Peter Kreeft: “It is obvious why we all need to learn how to be holy.”

The prolific and popular author discusses his new book How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, which he describes as a "festooning" of "the main points" of a great classic.

Professor of philosophy at Boston College since 1965, Dr. Peter Kreeft has been writing popular, learned, and accessible books for nearly four decades. His books are educational, edifying, and spiritually enriching. Whether he is writing a Socratic dialogue depicting the ancient Greek philosopher speaking in at a university today, or a detailed summary of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, or an appreciation of the art of surfing, Dr. Kreeft knows how to engage, challenge, and enthrall readers. 

His most recent book is How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint (Ignatius Press, 2016). As described by Dr. Kreeft, the book is essentially an extended commentary—or a “festooning”—of a famous work of spiritual guidance entitled Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a French Jesuit priest who lived from 1675 to 1751.

Dr. Kreeft recently corresponded with Catholic World Report via email, discussing his most recent book.

CWR: In the Introduction, you say that the book is largely your “festooning” of “the main points of one of the simplest and most practical of all classics of spiritual direction, de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence.” When did you encounter this work? How did it impact you and your own approach to holiness?

Peter Kreeft: It was not the formidable topic or, certainly, any competence on my part to address it, but my love of the book that mine is a “festooning” or commentary on, Abandonment to Divine Providence.  I love books that are both simple and practical, like that one.  That book has been helpful to me for many years, especially when things got difficult either intellectually or emotionally, for it brought me back to the simple center of things, like the castle keep.  If God is God, He must be at least all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful[;] therefore it is utterly logical that if we believe in this God we believe that He works all things together for our good, and utterly practical to have that central trust to hold on to when things get dark and threatening.  

CWR: Why is it important to study the lives and writings of holy men and women? How can we possibly learn from someone else how to be holy, how to live saintly lives?

Kreeft: It is far safer and better to learn from someone else how to be holy than to teach ourselves.  We are blind to our blind spots.  Others see clearly what we do not.  Above all, others are wiser and holier than we are; that is why we read them.  A book is the next best thing to an uncle.

CWR: At the book’s beginning, you detail why someone should read the book. Included in your reasons are the fact that you endeavored to keep the book ecumenical, applicable to everyone from “eat everything Mommy puts on your plate Catholics” to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and “non-theistic, open-minded agnostics,” among others. Why was it important to you for this book to be applicable to so many people? In other words, why do we all need to know how to be holy?

Kreeft: It is obvious why we all need to learn how to be holy: because there is only one God and He has the same essential requirement for all of us. I did not begin by asking how I could write a book that was ecumenical; I began by loving de Caussade’s book and then realized how ecumenical it was.  And ecumenical not just by touching the fringes of different religions but by penetrating to the heart of all true religion.

CWR: You state: ”To be in search of [sanctity] is like being a fish in search of the sea.” In what way(s) are we surrounded by sanctity as a fish is by the sea?

Kreeft: Being a saint, in a sense, is just practicing the presence of God.  (That’s the title of another of my favorite books because it is so simple.  My Prayer for Beginners is essentially a festooning of Brother Lawrence’s book.)  And God is omnipresent.  The Creator gives His being and love to every creature not just 13.7 billion years ago, in creating them, but now in preserving them and providentially caring for them.  

CWR: Your book is called How to be Holy; it seems that the first question we should ask, before “how,” is “why”: why should we be holy?

Kreeft: Yes.  Unless there is a good why, there is no need to think about how.  The Why is twofold: first and most absolutely, because God says so.  “You must be holy, for I am holy.” [Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16]  As the first reason is God, the second reason is us: holiness is the meaning of life and the way to joy.  “There is only one tragedy, in the end: not to have been a saint” (Leon Bloy).  Being holy is to us what flying is to birds and swimming is to fish: without it our life is fundamentally crippled.

CWR: In our culture today, holiness is something that is almost seen as taboo. The chiefly acceptable practice is to do anything except what the Church would call holiness. Is it more important than ever for men and women to strive for holiness, and to be visible examples?

Kreeft: Yes: hard times are like great pressures in the earth’s crust, and it produces diamonds.  Great saints (like Mother Teresa and John Paul II) come from and for bad times.  

A German cardinal who is very scholarly and often quite wise said one of the worst things I ever heard a cardinal say when trying to justify relaxing the Church’s demand to live in chastity even if one is civilly divorced.  He said that the Church does not expect everyone to be a moral hero.  That is exactly what the Church does expect, because her Lord expects it. 

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About Paul Senz 113 Articles
Paul Senz has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland in music and theology and earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from the same university. He has contributed to Catholic World Report, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, The Priest Magazine, National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, and other outlets. Paul lives in Elk City, OK, with his wife and their four children.