November 2, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

We are all called to holiness, to be close to God

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes.” (Pope Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” #63)

All of us are called to holiness, to closeness to God, but unfortunately most of us find ourselves further away from God than we would like to be.

That’s why Christ gives us the sacraments—especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance—to help us in our daily struggles on the way to holiness. We are all called to be close to God, but for many of us the journey is a long and difficult one.

Fortunately, God’s grace and mercy are endless. Our loving and merciful God never gives up on us. Even after we die, we Christians believe that it is still possible to atone for our sins, to grow in holiness and come closer to God. That’s why we pray for those who have died.

It’s also why the Church celebrates the Commemoration of All Souls on Nov. 2. We are all called to become holy—both the living and the dead—and the grace of our Lord Jesus is not confined to this world, but can reach even into the state of being we call purgatory to touch the hearts of those “poor souls” who must undergo a process of purification before being fully united with God.

In “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and be Glad: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”), Pope Francis makes it very clear that holiness is not something that only a saint can achieve.

All are called to holiness and all have the potential—aided by God’s grace—to become holy. “These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones,” the pope says. “Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord” (#4).

Pope Francis rejects what might be called “the elitism of sanctity” and calls attention to its presence in ordinary people. This emphasis on what the Second Vatican Council called “the universal call to holiness” is not unique to Pope Francis, but, as always, this pope uses vivid images and gestures to reinforce his teaching. The Holy Father writes:

“I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’ ” (#7).

In our desire to be united with God, we look to the saints to show us the way. How do saints model for us the way to be close to God? Obviously, through the witness of their daily lives, the choices they make, their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others, and their devotion to Christ.

Their words and examples are helpful guides to daily Christian living. But what is the secret of their success in navigating the dark and stormy seas of life? Why are the saints successful at living good and holy lives when so many of us struggle and fail?

The answer, I believe, is prayer. Saints are men and women who know how to pray, to be close to God and communicate with him from the heart. They are people who in times of difficulty, as well as in good times, raise their minds and hearts to the Lord. The saints seek God’s will in their lives. They share with him their hopes and frustrations (and sometimes even their loneliness, anger and fear).

Through their prayer—their attentive listening even more than the words they speak—the holy men and women we call saints are in constant contact with God. This closeness to God inspires ordinary women and men to perform extraordinary acts of charity. It gives them courage in the face of persecution, and it strengthens them in their resolve to do God’s will always. We seek solidarity with them (all saints) in interceding for those who have died and who depend on our prayers to help them achieve the ultimate closeness to God in heaven (all souls).

As we recall the holy people—living and deceased—who serve as faith-filled witnesses guiding us to Christ, let’s pray for the grace to let God’s love and mercy touch our hearts and make us holy. May their fidelity to the universal call to holiness bring us closer to him who is our true hearts’ desire. †

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