The Universal Vocation to Holiness and Religious Liberty
In the Creed we profess our belief in the communion of saints. This includes the holy ones in heaven who have gone before us exemplifying what it means to follow Christ, the faithful departed being purified for the Father’s house and for whom we now pray, and it can and should include each of us here on earth. Indeed, we must live now as children of light and goodness if we are to retain the citizenship in heaven we gained in baptism and reside there when our sojourn is over.
“The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition,” the Second Vatican Council reminds us, citing also Saint Paul who urged us “to live ‘as becomes saints,’ and to put on ‘as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience,’ and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 40).
During the month of November, which begins with All Saints Day, the Church invites us to reflect on this vocation to holiness, which is the fullness of the Christian life. The Lord wants us to be saints precisely because he loves us and wants what is good for us. To be a saint – to be with God and in God, eternally in the communion of his love – this is his plan for you and for me and for everyone we meet. This is the joy of the Gospel.
Living as a saint does not require superhuman feats or giving up fun. In fact, it means being more authentically human, using our freedom to live as we ought to in the truth of what God originally made us to be. It means that our Gospel faith informs our worldview and actions. This can be particularly challenging today given that we are inundated with ideologies and political positions that seek to shape the way we all think. Yet, nonetheless we need to remind ourselves that as disciples of Jesus we have chosen to follow his Gospel and walk in his way.
Jesus gave us a summary of the blessed and holy way of life in his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in chapters 5-7 of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. The Lord says, “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” telling us to seek first the kingdom of God and to ask our heavenly Father for good things and they will be given. Jesus speaks of those who are merciful, pure of heart, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and are forgiving. He says that we are supposed to be like salt and a light in the world, loving both neighbors and even enemies and praying for those who persecute us.
When we speak of persecution, social or cultural restrictions, or governmental violations of religious liberty, these are no obstacle to being holy, as the saintly martyrs will attest. In fact, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount teaches that those who are persecuted for his sake are blessed. Nevertheless, would it not be better without burdens on faith in the first place?
Religious oppression – including the state interference in Catholic institutions and schools that we are experiencing today, as well as social and cultural pressures to act contrary to faith, conscience, human dignity – can present substantial challenges to fully living out our Catholic identity and our missionary apostolate. Such violations of our religious liberties are contrary to the common good and grievously harm others who have a fundamental right to encounter the Gospel.
In this age, as we continue our discussion about faithful citizenship, there is great need for modern-day versions of the saintly witness to religious freedom, human dignity and the primacy of what is good and true in our society that is reflected in the long history of the Church and the joyful celebration of her many saints.