create me not simply a fresh man, not simply the son of my parents, a new inhabitant of my native country, but he resolved to create me such as I am, the me by which I am myself, the me by which other people know me, a different me from any that has ever been created hitherto, and from any that will be created hereafter.

“It was just me, with my individual peculiarities, the size, shape, fashion and way of my particular single, unmated soul, which, in the calmness of His eternal predilection, drew Him to create me.”1

In short, God has traced the laws of my physical, moral and intellectual development along with the laws of my supernatural growth.

How did He do this? Through instruments. What instruments? These instruments are the creatures I meet in my life. The Carthusian, Dom Pollien, invites us to calculate the number of creatures that have been part of the reality of our existence. The physical influences of time, seasons and climate, the moral influences of relatives, teachers, friends and even the enemies we have met along the way; all the books we have read, the words we have heard, the things we have seen, the situations in which we have found ourselves — nothing is by chance, given that there is no such thing as chance — everything has a significance.

These influences, these movements are the work that God performs in us. All these creatures, Dom Pollien explains, are placed in motion by Him and they do nothing other than what God wants them to do in us. Everything occurs at a given time; it acts on the right point, it produces the movement necessary to exercise a physical, moral or intellectual influence on us. This influence is actual grace. Actual grace is the supernatural action that God exercises on us at every moment, through creatures. Creatures are instruments that bring grace. They are the instruments of God for one purpose only: the forming of saints. Everything that happens, St Paul says, all that one does, everything without exception, contributes to the same work and this work is the good of those whom the will of God calls to holiness (Rom 8:28). Nothing fails to serve this purpose, everything converges towards this outcome. Actual grace is everywhere and intimately connects the natural and the supernatural. And God proportions the quality of His graces to the needs of our life, according to the designs of His mercy towards us and according to the response we lend to His action.

How do we respond to this uninterrupted action of grace on our souls? We let God act in our souls, without ever worrying about tomorrow, since, as the Gospel says, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34). “Let God act,” said Cardinal Merry del Val. 

“Remember that circumstances which you yourself have not occasioned are God’s messengers. They come a thousand times a day to tell you the different ways in which you may show Him your love.”2

A religious who lived very close to St John Bosco was asked whether the saint was ever worried in the midst of his countless works, in his sometimes tumultuous life. The religious replied in this manner: “Don Bosco never, not even a minute before, thought about what he was about to do a minute later.” Don Bosco, who understood the action of grace, always sought to do the will of God in the present moment. And following this path he fulfilled his vocation.

In Rome, next to the central railway station, stands the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, built by Don Bosco just before his death, at the cost of immense sacrifice. The Basilica was solemnly consecrated on 14 May 1887 by the Cardinal Vicar in the presence of numerous civil and religious authorities. On 16 May 1887, Don Bosco himself offered Mass at the altar of Mary, Help of Christians: it was his only celebration in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and, as a plaque appended on the centenary of the event commemorates, the Mass was interrupted fifteen times by the sobs of the elderly priest, who understood the significance of his famous “dream of nine years”. God showed him the vast panorama of his life and revealed to him how, from his childhood, he had been prepared and led by God to fulfil his earthly mission.

Every soul has its vocation, because it has its different function in the Body of the Church. He who has the vocation of marriage, does not have it for himself, but for the Church. He who has a religious vocation, does not have it for himself, but for the Church. This vocation, as Fr Faber writes, flows directly from our eternal predestination, but is entrusted to the hands of our free will and depends on it:

“I clearly belong to a plan, and have a place to fill and a work to do which are all special; and only my speciality, my particular me, can fill this place or do this work. …This means that I have a tremendous responsibility. …Responsibility is the definition of life. It is the inseparable characteristic of my position as a creature. …From this point of view, life looks very serious.”3

There is no other path that leads us to the holiness to which everyone is called in order to be happy. Let us go along this path with the help of Our Lady and the Angels. God has placed us near an Angel to guard our vocation. Our Guardian Angel is our vocation perfected; our vocation fulfilled. He is the model for our vocation. For this we need to pray to him and listen to the words he whispers.

There are vocations for single people; there are vocations for families — not only natural ones, but also those spiritual families with their charisms; there are vocations for the peoples of nations, of which Dr Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira spoke frequently. Each nation has a specific vocation, which is the role that Providence has entrusted to it in history. But we were born not only into a family and a nation; we live in a historical age. And since history is also a creature of God, in every historical age God asks something different; every historical age has its vocation. The predominant vocation in the first centuries of the Church was the predisposition to martyrdom. Is there a vocation in the twenty-first century, in which one can find one’s individual vocation?

The vocation for our age is to correspond to the desire of Heaven which Our Lady herself showed us at Fatima: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. This is the vocation of those in the cloisters, on the public squares; those who — with prayer, penance, words and action — battle for the fulfilment of this promise.

The triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is also the triumph of the Church, since the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the very Heart of the Church herself. This triumph suggests a great battle which precedes it. And since this triumph will be social, public and solemn, this battle will also be social, public and solemn. Today, being saints means fighting this battle, which is fought, first and foremost, holding the sword of truth. It is only upon the truth that the lives of men and nations can be built, and without the truth, a society breaks down and dies. Today, Christian society has to be remade; and, to remake it, the prime necessity is that of professing and living the truth. When a Christian, with the help of grace, conforms his own life to the principles of the Gospel and fights in defence of the truth, he cannot be hindered by any obstacle.

In his discourse to the Marian Congregations of Rome on 21 January 1945, Pius XII stated:

“The present time calls for fearless Catholics, for whom it is the most natural thing to profess their faith openly, through their words and actions, whenever the law of God and the sentiment of Christian honour require it. Real men, upright men, resolute and intrepid! Those who are such merely halfway, the world itself discards, rejects and crushes.”

“The Church,” writes Dom Pollien in Lived Christianity, “would like to have men of character and energy, men with great and strong hearts, men capable of all sacrifices and heroism.”4

The French writer Paul Claudel, enunciated this great truth: “Youth was not made for pleasure but for heroism.” The youth of the twenty-first century cannot be attracted by the invitation of compromise with the world, but are asking the Church for a call to heroism. Lived Christianity means militant Christianity. In the Middle Ages — in the course of building a cathedral — architects, stonemasons, blacksmiths, carpenters, bishops, princes, personalities illustrious and unknown all participated, united in the same desire to render glory to God through the stones they raised to Heaven. We are also participating in a great project. Each one of us today is called to build the immense cathedral, dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on the ruins of the modern world. This cathedral is nothing other than her reign in souls and in society. Our hearts are the stones and our voices proclaim to the world a dream that will come true.

Dom François de Sales Pollien, Lived Christianity, is available to order from Calx Mariae Publishing.


  1. Spiritual Conferences, Burn & Oates, London 1906, p 375.
  2. Let God Act, Taller Abbey, 1974, p 2.
  3. Spiritual Conferences, p 377.
  4. Dom François de Sales Pollien, Lived Christianity (Calx Mariae Publishing, 2022), p 167.