February 9, 2024

Christ the Cornerstone

A call to ‘the perfection of love’ in our lives

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love” or, in other words, all are called to universal holiness” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” “Lumen Gentium,” #40).

One of the most important teachings of the Second Vatican Council is “the universal call to holiness” (see “Lumen Gentium,” #40).

Based on the conviction that every human being (man, woman and child) is made in the image and likeness of God, the call to holiness that each of us receives from our Creator is intended to bring us closer to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Through growth in holiness, we also come closer to ourselves, to our own unique identity and mission as the holy people of God.

Throughout religious history, to be “holy” meant to be set apart, out of the ordinary, and sacred rather than profane. A holy place is one where God appeared. It is to be reverenced and protected from misuse. An object is called holy if it has been used to accomplish God’s will. That’s why the cross of Christ, an instrument of torture and death, can be called holy: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

People are holy when they allow themselves to be transformed by God’s grace from self-centered individuals to members of God’s family, brothers and sisters to everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, economic or social status. To be holy is to be removed or set apart from the sinful condition that has existed since our first parents alienated us from God, from one another and ourselves.

The universal call to holiness is an invitation to return to our original state of grace. It is a challenge to each of us to let go of our self-serving, sinful ways and to become like Christ who came “to serve, not to be served” and who gave up his life as a ransom for us when we did not deserve it (Mt 20:28).

The call to holiness is not easy. It runs against our every inclination and tendency as sinful people. That’s why the Church offers us the example of Mary and all the saints.

If we want to be holy—to come closer to God and to each other—we’re invited to live as the saints lived. We are challenged to grow in our ability to recognize and accept God’s will for us. We are asked to surrender our egos, our intolerance, our self-indulgence and our indifference to the needs of others. Finally, we are invited, and challenged, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as faithful missionary disciples.

With the single exception of Mary, none of the saints was sinless. They were ordinary women and men who struggled to respond to the Lord’s call to grow in holiness in the particular circumstances of their lives. Their lives are presented to us by the Church to help and encourage us.

Surely, out of all the thousands of saints (known and unknown) there are some we can identify with. The Church encourages us to choose our own favorite saints, to reflect on their lives, and to ask for their help as we face similar difficulties in our effort to grow in holiness.

Holiness is not easy, but God’s grace is sufficient to help us meet and overcome the challenges.

At the same time, holiness is not simply a passive reception of God’s grace. Rather, it is an active response to “hold on to and perfect in our lives that sanctification which we have received from God” (“Lumen Gentium,” #40).

Holiness is the way of life for anyone who seeks to follow Christ. It requires us to cultivate our relationship with God through daily prayer, acts of charity and through “full, conscious and active participation” in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.

The Church proposes Mary, Mother of the Church, as the model for Christian holiness. Her words and example throughout the New Testament show us what it means to be set apart from selfishness and sin.

Mary is holy because she remains close to God, because she listens to God’s word, because she accepts what she doesn’t understand, and because she does the will of God always.

Sorrow, fear and disappointment accompany Mary during her life’s journey, but she never gives up. She trusts in the providence of God saying, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

May God’s grace help us to repeat Mary’s words often as we strive to grow in holiness. †

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