Annus sacer, 8 dec. Nel darvi, 1 iul. De perf. Origenes, In Is. Pius X, Exhort. Haerent animo, 4 aug. Ad catholici sacerdotii, 20 dec. Pius XII, Alloc. Sous la maternclle protection , 9 dec. Casti Connubii , 31 dec. AAS 22 p. Io Chrysostomus, In Ephes. Augustinus, Enchir. Thomas Summa Theol. Pius XII, Adhort. Menti nostrae , 23 sept. X, PG 14 S B. Augustinus, De S. Viginitate , 15, PL 40, I-II, q. Tertullianus, Exhort. Cyprianus, Hab. Chrysostomus, De Virg. Scripturae et Patrum afferuntur in Relatione pp. Chrysostomus, In Matth. Ambrosius, De Vidu s, 4, PL 16, s. Chapter Five on the Universal Call to Holiness is indeed the heart of this document and therefore, of the entire council.
Subheadings on this page are not in the original document.
Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton
They were added by Dr. Italy as an aid to easier reading, breaking out the key ideas of the various paragraphs. After several years of planning, the Council was formally convoked in September For the next three years, over 2, bishops and theological advisors met in Rome each September through December, returning home to care for their flocks while committee members continued to hammer away on drafts of the sixteen documents ultimately promulgated by the Council. Biography by Dr. Second Vatican Council. Originally posted on Nov 09 It came into being through the creative prompting of the Spirit who moved founders and foundresses along the Gospel path, giving rise to an admirable variety of charisms.
These founders and foundresses, open and docile to the Spirit's guidance, followed Christ more closely, entered into intimacy with him and fully shared in his mission. Their experience of the Spirit must not only be preserved by those who follow them but must also be deepened and developed. The Spirit alone can keep alive the freshness and authenticity of the beginnings while at the same time instilling the courage of interdependence and inventiveness needed to respond to the signs of the times.
We must therefore allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit to a constantly renewed discovery of God and of his Word, to a burning love for God and for humanity and to a new understanding of the charism which has been given. It calls for a concentration on an intense spirituality in the strongest sense of the word, that is, life according to the Spirit. Consecrated life today needs a spiritual rebirth which will help to concretely bring about the spiritual and evangelical meaning of baptismal consecration and of its new and special consecration. It is the Spirit who allows us to recognize the Lord in Jesus of Nazareth cf.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, does not belong to Christ cf. It is the Spirit who instills love and gives birth to communion. Clearly consecrated life needs a renewed striving for holiness which in the simplicity of everyday life, aims at the radicalness of the Sermon on the Mount 62 and demanding love, lived in a personal relationship with the Lord, in a life of communion and in the service to every man and woman.
It is such an interior newness, entirely animated by the strength of the Spirit and reaching out to the Father, seeking the Kingdom, which will allow consecrated persons to start afresh from Christ and be witnesses of his love. The call to return to one's own roots and choices in spirituality opens paths to the future. First of all it requires living the fullness of the theology of the evangelical counsels with the model of Trinitarian life as the starting point, according to the teachings of Vita Consecrata , 63 with a new opportunity to come into contact with the sources of one's own charism and constitutional texts, which are always open to new and more demanding interpretations.
This dynamic sense of spirituality provides the opportunity to develop, at this stage of the Church's history, a deeper spirituality which is more ecclesial and communitarian, more demanding and mature in mutual support in striving for holiness, more generous in apostolic choices; finally, a spirituality which is more open to becoming a teaching and pastoral plan for holiness within consecrated life itself and in its radiance for the entire people of God. The Holy Spirit is the soul and animator of Christian spirituality; for this reason we must entrust ourselves to the Spirit's action which departs from the intimacy of hearts, manifests itself in communion and spreads itself in mission.
Starting Afresh from Christ. Therefore it is necessary to adhere ever more closely to Christ, the centre of consecrated life and once again take up the path of conversion and renewal which, like the initial experience of the apostles, before and after the resurrection, was a starting afresh from Christ. Yes, one must start afresh from Christ because it was from him that the first disciples started in Galilee; from him, that throughout history men and women of every status and culture, consecrated by the Spirit in the strength of their call, have started out; for him they have left family and homeland, following him unconditionally, making themselves available for the announcement of the Kingdom and doing good for all cf.
Acts And yet God's gift was stronger than human weakness. In fact, it is Christ who has made himself present in the communities of those who throughout the centuries have gathered in his name, he taught them about himself and about his Spirit, he oriented them towards the Father, he guided them along the streets of the world to encounter brothers and sisters, he made them instruments of his love and builders of his Kingdom in communion with all the other vocations in the Church.
Consecrated persons can and must start afresh from Christ because he himself first came to them and accompanied them on the path cf. Their life is the proclamation of the primacy of grace. Jn ; however, in him who gives strength they can do all cf. Phil The whole life of consecration can be summarized by this point of departure alone: the evangelical counsels make sense only in as much as they help to safeguard and foster love for the Lord in full openness to his will; Community life is motivated by the One who gathers others around himself and has as its goal the enjoyment of his constant presence; the mission is his command leading us to seek his face in the faces of those to whom we are sent to share with them the experience of Christ.
These were the intentions of the founders and foundresses of different communities and Institutes of Consecrated Life. These are the ideals which have motivated generations of consecrated women and men. Starting afresh from Christ means once again finding one's first love, the inspiring spark which first gave rise to the following. The primacy of love is his. The following is only a response in love to the love of God. Only the awareness of being infinitely loved can help us overcome every personal and institutional difficulty.
Consecrated persons cannot be creative, capable of renewing the Institute and opening new pastoral paths if they do not feel loved with this love. It is this love which makes them strong and courageous which instills fire and enables them to dareall. The vows with which one commits oneself to live the evangelical counsels confer their radicalness as a response to love. Virginity opens the heart to the measure of Christ's heart and makes it possible to love as he loved. Poverty frees one from the slavery to things and to artificial needs which drive consumer society and leads to the rediscovery of Christ, the only treasure truly worth living for.
Obedience places life entirely in Christ's hands so that he may use it according to God's design and make it a masterpiece. Courage is needed for a generous and joyous following. Contemplating the Faces of Christ. The path which consecrated life is called to take up at the beginning of the new millennium is guided by the contemplation of Christ with a gaze fixed, more than ever, on the face of the Lord. There are a multiplicity of presences to be discovered in ways that are ever new.
Christ is truly present in his Word and in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Christ lives in the Church, he makes himself present in the community of those who are gathered in his name. He is before us in every person, identifying himself in a special way with the small, the poor, those who suffer and those most in need. He meets us in every event happy or sad, in trials and in joys, in pain and in sickness. Holiness is the fruit of the encounter with him in the many presences in which we can discover his face as the Son of God, a suffering face and at the same time the face of the Risen One.
As he once made himself present in daily life he is still present in daily life today where he continues to show his face. Recognizing him requires a gaze of faith which is acquired through the habitual reading of the Word of God, through prayer and above all through the exercise of charity because the Mystery can only be fully known through love. We can recall some privileged places in which the face of Christ can be contemplated, for a renewed commitment in the life of the Spirit.
These are walking the paths of a lived spirituality, a priority commitment in this time, taking the opportunity to re-read in life and in daily experiences the spiritual riches of one's own charism, through of a renewed contact with the same sources which, inspired by the founders' and foundress' experience of the Spirit, gave rise to the spark of new life and new works, the specific re-reading of the Gospel found in every Charism.
The Word of God. It was the Holy Spirit who sparked the Word of God with new light for the founders and foundresses. Every charism and every Rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it. In continuity with founders and foundresses their disciples today are called to take up the Word of God and to cherish it in their hearts so that it may be a lamp for their feet and a light for their path cf. Ps The Holy Spirit will then be able to lead them to the fullness of truth cf.
Jn The Word of God is nourishment for life, for prayer and for the daily journey, the principle which unifies the community in oneness of thought, the inspiration for ongoing renewal and apostolic creativity. The Second Vatican Council had already indicated that the first great principle of renewal is a return to the Gospel. Within communities and in groups of consecrated men and women, as in the whole Church, a more lively and immediate contact with the Word of God has developed in recent years.
It is a path which must continue to be walked down with an ever greater intensity. Community life also fosters the rediscovery of the ecclesial dimension of the Word: receive it, meditate upon it, live it together, communicate the experiences which blossom from it and thus submit yourself to an authentic spirituality of communion. Nourished by the word, made new, free and conformed to the Gospels, consecrated men and women can be authentic servants of the Word in the task of evangelization.
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Prayer and Contemplation. Prayer and contemplation provide the ambient for the reception of the Word of God and at the same time they spring from listening to the Word. Without an interior life of love which draws the Word, the Father and the Spirit to itself, an outlook of faith is impossible cf. As a consequence life itself loses meaning, the faces of brothers and sisters are obscured and it becomes impossible to recognize the face of God in them, historical events remain ambiguous and deprived of hope and apostolic and charitable mission become nothing more than widespread activity.
Every vocation to consecrated life is born in contemplation, from moments of intense communion and from a deep relationship of friendship with Christ, from the beauty and light which was seen shining on his face. Every vocation must constantly mature in this intimacy with Christ. Monks and cloistered nuns like hermits dedicate more time to praise of God as well as to prolonged silent prayer.
Members of Secular Institutes, like consecrated virgins in the world, offer to God the joys and sorrows, the hopes and petitions of all people and contemplate the face of Christ which they recognize in the faces of their brothers and sisters, in the historical events, in the apostolate and in everyday work. Religious men and women dedicated to teaching, to the care of the sick, to the poor, encounter the face of the Lord there. For missionaries and members of Societies of Apostolic Life the proclamation of the Gospel is lived according to the example of St.
Paul, as authentic cult cf. Rm The whole Church enjoys and benefits from the many forms of prayer and the variety of ways in which the one face of Christ is contemplated. At the same time it is noticeable that, for many years now, the liturgical prayer of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist have assumed a central position in the life of all types of communities and of fraternities, once again giving them a biblical and ecclesial vigour.
It is an exercise which requires fidelity, because we are constantly being bombarded by the estrangements and excesses which come from today's society, especially from the means of communication. At times fidelity to personal and liturgical prayer will require a true effort not to allow oneself to be swallowed up in frenetic activism. Otherwise it will be impossible to bear fruit. Giving a priority place to spirituality means starting afresh from the rediscovered centrality of the Eucharistic celebration, a privileged place of encounter with the Lord. There he once again makes himself present in the midst of the disciples, he explains the Scriptures, he warms the heart and enlightens the mind, he opens eyes and allows himself to be recognized cf.
We all need the daily viaticum of encounter with the Lord in order to bring every day life into sacred time which is made present in celebration of the Lord's Memorial. Here the fulness of intimacy with Christ is realized, becoming one with him , total conformity to him to whom consecrated persons are called by vocation. We offer and are offered. Religious consecration itself assumes a Eucharistic structure, it is the total offering of self closely joined to the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
In the Eucharist all forms of prayer come together, the Word of God is proclaimed and received, relationships with God, with brothers and sisters, with all men and women are challenged. It is the Sacrament of filiation, of communion and of mission. The Eucharist, the Sacrament of unity with Christ, is at the same time the Sacrament of Church unity and community unity for the consecrated person. In order to fully produce the expected fruits of communion and renewal, the essential conditions must be present, especially mutual forgiveness and the commitment to love one another in accord with the Lord's teaching; full reconciliation is necessary before presenting ones's offering at the altar cf.
The Sacrament of unity cannot be celebrated while remaining indifferent to others. On the other hand, it must be remembered that these essential conditions are also the fruit and sign of a well-celebrated Eucharist because it is especially in communion with the Eucharistic Jesus that we are enabled to love and to forgive. Moreover, every celebration should become the occasion to renew the commitment of giving one's life for others in acceptance and in service. Meeting these conditions the community of consecrated persons which lives the Paschal Mystery, renewed daily in the Eucharist, becomes a witness of communion and a prophetic sign of solidarity for a divided and wounded society.
In fact, the spirituality of communion, so necessary to establish the dialogue of charity needed in today's world, is born in the Eucharist. The Face of Christ in Trials. Those who have been called to live the evangelical counsels through profession must frequently contemplate the face of the Crucified One. Mt ; Mk and to respond to his infinite love. Forms which assure a generosity of service and support the fatigue of apostolic work. Today, the cross which they take up daily cf. Lk , such as the age of the Institute, structural inadequacy, and uncertainty regarding the future, can also take on collective value.
In that cry, addressed to the Father, Jesus makes us understand that his solidarity with humanity was so radical that it penetrated, shared and assumed every negative aspect even to death, the fruit of sin. Starting afresh from Christ means recognizing that sin is still radically present in the heart and life of all, and discovering in the suffering face of Christ that offering which reconciled humanity with God.
Throughout the history of the Church, consecrated women and men have contemplated the suffering face even outside themselves. They recognized it in the sick, the imprisoned, the poor and the sinner. Their service has brought many men and women to experience the merciful embrace of God the Father in the Sacrament of Penance. Today too, there is a need to strongly repropose this ministry of reconciliation cf.
This is the mysterium pietatis 88 which consecrated men and women are called to experience frequently in the Sacrament of Penance.
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Today new faces are appearing in which to recognize, love and serve the face of Christ where he has made himself present; they are the new material moral and spiritual poverties produced by contemporary society. The cry of Jesus on the cross reveals how he took all this evil upon himself in order to redeem it. The vocation of consecrated persons continues to be that of Jesus and like him they take upon themselves the pain and the sin of the world, consuming them in love.
The Spirituality of Communion. The whole Church expects a clear contribution to this undertaking from consecrated life because of its specific vocation to a life of communion in love. But what is the spirituality of communion? Some consequences of feeling and doing derive from this principal with convincing logic: sharing the joys and sufferings of our brothers and sisters; sensing their desires and attending to their needs; offering them true and profound friendship.
The spirituality of communion also implies the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and to prize it as a gift from God, and to know how to make room for others, sharing each other's burdens. Unless we follow this spiritual path, the external structures of communion serve very little purpose. The spirituality of communion which appears to reflect the spiritual climate of the Church at the beginning of the third millennium is an active and exemplary task for consecrated life on all levels.
It is the principle highway for the future of life and witness. Holiness and mission come through the community because in and through it Christ makes himself present. Brother and sister become Sacraments of Christ and of the encounter with God, the concrete possibility, and even more, the unsurpassable necessity in carrying out the commandment to love one another and bring about Trinitarian communion. In recent years communities and various types of fraternities of consecrated persons are seen as places of communion where relationships seem to be less formal and where acceptance and mutual understanding are facilitated.
The divine and human value of being together freely in friendship and sharing even moments of relaxation and recreation together as disciples gathered around Christ the Teacher is being rediscovered. They prove to be training grounds for integration and inculturation and at the same time a witness to the universality of the Christian message. The Exhortation Vita Consecrata , presenting this form of life as a sign of communion in the Church, emphasized all the wealth and demands expected of community life. Earlier our Dicastery had promulgated the document Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor, on community life.
Holiness: The Vocation We Share
Every community should periodically go back to these documents to evaluate its own journey of faith and progress in communion. Communion between Old and New Charisms. The communion which consecrated persons are called to live goes far beyond their own religious family or Institute.
Opening themselves to communion with other Institutes and other forms of consecration, they can spread communion, rediscover their common Gospel roots and together grasp the beauty of their own identity in the variety of charisms with greater clarity. They should compete in mutual esteem cf. Rm , striving for the greater gift, charity cf. The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities.
It is the reality of many members joined in a single body, the one Body of Christ cf. It can be the beginning of a joint search for common ways of serving the Church. External factors, such as having to comply with the new demands of States and internal Institute factors such as the decrease in the number of members, have already led to the coordination of efforts in the fields of formation, the management of goods, education and evangelization.
Even in these situations we can find the Spirit's invitation to a more intense communion. The Conferences of Major Superiors and Conferences of Secular Institutes are to be supported at all levels in this task. The future can no longer be faced in isolation. There is a need to be Church, to together live the adventure of the Spirit and of the following of Christ, communicating the experience of the Gospel, learning to love the other's community and religious family as one's own.
The joys and sorrows, the concerns and successes belong to everyone and can be shared. Dialogue and communion are also sought from new forms of evangelical life. Finally, a new richness can spring from an encounter and communion with the charisms of ecclesial movements. Movements can often offer the example of evangelical and charismatic freshness such as the generous, creative initiatives in evangelization.
On the other hand, movements as well as new forms of evangelical life can learn a great deal from the faithful, joyful and charismatic witness of consecrated life which bears a very rich spiritual patrimony, the many treasures of experience and wisdom and a great variety of apostolates and missionary commitments.
Our Dicastery has already offered criteria and directives for the insertion of Religious men and women into ecclesial movements which are still valid. It is a question of recognizing which came about through the promptings of the same Spirit to bring about the fullness of evangelical life in the world, coming together to realize God's one plan for the salvation of all.
Jesus, Model of Holiness
The spirituality of communion is realized precisely in this vast dialogue of evangelical fraternity among all segments of the people of God. In Communion with the Laity. The experience of communion among consecrated persons results in an even greater openness to all other members of the Church. The command to love one another experienced in the internal life of the community must be transferred from the personal level to that of the different ecclesial realities.
Only in an integrated ecclesiology, wherein the various vocations are gathered together as the one people of God, can the vocation to consecrated life once again find its specific identity as sign and witness. The fact that the charisms of founders and foundresses, having been born of the Spirit for the good of all, must once again be placed at the centre of the Church, open to communion and participation by all the People of God, is being increasingly discovered.
In this line we can see that a new type of communion and collaboration within the various vocations and states of life especially among consecrated persons and laity is beginning. Institutes committed to the apostolate can involve them in forms of pastoral collaboration. Members of Secular Institutes, lay or clerical, relate to other members of the faithful at the level of everyday life.
The new phenomenon being experienced in these days is that some members of the laity are asking to participate in the charismatic ideals of Institutes. This has given rise to interesting initiatives and new institutional forms of association. We are experiencing an authentic re-flourishing of ancient institutions, such as the secular orders or third orders, and the birth of new lay associations and movements linked to religious Families and Secular Institutes.
Whereas at times in the recent past, collaboration came about as a means of supplementing the decline of consecrated persons necessary to carry out activities, now it is growing out of the need to share responsibility not only in the carrying out of the Institute's works but especially in the hope of sharing specific aspects and moments of the spirituality and mission of the Institute.
This calls for an adequate formation of both consecrated persons and laity to ensure a collaboration which is mutually enriching. Whereas in times past it was especially the task of religious men and women to create, spiritually nourish and direct aggregate forms of laity, today, thanks to an every increasing formation of the laity, there can be a mutual assistance which fosters an understanding of the specificity and beauty of each state of life.
Communion and mutuality in the Church are never one way streets. In this new climate of ecclesial communion, priests, religious and laity, far from ignoring each other or coming together only for a common activity, can once again find the just relationships of communion and a renewed experience of evangelical communion and mutual charismatic esteem resulting in a complementarity which respects the differences. This ecclesial dynamic will be helpful to the renewal and identity of consecrated life.
As the understanding of the charism deepens, ever new ways of carrying it out will be discovered. In Communion with Bishops. A unique aspect in this relationship of ecclesial communion with all the vocations and states of life is that of unity with Bishops. The hope of cultivating a spirituality of communion without an effective and affective relationship with the Bishops, primarily with the Pope, the center of unity of the Church and with his Magisterium, would be in vain.
It is the concrete application of feeling with the church proper to all the faithful which especially shines in the founders and foundresses of consecrated life and which becomes the charismatic task of all Institutes. It is impossible to contemplate the face of God without seeing it shine in that of the Church.
To love Christ is to love the Church in her persons and institutions. Today, more than ever, in the face of the recurring centrifugal forces which place fundamental principles of the Catholic faith and morals in doubt, consecrated persons and their institutions are called to give proof of unity without disagreement with the Magisterium of the Church, becoming convinced and joyful spokespersons before all. They praiseworthily carry out this responsibility in the cultural world. The Church guards with confident attention their intellectual commitment in the face of the delicate front line issues which the Magisterium must face.
The Church documents of the past ten years have constantly taken up the conciliar style which invites the Bishops to evaluate the specific charisms in the overall pastoral picture. At the same time they encourage consecrated persons to clearly and confidently make known and to offer their own proposals for presence and work in conformity with their specific vocation.
God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life. This is part of the mystery that a gnostic mentality cannot accept, since it is beyond its control.
It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it. A dangerous confusion can arise. When Saint Francis of Assisi saw that some of his disciples were engaged in teaching, he wanted to avoid the temptation to gnosticism. Gnosticism gave way to another heresy, likewise present in our day. As time passed, many came to realize that it is not knowledge that betters us or makes us saints, but the kind of life we lead.
But this subtly led back to the old error of the gnostics, which was simply transformed rather than eliminated. The same power that the gnostics attributed to the intellect, others now began to attribute to the human will, to personal effort. This was the case with the pelagians and semi-pelagians. Now it was not intelligence that took the place of mystery and grace, but our human will. Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth.
That kind of thinking would show too much confidence in our own abilities. Underneath our orthodoxy, our attitudes might not correspond to our talk about the need for grace, and in specific situations we can end up putting little trust in it. Unless we can acknowledge our concrete and limited situation, we will not be able to see the real and possible steps that the Lord demands of us at every moment, once we are attracted and empowered by his gift.
Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. In order to be blameless, as he would have us, we need to live humbly in his presence, cloaked in his glory; we need to walk in union with him, recognizing his constant love in our lives. We need to lose our fear before that presence which can only be for our good. God is the Father who gave us life and loves us greatly. Once we accept him, and stop trying to live our lives without him, the anguish of loneliness will disappear cf.
Ps In this way we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord cf. Rom and allow him to mould us like a potter cf. Is So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. He is our temple; we ask to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life cf. In him is our holiness. The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative.
The Fathers of the Church, even before Saint Augustine, clearly expressed this fundamental belief. Saint John Chrysostom said that God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into battle. This is one of the great convictions that the Church has come firmly to hold. It is so clearly expressed in the word of God that there can be no question of it. Like the supreme commandment of love, this truth should affect the way we live, for it flows from the heart of the Gospel and demands that we not only accept it intellectually but also make it a source of contagious joy.
Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ. Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few.
This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting.
The Call to Holiness
The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt. Once we believe that everything depends on human effort as channelled by ecclesial rules and structures, we unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace.
To avoid this, we do well to keep reminding ourselves that there is a hierarchy of virtues that bids us seek what is essential. The primacy belongs to the theological virtues, which have God as their object and motive. At the centre is charity. In other words, amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two more formulas or two more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces.
Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art. Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbour. These two riches do not disappear! May the Lord set the Church free from these new forms of gnosticism and pelagianism that weigh her down and block her progress along the path to holiness! These aberrations take various shapes, according to the temperament and character of each person. So I encourage everyone to reflect and discern before God whether they may be present in their lives. There can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness, with various explanations and distinctions.
Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes cf. Mt ; Lk We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. It expresses the fact that those faithful to God and his word, by their self-giving, gain true happiness. The Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite. We can only practise them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride.
Let us listen once more to Jesus, with all the love and respect that the Master deserves. Let us allow his words to unsettle us, to challenge us and to demand a real change in the way we live. Otherwise, holiness will remain no more than an empty word. We turn now to the individual Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew cf. Mt The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our security in life.
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Usually the rich feel secure in their wealth, and think that, if that wealth is threatened, the whole meaning of their earthly life can collapse. Jesus himself tells us this in the parable of the rich fool: he speaks of a man who was sure of himself, yet foolish, for it did not dawn on him that he might die that very day cf. Lk Wealth ensures nothing. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all. That is why Jesus calls blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who have a poor heart, for there the Lord can enter with his perennial newness.
In this way, he too invites us to live a plain and austere life. These are strong words in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately, it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others. Nonetheless, impossible as it may seem, Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness.
This is what we see him doing with his disciples. If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining. Paul speaks of meekness as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit cf.
Meekness is yet another expression of the interior poverty of those who put their trust in God alone. Indeed, in the Bible the same word — anawim — usually refers both to the poor and to the meek. At times they may, but so be it. It is always better to be meek, for then our deepest desires will be fulfilled. In every situation, the meek put their hope in the Lord, and those who hope for him shall possess the land… and enjoy the fullness of peace cf.
The world tells us exactly the opposite: entertainment, pleasure, diversion and escape make for the good life. The worldly person ignores problems of sickness or sorrow in the family or all around him; he averts his gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed.
But the cross can never be absent. Such persons are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes. Hunger and thirst are intense experiences, since they involve basic needs and our instinct for survival.
There are those who desire justice and yearn for righteousness with similar intensity. Jesus says that they will be satisfied, for sooner or later justice will come. We can cooperate to make that possible, even if we may not always see the fruit of our efforts. Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty interests and manipulated in various ways.
Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo , where everything becomes business. How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fighting for real justice and opt to follow in the train of the winners.
This has nothing to do with the hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus praises. Mercy has two aspects. It involves giving, helping and serving others, but it also includes forgiveness and understanding. The yardstick we use for understanding and forgiving others will measure the forgiveness we receive. The yardstick we use for giving will measure what we receive. We should never forget this. We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven.
All of us have been looked upon with divine compassion. This Beatitude speaks of those whose hearts are simple, pure and undefiled, for a heart capable of love admits nothing that might harm, weaken or endanger that love. The Bible uses the heart to describe our real intentions, the things we truly seek and desire, apart from all appearances. God wants to speak to our hearts cf. Hos ; there he desires to write his law cf.
Jer In a word, he wants to give us a new heart cf. Ezek Jn Certainly there can be no love without works of love, but this Beatitude reminds us that the Lord expects a commitment to our brothers and sisters that comes from the heart. A heart that loves God and neighbour cf. Mt , genuinely and not merely in words, is a pure heart; it can see God. This Beatitude makes us think of the many endless situations of war in our world. Yet we ourselves are often a cause of conflict or at least of misunderstanding.
For example, I may hear something about someone and I go off and repeat it. I may even embellish it the second time around and keep spreading it… And the more harm it does, the more satisfaction I seem to derive from it. The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace.
Jesus himself warns us that the path he proposes goes against the flow, even making us challenge society by the way we live and, as a result, becoming a nuisance. He reminds us how many people have been, and still are, persecuted simply because they struggle for justice, because they take seriously their commitment to God and to others. In living the Gospel, we cannot expect that everything will be easy, for the thirst for power and worldly interests often stands in our way.
As a result, the Beatitudes are not easy to live out; any attempt to do so will be viewed negatively, regarded with suspicion, and met with ridicule. Whatever weariness and pain we may experience in living the commandment of love and following the way of justice, the cross remains the source of our growth and sanctification. Here we are speaking about inevitable persecution, not the kind of persecution we might bring upon ourselves by our mistreatment of others.
The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness. The Apostles of Christ were not like that. Persecutions are not a reality of the past, for today too we experience them, whether by the shedding of blood, as is the case with so many contemporary martyrs, or by more subtle means, by slander and lies. At other times, persecution can take the form of gibes that try to caricature our faith and make us seem ridiculous.
Holiness, then, is not about swooning in mystic rapture. Given these uncompromising demands of Jesus, it is my duty to ask Christians to acknowledge and accept them in a spirit of genuine openness, sine glossa. If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ.
That is what it is to be a Christian! Can holiness somehow be understood apart from this lively recognition of the dignity of each human being? For Christians, this involves a constant and healthy unease. Even if helping one person alone could justify all our efforts, it would not be enough. The bishops of Canada made this clear when they noted, for example, that the biblical understanding of the jubilee year was about more than simply performing certain good works. Ideologies striking at the heart of the Gospel. I regret that ideologies lead us at times to two harmful errors.
On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace. For these great saints, mental prayer, the love of God and the reading of the Gospel in no way detracted from their passionate and effective commitment to their neighbours; quite the opposite.
The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.
Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue.
That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him cf. Mt ? This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.
We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms. It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love.
Similarly, the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy. Here I think of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who asked which actions of ours are noblest, which external works best show our love for God.
For he does not need our sacrifices, but wishes them to be offered to him, in order to stir our devotion and to profit our neighbour. Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. Hedonism and consumerism can prove our downfall, for when we are obsessed with our own pleasure, we end up being all too concerned about ourselves and our rights, and we feel a desperate need for free time to enjoy ourselves.
We will find it hard to feel and show any real concern for those in need, unless we are able to cultivate a certain simplicity of life, resisting the feverish demands of a consumer society, which leave us impoverished and unsatisfied, anxious to have it all now. Similarly, when we allow ourselves to be caught up in superficial information, instant communication and virtual reality, we can waste precious time and become indifferent to the suffering flesh of our brothers and sisters. Yet even amid this whirlwind of activity, the Gospel continues to resound, offering us the promise of a different life, a healthier and happier life.
The powerful witness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beatitudes and the criterion of the final judgement. It can also be an object of study and reflection, but only to help us better live the Gospel in our daily lives. I recommend rereading these great biblical texts frequently, referring back to them, praying with them, trying to embody them. They will benefit us; they will make us genuinely happy. Within the framework of holiness offered by the Beatitudes and Matthew , I would like to mention a few signs or spiritual attitudes that, in my opinion, are necessary if we are to understand the way of life to which the Lord calls us.
I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well. Here I will speak only of certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful.
There we see a sense of anxiety, sometimes violent, that distracts and debilitates; negativity and sullenness; the self-content bred by consumerism; individualism; and all those forms of ersatz spirituality — having nothing to do with God — that dominate the current religious marketplace. The first of these great signs is solid grounding in the God who loves and sustains us.
Such inner strength makes it possible for us, in our fast-paced, noisy and aggressive world, to give a witness of holiness through patience and constancy in doing good. They do not desert others in bad times; they accompany them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction.
Saint Paul bade the Romans not to repay evil for evil cf. Rom , not to seek revenge v. We need to recognize and combat our aggressive and selfish inclinations, and not let them take root. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication.
Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others.
Related Call to Holiness, The: Embracing a Fully Christian Life
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