While there is only one holiness cultivated by all who are led by the Spirit of God, there are many ways to answer the call to serve Christ
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 24 November, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on the participation of lay people in the Church's call to holiness. In today's talk, the Pope stressed that Christian holiness is rooted in adherence to Christ through Baptism. He said that all the followers of Christ, including lay people sanctified through Baptism, should strive for holiness, although they are still subject to temptations due to the weakness of human nature. The Holy Father's address was the 79th in the series on the Church and was given in Italian.
1. The Church is holy and all her members are called to holiness. Lay people participate in the Church's holiness as fully qualified members of the Christian community: this participation, which we could call ontological, also becomes for lay people a personal ethical commitment to sanctification. In this capacity and in this vocation to holiness, all the members of the Church are equal (cf. Gal 3:28).
The degree of personal holiness does not depend on the position occupied in society or in the Church, but solely on the degree to which charity is lived (cf. 1 Cor 13). A lay person who generously welcomes divine charity in his heart and in his life is holier than a priest or Bishop who accepts it half-heartedly.
2. Christian holiness is rooted in adherence to Christ through faith and Baptism. This sacrament is at the origin of ecclesial communion in holiness, as is clear from Paul's text: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:5) quoted by Vatican II, which draws from it the statement on the commonality that links Christians in Christ and in the Church (Lumengentium, n. 32). The ontological, ecclesiological and ethical holiness of every believer, whether cleric or lay person, is connected to this participation in Christ's life through Baptism.
The Council asserts: "The followers of Christ, called by God not in virtue of their works but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made children of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified" (Lumen gentium n. 40). Holiness means belonging to God; this belonging is realized in Baptism, when Christ takes possession of the human being, to make him "share in the divine nature" (cf. 2 Pt 1:4) which is in him by virtue of the Incarnation (cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 7, a. 13; q. 8, a. 5). Thus Christ truly becomes, as has been said, "the life of the soul". The sacramental character imprinted on the person by Baptism is the sign and the bond of consecration to God. This is why Paul, speaking of the baptized, calls them "saints" (cf. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1, etc.).
Perfection is not the privilege of a few
3. But as we have said, the commitment to ethical holiness derives from this ontological holiness. All, as the Council states, must "hold on to and perfect in their lives that sanctification which they have received from God" (Lumen gentium, n. 40). All must strive for holiness, because they already possess the seed in themselves; they must nurture this holiness which has been given them. Everyone must live "as is fitting among saints" (Eph 5:3), and put on, "as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Col 3:12). In the baptized, the holiness that they possess shields them neither from temptation nor from every fault, because the weakness of human nature persists in this life. In this regard, the Council of Trent taught that no one is able to avoid even venial sin throughout his life without a special privilege from God, such as the Church believes was granted to the Blessed Virgin (cf. DS 1573). This leads to prayer to obtain an ever new grace from the Lord, perseverance in good, and the forgiveness of sins: "Forgive us our debts" (Mt 6:12).
4. According to the Council, all of Christ's followers, including the laity, are called to the perfection of love (Lumen gentium, n. 40). To strive for perfection is not the privilege of some, but an obligation for all the members of the Church. The commitment to Christian perfection means persevering on the way of holiness. As the Council states: "The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction: 'You therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect'" (Mt 5:48), (Lumen gentium, n. 40). Therefore, "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love" (ibid.). Precisely through the sanctification of each person, a new human perfection is introduced in earthly society (ibid.). In the words of the Servant of God, Elizabeth Leseur, "Every soul that rises raises the world with it". The Council teaches that "from this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered even in earthly society" (ibid.).
5. At this point it is necessary to observe that the infinite richness of Christ's grace in which mankind participates is transformed into an abundance and variety of gifts with which each may serve and benefit others in the one body of the Church. When St Peter exhorted Christians throughout Asia Minor to holiness, he recommended: "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Pt 4:10).
The divine call to holiness is valid for all
Vatican II also states that "the forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God's Spirit" (Lumen gentium, n. 41). Thus it recalls the way of holiness for Bishops, priests, deacons and clerics who aspire to become Christ's ministers, and "those lay people chosen by God, who are called by the Bishop to give themselves fully to apostolic works". But expressly it considers the way of holiness for Christians committed to marriage: "Christian married couples and parents, following their own way, should support one another in grace all through life with faithful love, and should train their children (lovingly received from God) in Christian doctrine and evangelical virtues. Because in this way they present to all an example of unfailing and generous love, they build up the brotherhood of charity, and they stand as witnesses and cooperators of the fruitfulness of Mother Church, as a sign of, and a share in that love with which Christ loved his bride and gave himself for her" (ibid.).
The discussion can and must be extended to the circumstances of people who live alone, either by free choice or through events and special circumstances: such as unmarried men and women, widowers and widows, those who are separated or distant. The divine call to holiness is valid for all, realized in the form of charity. The discussion can and must be extended, as at the 1987 Synod (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 17), to those who in their ordinary professional life and daily work are working for the good of their brothers and sisters and the progress of society, in the imitation of Jesus the worker. It can and must be extended, finally, to all those who, as the Council states, "are weighed down by poverty, infirmity, sickness and other hardships"... or "who suffer persecution for the sake of justice": these are "united in a special way to Christ who suffers for the salvation of the world" (Lumen gentium, n. 41).
6. Therefore numerous aspects and forms of Christian holiness are open to lay people in the various circumstances of their life in which they are called to imitate Christ, and from him they can receive the necessary grace to fulfil their mission in the world. All are invited by God to walk the way of holiness and to attract to this path their companions in life and work in the world of temporal affairs.
L'Osservatore Romano December 1, 1993