The Call to Sanctity That is For All
Nov 7, 2023
Rev. Aaron Kelly, Ph.L.
This month of November began with two beautiful liturgical celebrations: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. I think that these two liturgical celebrations remind us of our fundamental equality and shared dignity as baptized members of the Church. All Saints’ Day reminds us of our goal – it reminds us of what we are to be: saints. All Souls’ Day provides us an opportunity to soberly remember that we are each going to finish the course of our earthly sojourn and have to stand before God to receive his just judgment. At the heart of these two feasts is a reminder of the universal call to holiness, the one vocation that we all share. I would like to propose that this month of November should and must be an opportunity for each of us to renew our commitment to that vocation – our commitment to be saints.
The more I read and hear about the lives of the saints, the more I am inspired by the many and diverse ways that they lived out the call to holiness. No two saints have the same story. What is fundamental to each of them is that they heard the call of Christ and responded generously to that call. They knew they were called to holiness and lived out that call according to their manner of life. There are married men and women, like Louis and Zélie Martin – the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux – who strove for holiness amid the struggles of family life. There are the many women religious – St. Catherine of Siena, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, just to name a few – who devoted their lives to prayer and seeking ever greater union with Christ, their divine spouse. There are those holy pastors like St. Augustine, St. John Vianney, St. Charles Borromeo, and St. Philip Neri, who recognized first their call to holiness, and then in their priestly state helped their people to become saints by their ministry. We look to the example of the martyrs, men and women through the centuries who knew that true life came only from Christ and that there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend (Jn 15:13). Then, there are the examples of the countless saints known only to God, who, having lived their lives faithfully and well in many varied ways, now enjoy life forever with God. Their example must spur us on; it must awaken in us a desire to be like them and to be with them for all eternity.
The beauty of the Christian life is that this life of sanctity is not reserved to the spiritual elites but is the vocation of every single member of the Church. The Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium emphatically makes this point in the chapter on the universal call to holiness. Lumen gentium states:
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 (LG 40b).
Holiness, the perfection of love, is the call offered to everyone and must be the work of every person. It is the invitation to be more authentically human, to be more fully alive! It is an invitation to which every individual person must freely respond. The invitation to be a saint, the invitation to love, is the same for Pope Francis as it is for the grandmother in the pew at her parish, and everyone in between. The call of every person, in imitation of Christ, is to live out the twofold commandment of love: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22: 37-39).
Lumen gentium goes on to point out that: “The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. […] Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity” (LG 41a). The paths to sanctity are many and varied. This month provides us an opportunity to look at our lives and to examine where we are being called to grow in greater holiness, in greater love. We can look to the example of the saints for ideas of where we might be being called to more. Sanctity requires creativity. Where am I being invited to give God more in prayer? Where can I creatively offer sacrifice for the sake of my own holiness or the holiness of my family? What virtue am I lacking in right now and with God’s help do I desire to grow in? Where am I being called to use my gifts and abilities to build up the Body of Christ, the Church? The most important thing is that we do not remain static, but that we move one step at a time towards holiness. We must constantly be in a state of striving – striving for ever greater union with God. As Lumen gentium plainly states: “Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive” (LG 42e).
When I look to the saints, there is one more thing that I notice that is common to their lives: they do not attain holiness in isolation. To become a saint requires community, it requires others. We become saints together. Gaudium et spes states: “As God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also ‘it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness’” (GS 32a). We must encourage and support one another in our striving for holiness. We must build one another up. We must help one another to become saints and make it to heaven. Husbands help their wives and wives help their husbands; parents help their children and children help their parents; friends help one another; laity help the clergy and the clergy help the laity. Who are you being invited to assist on their path to sanctity? Who in your life assists you? Commit yourself to those relationships and renew them. We do not become saints in isolation.
This is our call: to love, to be holy, to be saints. We must recommit ourselves to this call that we received on the day of our Baptism each and every day. May this month of November and the example of all the saints serve as a reminder of what we are to be and what our goal is. May it provide us a moment to firmly renew our resolve to become saints by living the lives we have been given well and among the people we find ourselves, so that together we may one day become part of that “great cloud of witnesses,” the Church triumphant awaiting us in eternity.