Catholic literature on holiness is dominated by the experience of the contemplatives and the great mystics. Although these experiences are vital and they provide an incredible depth to our insights about the human person, they can be misleading. The universal call to holiness which is so vital to a renewal in Catholic culture is not about making everyone into contemplatives. People who live in the world must live in a very special way the vocation given to us in baptism, the vocation to be a saint.
I think a way of recapturing a sense of holiness that is accessible to all people is by a deepened understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, holiness is not defined by a limited set of experiences, but rather a life lived in harmony with the Spirit. In the classical formulation of St. Thomas Aquinas, the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be operative in all walks of life. Everything from reflecting on life to planning the day’s activities can be transformed in the light of the Gospel.
By this I mean a plumber can be experiencing the fullness of God’s life while being a plumber. The mother can be a saint while being a mother. In this way, people can live a life of deep communion with God in the midst of their daily lives. They need not run off to monasteries and spend hours in silence (though a good retreat from time to time is never a bad idea). What is even more profound is that while a mother is being a mother, her participation in the Divine plan can be as transformative as the contemplative at prayer. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I would say that one of the fundamental characteristics of such holiness would be an awareness of God’s presence throughout the day, and a habit of turning to Him with familiarity and ease. This turning to the Lord need not be words. It can be silence or sighs deeper than words. With this in mind, we come to understand that formal practices and devotions help assist such a free exchange. Through daily prayer and regular reception of the sacraments, we learn a sensitivity to this Divine presence, and we learn to recognize our Lord’s voice in the depths of our heart.
The funny thing is that you already know what to do. There are no surprises in the spiritual life. Daily prayer, regular reception of the sacraments, regular meditation on the scripture, and a good wholesome community of friends are the conditions we all need to thrive. Holiness is not about the extraordinary or the miraculous (though those kind of things happen from time to time). Rather, it is about the simple path that has been walked for centuries.