TO KNOW GOD WITH THE INTELLIGENCE ENLIGHTENED BY FAITH; TO LOVE GOD WITH OUR HUMAN FREEDOM AIDED BY GRACE; TO SERVE GOD WITH ALL OUR BEING, ALL OUR STRENGTH, ALL OUR PASSIONS, ALL OUR POSSESSIONS, ALL OUR LOVES...
The call to holiness, to union with God, which is addressed to everyone (“You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5:48]), is a vocation to live the new law of Charity: love of God above all creatures and love of neighbor in and for God, i.e., the unity of contemplation and action, of prayer and work, of interior life and apostolate, of building a personal relationship with God and building the kingdom of God.
All honest human work (which excludes immoral acts, precisely because those are not proper to authentic human nature) can be sanctified and sanctifying, i.e., a means for growing in union with God. Work done with human and supernatural perfection, i.e., to the best of our ability and out of love for God, becomes prayer, an acceptable offering to God, and an opportunity in which to live the human and supernatural virtues.
Indeed, from the beginning, i.e., even before the Fall of Adam and Eve, man was called to work, “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28), “to cultivate and care for [the garden]” (Gen 2:15), to participate in the work of creation, in continuing to perfect the material universe (perfection does not preclude its increase). Thus, work pertains to our original, authentic human nature; it is not a consequence of sin (it is the wearisome attribute we associate with work that sin introduced). Of course, even better, this vocation to cooperate in the work of creation is carried over into the “new” creation, the work of Redemption, of seeing to it that the fruits of the objective accomplishment of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary are applied and availed of by each individual human person as subject down the centuries. We are all called to be co-redeemers with Christ.
In the case of laypeople which we the vast majority of Christians are, building the kingdom of God—placing Christ at the summit of all reality—means doing our ordinary (secular) work well and for love of God.
The Second Vatican Council teaches:
“What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession. But they are by reason of their particular vocation especially and professedly ordained to the sacred ministry. Similarly, by their state in life, religious give splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transformed and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes. But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the
Politics—the work of government—is an authentic human reality that can and must be sanctified and sanctifying. It pertains to our true human nature (as distinguished from the bundle of disordered tendencies that reflect our wounded nature) as social beings. Thus: “Those who are suited or can become suited should prepare themselves for the difficult, but at the same time, the very noble art of politics, and should seek to practice this art without regard for their own interests or for material advantages.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 75). Thus, in connection with the coming 2010 elections, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines found it fit to proclaim expressly: “We call upon those who are competent, persons of integrity, and committed to change, to get involved directly in principled partisan politics, and become candidates for political election, aware that the common good is above the good of vested interests” (CBCP, “Pastoral Statement on Lay Participation in Politics”, 12 July 2009).
In his most recent Encyclical Letter, Pope Benedict XVI writes:
“Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God's love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace…Christians long for the entire human family to call upon God as ‘Our Father!’ In union with the only-begotten Son, may all people learn to pray to the Father and to ask him, in the words that Jesus himself taught us, for the grace to glorify him by living according to his will, to receive the daily bread that we need, to be understanding and generous towards our debtors, not to be tempted beyond our limits, and to be delivered from evil. (Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, No. 79)
In the Gospel-story of the rich young man, we read: “And behold, a certain man came to him and said, ‘Good Master, what good work shall I do to have eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘Why dost thou ask me about what is good? One there is who is good, and he is God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and mother, and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept; what is yet wanting to me?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he had great possessions.” (Mt 19:16-22).
At the outset, it should be good to note that the demand of selling everything to give to the poor is specific to this young man. “Actual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the ‘rich’ Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57). But only the ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt 5:3) can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of one’s possessions.” (New American Bible, note at Mt. 19:16-30). Also: “This story does not set up a ‘two-tier’ morality, that of those who seek (only) eternal life (v.16) and that of those who wish to be perfect (v.21). It speaks rather of the obstacle that riches constitute for the following of Jesus and of the impossibility, humanly speaking, for one who has many possessions (v.22) to enter the kingdom (v.24). (
The rich young man in this episode “went away sad”—abiit tristis—because he could not let go of his many possessions to follow our Lord. He refused his vocation from God.
“Sad” does not only describe the subjective state of this rich young man: it is also objectively a sad scene, viewed from outside that character, even from our standpoint, and down the centuries. Turning away from God—which is of the essence of all sin—always involves a breakdown, a tearing apart, a failure, a wounding inside the person, since he would then be acting contrary to his authentic nature, which is to tend towards God. Sadder still would it be when this turning away from God of the human individual were made in reference to his “vocation”, to a call from God towards a lifelong “path” or lifetime project, God’s plan for each person, by which that individual were to attain his ultimate good. It is sadder because this refusal of a vocation from God is more far-reaching in its consequences.
On the surface, the turning away of the rich young man may not rank as “sin”: his choice was not patently “immoral”, since wealth is not an evil in itself. On the other hand, since it is of our authentic human nature to obey God in everything, there is in the turning away of this rich young man a radical deviation from his good. Had he known that it was God Who was telling him, in no uncertain terms, to sell everything, give to the poor, and to follow Christ, this refusal to obey would have constituted a most grievous sin. Indeed, it may be precisely the lack of “certainty” of the “vocation”—whether it is what God wants—which diminishes, in many cases, the malice and sinfulness of a vocation that is “lost” or refused.
With regard to “conventional” or common “sins”, which are obvious transgressions of the natural moral law (especially summarized in the Decalogue), the turning-away from God—the lawgiver—is clear. On the other hand, refusal of a “vocation” may not necessarily involve an obvious moral choice: to marry a specific person or not, to dedicate oneself to a specific way of life; to be lay, cleric, or religious; etc.; do not involve choosing between right and wrong, between good and evil in se. The evil would lie in picking an option other than what God wants; and since the vocation from God would not be expressed in a compelling manner nor as clearly coming from Him—God values human freedom so much! one could not be one hundred percent sure!—the refusal of a vocation could arguably be morally neutral. Still, since God’s plan for each one of us would always be the best, even assuming that there was a sincere effort to discern God’s Will, our refusal would result, at least, in losing a priceless opportunity. The rich young man of the Gospels could have become one of the Twelve; and his refusal amounted to losing that great honor forever.
St. Josemaria writes:
“Ask yourself now (I too am examining my conscience) whether you are holding firmly and unshakeably to your choice of Life. When you hear the most lovable voice of God urging you on to holiness, do you freely answer 'Yes'? Let us turn our gaze once more to Jesus, as he speaks to the people in the towns and countryside of
July 25 is the Feast of St. James, Apostle—“the Greater”, to distinguish him from “James the son of
“Now it came to pass, when the days had come for him to be taken up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to
On another occasion, out of zeal, it was John who spoke about forbidding one who was not of their company from casting out devils in the name of the Lord:
“John said to him, ‘Master, we saw a man who was not one of our followers casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him…For he who is not against you is for you.” (Mk 9:37-40; Lk 9:49-50)
The “mother of the sons of Zebedee”—Salome—was present at the Crucifixion of our Lord. She is mentioned along with Mary Magdalene and “Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joseph” (Mk 15:40). This last Mary, “the mother of James and Joseph” (Mt 27:56), is identifiable with “Mary of Cleophas”, Cleophas being the other name of
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons; and worshipping, she made a request of him. He said to her, ‘What dost thou want?’ She said to him, ‘Command that these my two sons may sit, one at thy right hand and one at thy left hand, in thy kingdom.’ But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink of the cup which I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can.’ He said to them, ‘Of my cup you shall indeed drink; but as for sitting at my right hand and at my left, that is not mine to give you, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” (Mt 20:20-23)
The ambitious zeal of the Boanerges and their mother is an invitation for us to foster the desire for holiness, to reach our end. Nor is that an impossible dream. Our human freedom is precisely the capacity to direct ourselves—intelligently and voluntarily—towards union with God. We will only reach heaven if we want to, with an operative desire. Possumus, “we can”, in spite of our wretchedness, with “God and daring”, Diós y audacia:
“Will-power. Energy. Example. What has to be done is done…without wavering….Otherwise, Cisneros would not have been Cisneros; nor Teresa of Ahumada, St. Teresa; nor Iñigo of Loyola,
St. Josemaria further writes:
“Allow your soul to be consumed by desires—desires for loving, for forgetting yourself, for sanctity, for Heaven. Do not stop to wonder whether the time will come to see them accomplished, as some pseudo-adviser might suggest. Make them more fervent everyday, for the Holy Spirit says that he is pleased with men of desires. Let your desires be operative and put them into practice in your daily tasks.” (Furrow, No. 628)
The hero of the Book of Daniel was a “man of desires”, vir desideriorum (Dn 10:11, 19; although some translations render this as “beloved”).
James and John, perhaps because of their predisposition, together with Peter (because of his primacy), were the three whom our Lord brought to witness his Transfiguration (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2: Lk 9:28) and agony (in the Garden [Mt 26:37; Mk 14:33]). St. James was beheaded on orders of Herod Agrippa, and was the first apostle to have the honor of being martyred.
The season of Lent is supposed to be one in which we intensify our struggle for sanctification, in accordance with the will of God: Haec est voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra, “This is the will of God, your sanctification. (1 Thes 4:3). This is also the Will of God at its most encompassing, at least from our standpoint. It is our highest “vocation”.
“Vocation” comes from the Latin, vocare, “to call”, related to voca, for “mouth”, and vox, for “voice”. The word is used, generally, in reference to God’s calling us to make those decisions or choices that have a radical, lifelong, or better, eternal, impact on our existence.
All men are called to holiness (sanctity), meaning, “union with God”—to live morally upright lives, to acquire all the virtues, to be perfect (Mt 5:48), which is possible because of God’s grace—and so to share in His eternal happiness (beatitude). This is the doctrine of the “universal call to holiness” which can be considered the “centerpiece” of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It is also the doctrine preached by St. Josemaria since 1928, when (and for which) he founded Opus Dei. An important corollary of this message is that, for the vast majority of ordinary people living in the middle of the world, the path to sanctity lies in the fulfillment of one’s ordinary duties, in the home, at work, in social life, by doing them well and out of love for God; that is, with human and supernatural perfection.
The call to holiness becomes more and more specific as one narrows the field: in the case of catholics, one could be part of the “clergy”, or of an order of “religious”, or of the “laity” (those who are neither clergy nor religious). In the case of lay people, which many of us are, the path to holiness consists in “engaging in temporal realities and ordering them according to God’s plan” (Lumen Gentium, No. 31). Many lay people are “called” to the “married state”, while some are not. Marriage is also a vocation. Our professional work is also a “vocation” not only in a general sense but also regarding one’s particular job, to the extent that it may involve a radical, life-determining choice.
Sanctification also means growing in the supernatural virtue of charity—loving God above all else for His own sake and our neighbor as ourself for love of God—which, in turn, translates into loving the will of God.
Loving the will of God consists, actively, in fulfilling “the duty of each moment” (The Way, No. 815) and, passively, in “abandonment”: “The wholehearted acceptance of the will of God is the sure way of finding joy and peace: happiness in the cross. It’s then we realize that Christ’s yoke is sweet and his burden is not heavy” (The Way, No. 758). “’Gaudium cum pace’—‘joy with peace’—the unfailing and savory fruit of abandonment" (The Way, No. 768).
Perhaps, since we are all really very little, we shall be called to passive abandonment more often than to the bustle of activity. Indeed, God does not ask much from each of us (just everything we have); and that is why the Decalogue is couched, for the most part, in “negative” terms (“thou shalt not”): the minimum of doing good is not doing wrong. Still, avoiding evil and doing good, passive abandonment and active involvement in God’s plans, both call up “deeds” (the action of our free will) without which there is no love. “There is a story of a soul who, on saying to our Lord in prayer, 'Jesus, I love you’, heard this reply from heaven: ‘Deeds are love—not sweet words.’” (The Way, No. 933). Our Lord Himself said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21).
We should be sensitive and docile to the Will of God. Like
Mary’s fiat is the most momentous “yes” of a creature to the Will of God: the Redemption depended on it. And when Mary figured out that God wanted her to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth—several days’ journey away—who was about to give birth, the Blessed Virgin went cum festinatione, “with haste” (Lk 1:39).
Most important, the Redemption was accomplished through the obedience of the God-man—Christ was “obedient to death, even to death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)—to the Will of the Father: “For just as by the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one (Christ) the many will be constituted just” (Rom 5:19).
St. Josemaria writes: “Many great things depend—don’t forget it—on whether you and I live our lives as God wants.” (The Way, No. 755)
The most popular or familiar scriptural reference to St. Joseph could be that found in the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which the husband of Mary is described as vir justus, “a just man” (Mt 1:19), meaning he had all the virtues. But there is a line in the Old Testament referring to the Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, and who became ruler of Egypt (second to the Pharaoh), which can be taken as an invitation to have recourse to Joseph of Nazareth: Ite ad Joseph, “Go to Joseph”.
The February 22 Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter is a celebration of the Church’s “unity”, and the “authority” that helps sustain it. Despite the so-called “Reformation” of the 16th century, which was essentially a rebellion against that authority (and precisely wounding that unity, resulting in the separation of many), the Church remains One, and the office of Peter is a sign (and instrument) of this unity.
The Church is human society elevated to the supernatural dimension; a reality that belongs to the order of grace and to the natural order, which are somehow parallel. Because it is human as well as God’s—in the world as well as transcending time and the material universe—whatever “goods” may be essential to the human community—“civil” society (from the Latin, civitas, “city”) or the State, the “political” community (from the Greek, polis)—would also be proper (even if, at times, only by analogy) to the Church.
Human society is, essentially, the “union of wills” (formal cause) of “individuals through their families” (material cause). It is directly brought into existence and sustained by the human drive towards association with one’s fellowmen—love—or, more properly, “solidarity” (efficient cause); and for the ultimate purpose of achieving the “common good” (final cause or “end” of society).
The “union of wills” which is the form of society can only find expression as a single will; hence, the need for a “political authority”. Parenthetically, the primary objective of the political authority—of government—is to ensure the reign of justice; and that is because “justice”, the minimum of love or solidarity, is what brings and maintains society in existence; hence, of primordial importance to the community. Justice (giving everyone his due) is the “manageable” aspect of the “efficient cause” of society; and as
Just as human society naturally requires “authority” and “law”, so does the Church, the people of God; hence, the “hierarchy” (Greek, hieros, “sacred”, and archos, “ruler”). Indeed, “grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment” (Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43; paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 1, 8 ad 2: “cum enim gratia non tollat naturam sed perficiat”), not the least because God assumed human nature— “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).
The institution of a “structure of government” (hierarchy) in the Church is evident from the call of the Twelve Apostles (despite their human defects), with the power and duty to appoint their successors (“succession” for “continuity”), our Bishops, as in the election of Matthias to replace Judas the Betrayer (Acts 1:15ff); and their appointment of Deacons (Acts 6:1-7). Among the Twelve, Peter (and his successor, the Pope) is clearly “first”.
Our Lord was clear about Peter’s primacy: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Anti-catholic propaganda would insist that the Greek words used for Peter (Petrus, stone) and the Rock (
Before the Last Supper, our Lord also singled out Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:31). After the Resurrection, our Lord again singled out Peter with the thrice-repeated commission, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-23).
Peter was aware of his primacy: he spoke for the Twelve whenever their collective stand was needed. When our Lord asked, “Who do you say I am,” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:13-16; Mk 8:27-29; Lk 9:18-20). After Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22ff), when many left because they could not accept that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you” [Jn 6:54], and our Lord asked, “Do you also wish to go away,” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68ff).
Peter played a leading role in the primitive Church. He directed the election of Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:15ff); he spoke to the crowd on Pentecost (2:14ff), giving his audience the requirements for their salvation (2:38, “Repent and be baptized”); he performed the first miracles of the Apostles (3:1ff). Peter’s primacy is, of course, not so much as “master” but as servant—“servant of the servants of God,” servus servorum Dei.
From the beginning, the Church was also aware of Peter’s primacy. While Peter was in prison (at Herod’s orders) in
It was Peter’s boat (also an image of the Church) that our Lord chose, from which he taught the crowds (Lk 5:3). Like Noah’s
St. Josemaria writes: “Catholic, apostolic, Roman! I want you to be very Roman, ever anxious to make your ‘pilgrimage’ to