The Call To Holiness
A lack of concern for holiness resides at the very heart of what’s gone wrong in our Nation.It is vital that we recognize the need to seek, return to, and embrace holiness.
Holiness is the remedy which heals, strengthens, bonds, and brings about a great measure of the peace for which our hearts so ardently long.
Consider for a moment the issue of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. While a pro-life momentum has developed in the U.S., – one which has resulted in the majority favoring a reduction in the number of abortions – the country is, nevertheless, according to a 2009 Pew Forum survey, "evenly divided on the question" as to whether abortion should remain legal (pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=441). It is quite revealing to find that so many men and women who certainly value their own lives remain convinced that there are others whose lives are of no value whatsoever. Can we say that these people take the call to holiness seriously?
Further, let us examine the issue of Catholic or other Christian politicians who are obstinately fixed in their "pro-choice" conviction – bear in mind these same politicians were elected by a people who largely claim to be Christian. These anti-life adherents voice many excuses for their actions: "I’m opposed to abortion, but I can’t deny a woman’s right to choose"; or, "I understand your concerns, but we have to find common ground." I doubt our little unborn brothers and sisters found comfort in the morally bankrupt ramifications of "common ground" when they were surgically dismembered or poisoned in the womb, violently evicted from their first home, and harshly discarded without even a decent burial.
One has only to glance at the moral state of our Nation, considering what people hold dear, emphasize, talk about, and vote for, in order to conclude that many have failed to recognize the obligation to seek holiness. And it is truly an obligation; that is, the call to holiness is not merely an option for those who desire to love God. We either love God or we love "the earthly city" built "by love of self to the exclusion of God", as St. Augustine wrote. The call to holiness is a universal call from Christ himself; the avoidance or rejection of such a call is to erect an earthly city made of the mud and dirt of the world, one which is unholy and unacceptable to God.
"Brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2).
We need to "renew" our minds, embracing a holy way – distinct from the baseness of the world – of thinking and perceiving, directing our thoughts and actions toward the will of Christ; we need to assent to the light of truth, which is to intently, with fervor and love, focus on holiness. Christ calls us to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). We are called to perfection. We are obliged to holiness.
In 1993, in his Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendour of Truth), John Paul II noted the necessity of being obedient to the truth in order to become holy: "Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ ‘the true light that enlightens everyone’ (Jn 1:9), people become ‘light in the Lord’ and ‘children of light’ (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by ‘obedience to the truth’" (1 Pet 1:22; VS, introduction).
To be obedient to the truth is to be obedient to all that Christ uttered, it is to believe and live by what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles; it is to assent with one’s mind and heart to Sacred Tradition, Holy Scripture, and the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church which God willed should exist. Holiness calls for obedience; and, to be sure, holiness is a way of life; it is to gaze upon the Holy Spirit each moment, intently, uniting our will to the will of God. Those who thirst for holiness exercise great care in living by love: they love Christ, they love the Catholic Church he founded two-thousand years ago, and they cherish deeply the words of truth transmitted to the nations by that Church. Lumen Gentium teaches that, as the Church is unfailingly holy, all Christians in the Church are called to holiness.
"The Church, . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her (cf. Eph. 5:25-26); he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’" (1 Th. 4:3; cf. Eph. 1:4; LG, 39).
Vatican II reminds us of the obligations of submission to authentic teaching and practicing the Faith in our daily lives: "For [the] bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice" (LG, 25; emphasis added).
A true return to authentic holiness is the answer to the many ailments which plague us. Holiness is the remedy which heals, strengthens, bonds, and brings about a great measure of the peace for which our hearts so ardently long; for in holiness we embrace Christ. A community whose will is directed toward holiness is one moving into greater union with God, the source of all happiness. Uniting our wills to God’s brings about the "fullness of Christian life" and "the perfection of love", which is, in reality, the truly "human manner of life"; that is, we are not fully human unless we live steeped in the call to holiness.
"It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society" (LG, 40).
Holiness requires obedience to the truth; therefore it is certain that a prerequisite for holiness is obedience to the fullness of truth found in the Catholic Church. One cannot be holy and, at the same time, live in dissent with Christ’s Bride. Rejecting the Church while we sail along on our journey toward holiness is akin to blasting a hole in the bottom of the very ship in which we are sailing! Yet, while we know in our hearts that we must live by the truth, many find such a way of life difficult or unpalatable. The late Pope John Paul II reminds us of the need to combat disobedience, lest we exchange "the truth about God for a lie".
"This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging "the truth about God for a lie" (Rom 1:25). Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself" (VS, introduction).
Further, it is not by our own strength that we achieve any measure of holiness, but by giving ourselves entirely to Christ. Our Lord is our strength: it is from the Vine that we gather nourishment. It is by uniting our will to God that we walk along in perfection, as the Lord Jesus is the "divine teacher and model of all perfection" (cf. LG, 40).
"The followers of Christ, called by God not in virtue of their works but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified. They must therefore hold on to and perfect in their lives that sanctification which they have received from God. They are told by the apostle to live ‘as is fitting among saints’ (Eph. 5:3), and to put on ‘as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience’ (Col. 3:12), to have the fruits of the Spirit for their sanctification" (cf. Gal. 5:22; Rom. 6:22).
Through his Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection Christ has given us many unfathomable gifts. One could spend an entire lifetime contemplating such wonders and yet barely scratch the surface of their loving dimensions. We have indeed been elevated to an exalted status by the special grace of Christ. Justice demands that we love our Lord for what he has done, for who he is, for his gifts freely given.
"All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged." (LG, 14).
We are called to holiness. To attain it requires that we respond to Christ’s grace. Love whispers, Love beckons, Love rains down from the heights, showering God’s children with spiritual nourishment and consolation, that they may attain to sanctity; that they may hear, embrace, and live the call to holiness.
"The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one – that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and, obeying the Father’s voice and adoring God the Father in spirit and truth, follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory" (LG, 41).
F. K. Bartels operates catholicpathways.com, and may be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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