The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us "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: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (CCC #2013) Christians are saved from sin, death and separation from God, through Jesus Christ. However, we are saved for holy living.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Years ago I returned to Southeastern Virginia after several years pursuing graduate studies in Washington, DC. When word got out of my return to the area, a local group identified with the Catholic charismatic renewal asked if I could fill in at the last minute for a speaker who was scheduled to speak at their Pentecost Prayer Rally but had to cancel. It was the day before the event. I agreed.
The only direction I received was to share my thoughts on the most important work of the Holy Spirit. In retrospect, I think they hoped I would zero in on spiritual gifts. I certainly do believe they are available to Christians today. However, I did not do so. Instead, I shared my conviction that the most important work of the Holy Spirit is producing holiness in men and women who follow Jesus - because what the contemporary age needs more than anything else is Saints. All these years later I am more convinced than ever of this reality.
The Saints we honor as Catholic Christians are given to us as examples to emulate as well as intercessors to assist us in responding to our vocation. They are companions on the journey; men and women like us who responded to God's invitation to become like Jesus. They pray for us because we are joined with them in the eternal communion of love. They put legs on the Gospel, showing us what holiness looks like. However, if we stop there, we miss the mark. We are called to become saints, to be perfected in charity, to grow in holiness.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us "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: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (CCC #2013) Christians are saved from sin, death and separation from God, through Jesus Christ. However, we are saved for holy living. We are called to live differently because we live in Jesus Christ. We are called to love differently, because we love in Jesus Christ. And all of this is made possible, when we cooperate with grace. The character of Christ is being formed in us in order to shine through us to others.
As I age these words become ever more sobering, "Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." ( Matthew 5: 43-48)
The admonition from Jesus is repeated in other Gospel accounts and developed in several New Testament Epistles. Perhaps our problem with understanding and responding is that we confuse the meaning of the word, "perfect". Filtering this word through our linguistic limitations, we may not even attempt to respond to the admonition. Jesus has saved us from - and saved us for. We tend to focus on what we are saved from and forget what we are saved for. We do not yet comprehend who we are to become.
In Greek, the word often translated perfect is telios. It refers to something being completed, brought to its full purpose, potential and intended end and vocation. For example, in the world of objects, a hammer is telios or perfect when it is hammering a nail. In the world of subjects, things are telios or perfect when they are fulfilling their nature. In our Western minds, we limit this word "perfect" and thereby fail to grasp its promise and potential. We equate it with being sinless, in the sense of never again making a wrong choice. We think of it mathematically rather than relationally.
The God who is Love fashioned us in His Image. We are made to become love. To love as He loves. In Jesus Christ, we are now capacitated - to use a term frequently used by the early father and Bishop Ireneaus of Lyons - made capable by the grace of His Redemption, of actually doing so. "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16).
Notice that the concept of being "perfected' is also applied to Jesus by the author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews in chapter 5 verses 8-9: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him."
Jesus was made perfect through what He suffered. Yet, Jesus was without sin. How then was He perfected? He came into the world to redeem, to transform us by His entire life, and death, and Resurrection, of perfect love. He fulfilled His purpose when He presided over the beginning of the new creation from the Altar of that Cross. He was the New Adam at the second tree. He then robbed death of its victory by bursting forth from that tomb which could not contain Perfect Love. In Him we are redeemed, set free, made new! He was the first born from the dead and we will follow. We live in Him when we live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. We are made perfect, holy, as we cooperate with His invitation to conversion and receive the grace mediated to us through His Word and His Sacraments. We are invited into a life of intimate communion with Him in and through prayer. We are made capable of loving as He loved. By doing so we prove ourselves to be Sons and daughters of His Father, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, has become Our Father. When we follow Jesus a dynamic process unfolds, an ever deepening conversion and transformation, a process called perfection. We "participate in the Divine Nature" the Apostle Peter tells us. (2 Peter 1:4). We are perfected in charity, by grace and through faith. Every Christian, no matter what our state in life or particular vocation, is called to this holiness. God's Divine Life, and its dynamic work within us, is meant change us into the new men and women that Jesus Christ has made it possible for us us to become. We walk this way of holiness by living in His Body, the Church, of which we are members. The Church is the seed of the kingdom, making the kingdom present in a world waiting to be born. Only when the King returns will the Kingdom be fully established. Then, the entire creation be reconstituted by love, made perfect, and handed back to the Father as a gift of love. However, the Church is a sign, a sacrament of that Kingdom. We are seeds of that kingdom, scattered into the world as into a furrow. We are called to become saints. We are called to be holy. My readers know that one of my favorite Bishops is Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. He addressed this call to holiness in an article entitled A Time for Holiness which can be read in its entirety in the Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Here is an excerpt for our Lenten reflection. *****
A Time for Holiness
All of us need the grace of a new conversion. This is what Lent is for. We need to be transformed once more by the person of Jesus Christ and the power of his Gospel. We need to live our faith with new sincerity, new zeal, new purpose and new purity. We need a new desire to be his disciples. I cannot say it enough: We all need to rediscover the essential message of the Gospel - that we are children of a God who loves us and who calls us to be one family in his Church and to make this world his Kingdom, a city of love and truth. The challenge we face - now and always, as individuals and as a Church - is to resist the temptation to only follow Jesus "half way." We should never settle for mediocrity or minimum standards in our life of faith. There are no "good enough" Christians, only Christians who are not doing enough good. Our world today needs saints. We can't wait for others. We need to become those saints ourselves. We need to inspire others around us to want to be saints. God wants us to be great! We are called to the holiness of God, to a share in his own holiness. Jesus said this in his Sermon on the Mount: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Holiness does not mean separating ourselves from the world. Just the opposite. Holiness means loving God and loving our neighbor in the middle of the world. In our families, in our work, in our play, in everything we do. The pathways of holiness are different for every one of us. How we love, how we seek the face of God, depends on the circumstances of our lives. And we will never be finished in this work of holiness. But that's the fun, the beauty and the joy of our faith. The way forward for our Church is for each one of us to rediscover this universal call to holiness. This is the meaning of our Christian lives. We are children of God called to be holy as our Father is holy. And we seek that holiness by working with his gifts of grace to love as Jesus loved. During these challenging times for our Church, we have to resist the desire to turn inward or to withdraw from our involvement with our culture and society. We still have a mission as a Church - to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to redeem us from our sins and to show us the way to a new life of holiness. We need to carry his message of salvation, conversion and forgiveness to every person. We need to find new ways to evangelize our society - new approaches rooted in humility and the search for holiness, beauty and truth. We can only change this world if we allow God to change us first. The lives we lead will always be the most credible witness we can give to the Gospel we believe in. People should be able to see "the Catholic difference" - the difference that our Catholic faith makes in our lives. Our world today needs saints. Not "other-worldly" saints - but saints in our cities, our families, our parishes and schools, our media, our businesses, legislatures and courts. We can't wait for others. We need to become those saints ourselves. We need to inspire others around us to want to be saints.
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