Holiness, Universal Call to

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A prominent element in the current resurgence of theological concern for the laity in the Church is the theme of genuine sanctity as meant for everyone. The egalitarian atmosphere of the day was a natural preparation for the emphasis of vatican council ii on the biblical idea of complete holiness to be found in all vocations of life. The doctrine of the universal call is not new in the Church. Early patristic literature commonly assumes that all biblical themes (except radical poverty and dedicated virginity) are meant for all classes of people. However, with the rise of the religious orders many people began to identify the highest reaches of holiness with those persons who renounced property and family for a single-minded pursuit of the kingdom. This popular identification never became part of Catholic teaching, but at the same time the universal call to holiness was not prominent in the ordinary proclamation of the Church in everyday parish life. Yet it was implied in the canonization of lay saints and it was explicit in the liturgical texts. For example, the original Latin text for the feast of St. Teresa of Avila prays that we, all of us, "always be nourished by the food of her heavenly teaching and enkindled by it with the desire for true sanctity," and on the feast of St. John of the Cross the liturgy prays that we may "imitate him always." Likewise the declaration of these saints as universal doctors indicates the universal applicability of their teaching. Nonetheless, the popular preaching in typical parishes hardly emphasized the Church's genuine mind.

Teaching of Vatican Council II. The Council devoted the whole of Chapter 5 in Lumen gentium to the universal call to holiness; this same teaching is also found repeatedly and with a rich diversity of expression in other documents. All the disciples are to be holy and give the witness of a holy life (Lumen gentium 10, 32, 39). The faithful of every condition are called to that perfect holiness by which the Father is perfect (ibid. 11). They have the obligation, not simply an invitation, to strive for the perfection of their own state in life (ibid. 42; Unitatis redintegratio 4), and they are therefore to grow to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ himself (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2). The Council presents Jesus as the author and consummator of the universal call in his teaching that everyone is to be perfect (Mt 5.48) and in the greatest of all commandments addressed to all men, a total love for God with entire heart, soul and mind (Lk 10.27). All the faithful are to practice the spirit of evangelical poverty and therefore to achieve a detachment from this world and its riches (Lumen gentium 42). They are to come to the aid of the poor not only from their superfluities but also from their needed resources, a radical doctrine indeed (Gaudium et spes 69, 88). The Decree on the Laity states that they are consecrated as holy people both to offer spiritual sacrifices in everything and also to witness to Christ throughout the world (Apostolicam actuositatem 3). They too are to progress in holiness through a generous dedication to spreading the kingdom, through meditation on the word of God and through the other spiritual aids available in the Church (ibid. 4; Dei Verbum 25). They are likewise to carry the cross and live the spirit of the beatitudes (Apostolicam actuositatem 4).

This universal call is implied in another conciliar theme, namely, that the Church herself is filled with holiness because she has Christ. He fills the whole body of the Church with the riches of his glory, and so she receives her "full growth in God" (Col 2.19). Because in Jesus resides the fullness of divinity, each of us is to attain our fulfillment in him, not just a partial perfection (Col 2.9). The Ephesians are to be filled with "the utter fullness of God" (Eph 3.19; Lumen gentium 7). Even here on earth the members of the Church are to experience divine mysteries, "the things that are above." (Ps 34.8; 1 Pt 1.8; 2.3; Lumen gentium 6; Sacrosanctum Concilium 10).

Conciliar teaching also points to a striking, specific theme: each vocation is to be the locus of profound intimacy with God, for the Council assumes mystical prayer to be found in all classes in the Church as a normal development of the grace life. The modern layperson must be concerned with developing the life of contemplation (Gaudium et spes 56, 59); the new creation and genuine holiness are to be found in the laity (Ad gentes 21). The first and most important obligation of lay people is to live a profoundly Christian life (ibid. 36). They as well as all others in the Church pray continually (Sacrosanctum Concilium 12), burn with love during the liturgical celebrations, and taste fully the paschal mysteries (ibid. 10). Active religious no less than the cloistered are assumed to be "thoroughly enriched with mystical treasures" (Ad gentes 18), while all priests are to "abound in contemplation" (Lumen gentium 41). Though all priests and laity can and must seek perfection, yet the former are bound to acquire that perfection under the new title of their configuration to Christ in the Sacrament of Ordination and in their sacred ministry (Presbyterorum ordinis 12). Seminarians are to learn to live in intimate familiarity with the indwelling Trinity (Optatam totius 8) and the entirety of seminary life is to be penetrated with prayerful silence as a preparation for the kind of life priests themselves are to live (ibid. 11). The Council again speaks of mystical experience for all in the Church when it describes all the faithful as growing in understanding divine realities through their contemplation and study and experience of them (Dei Verbum 8). No ecumenical council of the past approaches this last one in the frequency of mention and the strength of what it says about contemplation and mysticism in the Church's life.

Nature of This Holiness. The universal call does not bear simply on a moral rectitude. According to Scripture it is a transformation, a deification, a revolution, an exchange, a losing of one's old self to find a new self. It is a being filled with a divine knowledge, love, joy, peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4.4,7; 1 Pt 1.8). It is a new creation which eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor the heart imagined (1 Cor 2.9). It is an "utter and blissful perfection" to which men come freely (Gaudium et spes 17). It is one and the same holiness in all persons, even though there are differing degrees of it and vocational paths which lead to it (Lumen gentium 41).

By definition holiness is not mediocrity. To speak of the universal call to holiness is to speak of a universal call to saintliness. It is a call to what traditionally has been described as heroic virtue. That man or woman is holy who lives the theological virtues (faith, hope, love) and the moral virtues (humility, fortitude, chastity, justice, patience and the others) to an eminent degree not attainable by human resources alone. The canonized saints are exemplars of this heroic goodness. Their lives are replete with illustrations of the joyous fullness with which men are to live. When the Church canonizes men and women and when she celebrates them in the liturgy and calls for the imitation of their goodness, she is reiterating the universal call to holiness. What this universal call means in the concrete can also be seen in the mystic's description of the transformation that occurs in the person who has grown to the highest development of prayerful contemplation. St. John of the Cross describes traits of this growth: one loves God in everything; his excessive impulses disappear; his emotions are peaceful and he loses useless desires; he enjoys an undisturbable peace and a habitual joy in the divine presence; his actions are "bathed in love" and are done with an amazing strength; his union with God is as the union of a candle flame with the sun.

Implications. Both Scripture and Vatican Council II make it clear that there is only one way to complete holiness, a way to which all men and women are invited. It is a way that has active and passive elements, ascetical and mystical developments. However, both Scripture and Vatican II (as well as the Council of Trent) do teach that there are different vocational paths leading to the one holiness and that those paths differ in effectiveness. Virginity consecrated to Christ more easily enables one to give the Lord undivided attention, to pursue the radical demands of the kingdom (1 Cor 7.3235; Lk 18.2930; Optatam totius 10). The Church does not say that a given religious is superior in holiness to a given married person, but she does say that the radical surrender of all that the world yearns for is a privileged, superior way of life because it bestows an immense freedom from impediments to achieving the "one thing necessary."

The holiness to which all are called is ecclesial and objective, not simply individual and subjective. The universal call includes the objective call and obligation to enter and remain in the Catholic Church which Christ has made necessary for salvation (Lumen gentium 14). It is true that the Holy Spirit does operate with his sanctifying power outside the boundaries of the Church (ibid. 15) and that he can lead to holiness those in good faith. Yet in objective fact one may not try to separate adherence to Christ from adherence to his Church: "he who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you, rejects me" (Lk 10:16).

The diverse spiritualities in the Church (religious and its kindsmarried, priestly, charismatic, etc.) include all elements of evangelical holiness; they are characterized by differing emphases and life styles, but all lead to the one holiness.

Bibliography: Paul VI, Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., July 17, 1975, 1; Oct. 16, 1975, 10. k. truhlar, j. splett and k. hemmerle, Encyclopedia of Theology 635641. t. dubay, Authenticity (Denville, N.J. 1977).

[t. dubay]