This past Pentecost Sunday, Bishop Robert Barron published an article “Pentecost and the Fires in Our Cities.” In the article, he issues a challenge to the Church in light of the evil of racism in our culture once more on display in the brutal death of George Floyd. Towards the end of the article he states:
“If Christians have been the dominant presence in our country for all of these centuries, why isn’t there more unity? Why isn’t there more love? Why is it painfully obvious that so few of us have really gone on mission?”
The answer is that we have failed to answer the call to holiness. We have failed to open ourselves up fully to God in order to be transfigured into the saints He is calling us to be: conduits of the Divine Life through the missions He entrusts to each one of us in this life for our own sanctification and the salvation of souls.
The Universal Call to Holiness
The Second Vatican Council Fathers took great pains to overcome the false idea that holiness was only reserved for a chosen few or only for religious and priests. In Lumen Gentium, this universal call to holiness is expressed in no uncertain terms:
Indeed Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised as “uniquely holy,” loved the Church as His bride, delivering Himself up for her. He did this that He might sanctify her. He united her to Himself as His own body and brought it to perfection by the gift of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory. Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”.
In order to make clear what this call to holiness looks like, the Council Fathers sought to clarify the nature of holiness in paragraph 40:
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. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.
The path to holiness is perfected in charity and by cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work within our souls. This charity is perfected through the Sacraments, prayer, and a constant dying-to-self in our daily lives. It is first-and-foremost, intimate union with God and a desire to do His will in all things above our own will. Once we have surrendered fully to God in love and seek to follow Him always, He is able to entrust us with the mission He has ordained from all eternity for our lives.
The problem is, until we firmly step onto the path to holiness, we cannot take up this mission. We won’t even hear the call Christ is issuing to us or we will mistake it for the desires of our own egos. This means we must be people of prayer. Not simply checking prayer off of our daily to-do list, but rather, seeking union with God in our prayer. Putting Him at the very center of our day. Our relationship with Christ must supersede everything. Becoming a saint requires discipline and complete sacrifice. It is not a warm and fuzzy endeavor. It is the hardest thing any of us will ever do and it is a life-long process.
In fact, we cannot accomplish it on our own. It is impossible for us to become saints by our own power. Prayer teaches us that we must be radically dependent upon God for everything. All of the saints understood that prayer must precede action. It is prayer that grounds us in God’s will, so that we are cooperating with His plan, rather than our own.
Be Like Saints in Prayer
The saints show us that we must surrender our entire being to Him trusting that He will use us a conduits of His grace in order to transform the world around us. This surrender ultimately leads to joy because we are no longer enslaved by our own wants and desires. We are free to go wherever Christ wants us to go, regardless of what it costs us. If we never fully open up to God’s divine plan for our lives, then we cannot be true holy agents of change for the rampant injustices that exist in our world.
For too long, Catholics have been led to believe that social justice begins with action. True justice and transformation begins first and foremost in prayer and fasting. If we are not a people of deep prayer who are seeking to offer sacrifices through mortifications as reparations for the sins that plague our culture and the Church, then we will not be effective in our ministries.
I’ve had this discussion with people over the last two years in response to the clergy sex abuse scandals. I repeatedly tell people, we cannot help renew the priesthood unless we become serious about prayer, fasting, and sacrifices. If we are unwilling to offer reparations for the egregious sins of abusive priests, then God cannot fully work through us, because we are placing limitations on His working in us by our lack of charity.
It is the greatness of our love that matters most to God. We cannot be perfected in charity as long as we refuse to offer reparations for those who hurt us and then choose to forgive. Christ makes this teaching plain to us when He tells us to pray for those who persecute us. He calls us to forgive even in the face of martyrdom, as He shows us on the Cross. He sacrifices Himself fully for the sins of all. We are called to participate in this sacrifice in our own lives.
The same is true for the great evil of racism or any horrendous evils we face today. We can and should protest and march, but if we are not people seeking true holiness grounded in deep intimate communion with God, then we will never be able to unleash love out into the world and create authentic communion with our brothers and sisters. Our own weaknesses, failings, and egos will get in the way every single time. We cannot go on mission until we have sought God’s will and asked Him to make us into the saints He is calling each one of us to become for His greater glory.
Our culture is falling apart at the seams. Between the weight of the pandemic and the violence erupting across our nation, we have failed in our call to universal holiness. We have failed to be salt and light in the world. We look no different from the prevailing culture. The radical nature of the Gospel has not been boldly proclaimed in the streets by the holiness of our lives, and to borrow another phrase from Bishop Barron, we have “domesticated Jesus.” Unfortunately, far too often, the Good News hasn’t even been authentically proclaimed in our own churches.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we need to become the saints we are called to be so we can fulfill the missions given to us by God for our own sanctification and the salvation of souls. Our missions will vary based on God’s individual designs for our lives. Some will be called to fight racism head on, others poverty, still others to help the sick, end abortion, raise holy families who go out to evangelize the culture, renew the priesthood, a life of dedicated prayer for others, and the list goes on. There is no end to the areas of this Fallen world that need our heroic witness.
Leon Bloy once said: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Will we continue to refuse God’s call to become saints or will we step firmly on the path to lead souls to the freedom that can only come from Christ through a life of holiness?