Year of Mercy: Time to break camp and march toward holiness —the actions of God make it clear…
(CUSA) – In his Second Advent Sermon for 2015 (read the first here if you missed it), Fr. Cantalamessa uses the Year of Mercy as a lens through which we see the call to holiness made to us by Jesus Christ himself.
This reflection takes as it’s starting point the 5th chapter of Lumen Gentium entitled “Universal Call to Holiness.” He focuses on the fact that this call is primarily pro-active. Holiness means doing things in the name of the Lord. It is not simply what not to do as in the Decalogue, but a call to live life to the fullest in Christ.
So we begin with the question Fr. Cantalamessa ends with: Do we hunger and thirst for holiness, or do we resign ourselves to mediocrity? —Ed.
FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA—
A few days ago we entered the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II and the jubilee Year of Mercy. We must say that the link between the theme of mercy and the Second Vatican Council is anything but arbitrary or minor. St. John XXIIII, in his opening address for the council on October 11, 1962, pointed to mercy as the new approach in the council’s style:
The Church has always opposed . . . errors [throughout the ages]. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.
In a certain sense, half a century later, the Year of Mercy celebrates the faithfulness of the Church to this promise.
“You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy”
The theme of this second meditation is Chapter 5 in Lumen gentium titled “The Universal Call to Holiness.” We could say that in the history of the Council this chapter is remembered only for an editing issue.
Numerous Council Fathers who were members of religious orders insisted that separate treatment should be given to the presence of the religious in the Church as had been done for the laypeople. Until then what would have been a single chapter concerning the holiness of all the Church’s members was divided into two chapters, with the second one being dedicated specifically to religious.
The call to holiness is formulated from the very beginning with these words:
All in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the apostle’s saying: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
This call to holiness is the most needed and most pressing accomplishment of the Council. Without it, all its other accomplishments are impossible or useless. It is, however, the one most at risk of being neglected since it is only God and one’s conscience that require it and call us to it, rather than pressures or interests from any particular group in the Church.
At times one has the impression that in certain circles and in certain religious communities, people were more committed, after the Council, to “making saints” than in “making themselves saints,” that is, they put more effort into placing their own founders and brothers on pedestals than imitating their examples and virtues.
The first thing that needs to be done, when we speak about holiness, is to free this word from the apprehension and fear that it strikes in people because of certain mistaken ideas we have of it. Holiness can involve extraordinary phenomena and trials, but it is not to be identified with these things. If all people are called to holiness, it is because, if understood correctly, it is within everyone’s reach and is a part of normal Christian life.
Saints are like flowers: there are more of them than just the ones that get put on the altar. How many of them blossom and die hidden after having silently perfumed the air around them! How many of these hidden flowers have bloomed and bloom continually in the Church!
The basic reason for holiness is clear from the outset, and it is that God is holy: “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy.” Holiness, in the Bible, is the summary of all of God’s attributes. Isaiah calls God “the Holy One of Israel,” that is, the one whom Israel has known as the Holy One.
“Holy, holy, holy,” Qadosh, qadosh, qadosh, is the cry that accompanies the manifestation of God at the moment of Isaiah’s calling. Mary faithfully reflects this idea of God in the prophets and the psalms when she exclaims in the Magnificat, “Holy is his name.”
As for the content of the idea of holiness, the biblical word qadosh suggests the idea of separation, of difference. God is holy because he is completely other with respect to what human beings can think, say, or do. He is the Absolute in the etymological sense of ab-solutus, separate from everything else and apart. He is the Transcendent One in the sense that he is above all our categories.
All of this points to a moral meaning, prior to its metaphysical meaning, because it concerns the action of God and not just his being. In Scripture what is called “holy” is above all God’s judgments, his works, and his ways.
Holiness is not, however, primarily a negative concept indicating separation and the absence of evil and of any mixture in God. It is a concept that is supremely positive. It indicates a “pure fullness.” In us, “fullness” never completely corresponds to “purity.” One contradicts the other. Our purity is always obtained by purifying and removing the evil in our actions.
But that is not the case with God. Purity and fullness coexist and together constitute God’s supreme simplicity. The Bible expresses this idea of holiness to perfection when it says that “Nothing can be added or taken away” from God (Sir 42:21). Insofar as he is the height of purity, nothing should be taken from him, and insofar as he is the height of fullness, nothing can be added to him.
When one tries to see how human beings enter into the sphere of God’s holiness and what it means to be holy, the prevalence of a ritual approach immediately appears in the Old Testament. The means through which God’s holiness is conveyed are objects, places, rituals, and rules.