Throwback Thursday: The Universal Call to Holiness
Yesterday, the Church celebrated All Saints Day, a solemnity for all the saints in heaven, known and unknown. Today is All Souls Day, which the Church sets aside for us to remember and cherish those members of our spiritual family who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. In particular, we offer special prayers for the souls of all the faithful departed that they be counted among the saints in heaven, whose special feast we celebrated yesterday.
When we profess our belief in “the communion of saints,” we do not mean only those who have ended their earthly pilgrimage and are now with God. In our journey through life, each of us is called to grow in holiness and be a saint here and now. Indeed, we must become saints if we are to enter heaven.
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church tells us that “all Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives – and indeed through all these – will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will” (Lumen Gentium, 41). In this way, we are known to Jesus as his family (Matthew 12:48-50).
But what is the divine will? What does God ask of me and you?
Saint Paul urges us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). We should put away the old self of our former way of life, speak the truth and be compassionate and forgiving (Colossians 3:5-13). “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory,” he says, “rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The one word that describes these teachings is “love.” As revealed by the Lord Jesus in his life and teachings and throughout salvation history, “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in Him” (1 John 4:16). To rest in God, to see God, to be fully alive – this describes the saints. It is through communion with the Holy One that are we sanctified. To abide in him, to be a saint, we need only love.
“Charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness,” the Council Fathers confirm. “It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 42).
Such love is a challenge in a world that urges us to think only of ourselves, of our own wants and desires. It has been this way since the original sin of the first man and woman choosing to return God’s love with infidelity (Genesis 3:1-13).
But the Holy Spirit helps us to change. The Spirit of Love and of Truth makes conversion from a sinner into a saint possible – if only we say “yes” to his grace and apply it faithfully in our lives. We are sanctified in a particular way through the gift of the Spirit in baptism and the other sacraments, which free us from death in sin and renew us to the fullness of life in grace as children of God.
This conversion, this turning to holiness, is a necessary part of Christian life. Our purpose is to be transformed into Christ. This is why Jesus came among us, and nothing could be more transformative than this “divinization” of the human person. Through loving acceptance of the grace of the Spirit, by the love of the Crucified and Risen Christ, we are perfected in God and with God. We are sanctified and made saints.