By Joseph Tuttle, Benedictine College
The Catholic Church exhorts her children to be “Perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (RSV Matthew 5:48) This is commonly known as the universal call to holiness. This means that we must live “each moment according to the Gospel.” (Zia, 15) Modern society has a lack of spiritual maturity and lacks “an authentic vision of the importance of holiness of life.” (Zia, 16) Thus, unfortunately, the idea of holiness is merely an “old fashioned belief” in today’s secular world.
In fact, there are many obstacles to the call to holiness. One, is the reduction of God in the world. People either doubt God’s existence, like agnostics, or completely reject him like atheists. Fulton Sheen said, “God has been dethroned, the heavens emptied and man…exalted to His place in fulfillment of an evil prophecy that someday he would be like unto God.” (Zia, 19) Thus in the end, this reduction of God’s will becomes a complete and total elimination of God.
Another obstacle to holiness is worldly desires and pursuits. This includes power, money, sex, and preoccupations like economics and politics. “While it is true that man’s existence includes, economic, biological, and political realms, the fact is that man is not determined by these factors. Rather he is self-determining through his choices.” (Zia, 20) To counter this, we should give our entire will to God, for that “is the greatest victory we can win in the eyes of God.” (Zia, 20)
Jesus, by his sacrificial death, and resurrection, has given us an opportunity for attaining eternal life. Sheen says, “The work of acquiring Divine life for man is finished, but not the distribution…. He has finished the foundation; we must build upon it.” (Zia, 21) Accordingly, we are all called to holiness in order to have eternal life, “The universal call to holiness is nothing less than God’s summons to all humanity to a life of eternal beatitude.” (Zia, 17)
God has in fact given us a powerful guide, to help us reach heaven; our moral conscience. It helps us to discern the true good, in everything, so that we might pursue it. Unfortunately making good and right decisions is not always easy. Many notable public figures, like politicians, do not make choices according to what is right, but according to how it benefits their agenda. Some people believe that the Church should ease up on its moral doctrine, so that it will not lose some of its members. Fulton Sheen said “Numbers mean little to the Church, but spirituality means everything. It may very well be, then, that God is preparing the Church for the future battle or future peace by a spiritual purification in which only the strong will walk with Him.” (Zia, 23)
While striving to live a life of holiness, we should remember to constantly pray for, and offer sacrifices for our neighbors. We should keep in mind the large-scale consequences of an irreligious society, especially if those who lack a sense of the divine are government officials. Fulton Sheen says “When we deny God as the foundation of our rights, we shall no longer have rights…. The choice is clear: We will as a nation either go back to God and the moral law and faith in Christ, or we will rot from within.” (Zia, 25)
The universal call to holiness was a major theme during the Second Vatican Council. The Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, dedicates a whole chapter to this subject. “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.” (LG, 40) In Lumen Gentium, the Church stresses the importance of holiness in not only the lives of priests, bishops, and religious, but also in the lives of married couples, and Christian parents. “Finally 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.” (LG, 41) The Church was trying to point out that you could still live a holy life in union with Jesus Christ, no matter what state of life you are in.
In conclusion, we should strive to live a life of holiness in our ordinary daily activities. “To become holy is not something we do apart from daily living; rather, we pursue and attain holiness in and through our daily activities.” (Zia, 25) A great example of this is St. Therese of Lisieux. Her “little way” was a demonstration of her love of God and others, in her daily assignments at the convent in Lisieux. “The pursuit of holiness ought to be the single most important issue in any person’s life, since in the final analysis, it is all that really matters.” (Zia, 16) Therefore we are called to begin with fostering holiness in our own lives so that we might go and make disciples of every nation, and thus foster holiness in the lives of others as well.
Pope Paul VI. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium. Vatican: The Holy See. Rome, 21 Nov. 1965.
Zia, Mark. The Enduring Faith and Timeless Truths of Fulton Sheen. Cincinnati: Servant books, 2015.