Monday, April 16, 2007

The Universal Call to Holiness

The importance of holiness
The Holy Father's prayer intention for the month of April 2007 is: That guided by the Holy Spirit, each Christian may respond enthusiastically and faithfully to the universal call to holiness. In addition to this, when our Archbishop was ordained for this diocese he chose for his motto: "Voluntas Dei Sanctificatio Vestra" (the will of God is your sanctification)(1Thessalonians 4:3). So our baptismal call to holiness is an important topic for both newly baptized and long-time Catholics.

The teaching of the Church clearly tells us that: "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness." (CCC 2013) In Matthew's gospel Jesus tells us to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican II devotes and entire chapter (5) to "The Universal Call to Holiness In the Church."
Some obstacles
Clearly, this call to holiness is part of the theme of continuing conversion which is a main theme of RCIA and is the basic movement in Christian life. We are familiar with the first part of conversion - to turn away from sin. We are less comfortable with the second part - to turn toward Jesus. Part of our unease can come from a sense of sin or unworthiness. We have trouble thinking of ourselves as holy - this despite the assurances of scripture that we are a holy people. We are in fact holy already by virtue of our Baptism. Our responsibility is to bear witness to that holiness in everything that we do. Another problem we have when thinking of our holiness could be that sometimes the models of holiness that are presented to us can make holiness seem unattainable or even undesirable. Many people, for example, might find the holiness presented in the life of St. Francis of Assisi as being so extreme, so perfect, that they could never measure up to such a standard. We might even ask ourselves about the advantages of holiness in our lives. Finally, another problem might be that we have trouble establishing just what holiness involves.

John Paul II gives us some idea of what holiness involves in his letter to the laity (Christifedeles Laici):
Life according to the Spirit, whose fruit is holiness, stirs up every baptized person and requires each to follow and imitate Jesus Christ in embracing the beatitudes; in listening and meditating on the Word of God; in conscious and active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church; in personal prayer; in family or in community; in the hunger and thirst for justice; in the practice of the commandment of love in all circumstances of life and service to the brethren, especially the least, the poor and the suffering. (16) Even this fairly straightforward definition can seem daunting. Basically it seems to say that everything we do needs to be done in the awareness of our relationship to Jesus and our dignity as members of the Body of Christ. To live as the Pope exhorts us is not easily done but it is something that we as ordinary Christians can all aspire to. We will not be perfect immediately and we might never be called to show heroic holiness like the martyrs did. Still, everyone knows, a married couple that seems to be trying their best to live out their marriage vows. In my time as a teacher I have known teachers who did their best to care for their students (sometimes that was even what I did!). I have known people in the health care professions who seemed to me to be models of concern as they cared for individual patients. Jesus, in the time before he began his ministry may have been a tradesman - a carpenter. So surely it is possible for "ordinary" people like the examples given, to act in a holy manner at least some of the time. Saints are saints because they were able to consistently or heroically practice holiness.

Above all we should never give up or become complacent in our search for holiness. St. Augustine in one of his writings used in the Liturgy of the Hours exhorts us to make progress and continue our journey. This call to make progress is a major challenge to us as we try to live out the implications of our Baptism.

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