The Universal Call to Holiness and Sainthood

As we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, it’s important to reflect on the very fact that we are all called to live lives of holiness, just as the saints before us did. Today’s solemnity not only calls us to remember the canonized saints of the Church, but all those souls that have reach the Heavenly banquet and are in the presence of the Word Incarnate, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, we celebrate the Communion of Saints! The Communion of Saints are composed of us on Earth – the Saints Militant, those in Purgatory – the Saints Suffering, and the those in Heaven – the Saints Triumphant.

Every Christian is capable of becoming a saint. St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 – “you become imitators of us…you became a model for all believers.” The word saint comes from the Latin term, sanctus, which means holy. The process of becoming a saint and holy is known as sanctification. For all Christians, seeking sainthood is not an option, but an obligation! We are obligated to seek holiness and perfection. We may not attain it, but we must still try to reach it.

St. Paul

Our aim in life is to be holy in imitation of Jesus, who is all holy. He is our perfect model in all things, most especially in holiness. Again St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The beautiful thing for each of us is that we have many great examples of holiness over the 2000-year history of the Catholic Church.

Holiness is an attribute of God that describes his complete separation of the profane. For us as human beings, holiness is looking and dedicating oneself to God. It’s being the best version we can be and living a life focused on God. The call to holiness comes from God for he is the source of all goodness. Being holy does not mean praying on your knees all day every day, its living our current lives for God and modeling our life after Jesus Christ and his Saints.

Mosaic Image of Jesus

So who is called to holiness in the Church and when are we called? All Christians are called to live lives of holiness. Our call to universal holiness begins at our Baptism, which gives us sanctifying grace, sharing in the life of God. Sanctifying grace assists us to share in the life of the Most Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we are baptized, we are claimed by God and become his adopted sons and daughters. We enter into a filial (sonship) relationship with God. It is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we again are “bought back” from the sin of our first parents – Adam and Eve, when they fell from original holiness (term coined by Blessed John Paul II) into original sin. In Baptism, we received the Three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

As noted above, God is the first to call us to holiness. All baptized people – laity, religious, and clergy, are called to universal holiness. As God’s chosen ones, people who strive to live lives of holiness, we must open our hearts to mercy, humility, kindness, meekness, and patience.

We will be recognized as followers of Jesus Christ when we align our wills with the will of God in both word and action; when we seek the will of God the Father in all things, this happens through a daily prayer life and having a good spiritual director/confessor; when we have a devotion to the glory of God; when we serve our neighbor before ourselves; and when we accept the crosses that are given to us by Jesus Christ. As Christians and followers of Christ, life will tough and suffering will occur, but we should offer up our suffering to save the souls of others. The greatest of the saints endured suffering as well. We should never get discouraged!

Bishop Thomas J. OlmstedMost Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, once said,

“Christ does not call us to be popular, or even successful. He calls us to take up the cross each day and follow him. There is only one ultimate failure in life: not to be a saint [italics mine]. Nothing else in life matters, compared to the treasure of Christ’s love.”

As we know, Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church with Saint Peter as the head. Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. With this understanding, the Church heeding the call of Jesus Christ calls us to live lives of holiness.

Holy Eucharist in MonstranceThe three means of holiness and the saintly life are the Sacraments, Spiritual Direction, and Spiritual Reading.First, although all the Sacraments are channels of grace, it is through Reconciliation, which reconciles our relationship with God when the relationship is severed (i.e. mortal sin), but also helps us to overcome sinful inclinations and avoid future sins. The Holy Eucharist, the greatest of all the Sacraments and the “source and summit of the Christian faith” [Lumen Gentium #11] gives us our daily bread and strengthens us with the grace of the Word Made Flesh, in the Holy Mass and outside of Mass in Holy Adoration.

The sacrament of reconciliation

Second, spiritual direction, which can occur within or outside of Confession, overcomes the habits of sin. A good spiritual director can help us grow in our faith by praying with us, showing us ways to pray, and helping us to discern God’s will in our lives. A spiritual director is like a coach who is there to help us to improve our spirituality.

Third, spiritual reading encompasses reading the Holy Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, The Lives of the Saints, The Office of Readings, and other works written by the Saints and other Catholic authors that lead us to know God more in our spiritual life.

So as we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, let us remember our own sanctity and the obligation we all have to become saints. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.”

Communion of Saints Icon

All Holy Men and Women in Heaven…Pray For Us!

Saint Josemaría Escrivá – Founder of Opus Dei

Saint Josemaría Escrivá was born on September 9, 1902 in Barbastro, Spain. On March 28, 1925, he was ordained to the priesthood in Saragossa. In the year 1928, he founded the organization Opus Dei. He believed that he founded Opus Dei through the providence of God. Opus Dei is a Catholic institution that assists individuals who are seeking to achieve universal holiness, which we are called to at the Sacrament of Baptism, through their daily lives and functions in society. It is the goal and mission of Opus Dei to live in the world and to seek and reach the common good of all people.

At the age of 73, St. Josemaría Escrivá died drastically in his office where he worked. He had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and glanced at a picture of her has he passed away. Today, June 26 is the feast day for this great saint of the 20th century.

When he died in 1975, the organization that he founded had spread to six continents, had 60,000 members, and 80 nationalities. The Opus Dei members, which includes both clergy and lay faithful, are dedicated to serving the Church with the same obedience and fervor that Saint Josemaría Escrivá gave to the Church in his daily life. In 2010, Opus Dei listed just shy of 90,000 members with nearly 2000 of them priests.

On October 7, 2002, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blessed John Paul II canonized the Founder of Opus Dei in Rome. During the Canonization, Blessed John Paul II said,

“St Josemaría was chosen by the Lord to announce the universal call to holiness and to point out that daily life and ordinary activities are a path to holiness. One could say that he was the saint of ordinary life. In fact, he was convinced that for those who live with a perspective of faith, everything is an opportunity to meet God, everything can be an incentive for prayer. Seen in this light, daily life reveals an unexpected greatness. Holiness is truly within everyone’s reach…[he] was profoundly convinced that the Christian life entails a mission and an apostolate: we are in the world to save it with Christ. He loved the world passionately, with a “redemptive love” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 604). Precisely for this reason his teachings have helped so many ordinary members of the faithful to discover the redemptive power of faith, its capacity to transform the earth.”

To learn more about Saint Josemaría Escrivá and the work of Opus Dei check out these websites: Saint Josemaria Esciva and The Works of Saint Josemaria Escriva.

Holiness and Martyrdom as a Catholic in America

When Cardinal Timothy Dolan received his red hat on February 18, he said that he was grateful to the Holy Father for giving him this honor, but he just wants to be a saint. If I were to sit down with Cardinal Dolan today, I would share with him that the easiest way to canonization, according to the 6th point in the article – Desiderata for 2012 written by Reverend C. John McCloskey III, is to die a martyr. Knowing the extent of Cardinal Dolan’s experience and education, I would imagine that he would already understand this fact. I make this statement because martyrdom is very likely to appear in the United States of America in the years to come. With the greatest threats against Religious Freedom and attacks on the First Amendment this country has ever seen, it it quite possible that not only will our bishops, priests, and religious face martyrdom, but many faithful and obedient Catholics who will not comply with a tyrannical government could as well. I will let this marinate in your minds return to it at the end.

With that being said, the purpose of my blog is to engage and educate the Catholic lay faithful in the New Evangelization. It’s my hope that through my writing, I will help teach the “basics” of the Catholic faith for Catholic adults, who did receive proper catechesis as adolescents. In the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ and one of his great vicars and universal shepherds, we must remember – “Be Not Afraid!” We must not be afraid of what lies ahead of us or be afraid to learn more about Catholicism. Today, I will discuss holiness, what it means to be saint, and martyrdom.

In Thessalonians 1:6-7, St. Paul says, “you become imitators of us and of the Lord…you became an example to all the believers…” To be holy and to seek perfection is not an option, but an obligation. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must always thrive to be saints. Every Christian has the capacity of becoming a saint. Our purpose in life is to be holy in imitation of Jesus Christ, who is all holy. He is to be our perfect model. As St. Paul says in Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What is holiness?

Holiness is the separation of the irreverent, seeking and giving oneself to God. God is the foundation of holiness because God is all goodness. The invitation to holiness and goodness comes from God himself.  As Christians, to be holy is to bring our best versions to the world. However, because we suffer from the remnants of Original Sin, it can be difficult and challenging at times to live a life of holiness. We must always remember that we have Jesus Christ as our model and strength and should never get discouraged. Even the greatest saints of the Catholic Church had their struggles and moments of weakness.

What is a saint? Who is called to be a saint? When do we receive this call?

A saint is a person who thrives to live a life of holiness with the help of God’s grace and attains the prize of eternal life (CCC 828). The word saint comes from the Latin term – sanctus, which means “holy.” Sanctification is the process where one is made holy.

All Christians are called to holiness. We are called to holiness after receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we are claimed and adopted by God as his children. We are restored to the filial (sonship) relationship that was established first and foremost with the first man. In our Baptism, we receive the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. We also share in the three Old Testament offices that are fulfilled by Jesus – Priest, Prophet, and King.

To be a saint is to live a life dedicated to heroism. Heroism is about self-sacrificial deeds; it’s not about self-glorification and narcissism. It requires one to live with heroic virtue! G.K. Chesterton said, the “saints are the heroes of the Church.” Zorro has always been one of my favorite literary heroes. When I think about Zorro, the words of self-sacrifice, strength, goodness, and servant of the people come to mind. Just as Zorro is a great hero, so must we thrive to live lives dedicated to self-sacrifice, goodness, and serving others. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, there have been many men and women who have answered the call to live lives of heroic virtue and self-sacrifice. In recent years, I think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed John Paul II, and St. Jose Maria Escriva. These men and women truly lived their lives for Jesus Christ and were filled with joy. St. Teresa of Avila said to be a saint is to live life with joy and passion – “a sad saint is not a saint at all.”

Living the life of a saint is not always the most popular lifestyle in our culture or period of history. To be a saint is to be counter-cultural just as the Church is counter-cultural. During his three-year ministry, Jesus himself was counter-cultural for he ate with sinners, spoke with woman (some became his disciples), and countered the elders of the faith.

Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix says, “Christ does not call us to be popular, or even successful. He calls us to take up the cross each day and follow him. There is only one ultimate failure in life: not to be a saint. Nothing else in life matters, compared to the treasure of Christ’s love.”

As Catholics, how do we become saints seeking holiness?

First, we must receive the Sacraments. Although all seven are fundamental, Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist can be received on a daily basis. The Sacrament of Reconciliation assists us in our relationship with Our Lord and allows us to restore our personal relationship with him when it is severed. If you have not been in some time, I encourage you to find a time and go. The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist is the life giving bread of Jesus Christ. It not only nourishes our physical body, but gives us spiritual strength as well. It is truly Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. Next, we need spiritual direction. A director of our interior life will aid us in our prayer and help us to discern God’s will for our lives. Lastly, reading the Scriptures, Lives of the Saints, or other spiritual texts will engage us to know God in a personal way and will also assist in our relationship with Our Lord and His Church.

As Catholics who are striving to live lives of holiness, learning each day how to be saints, and living contradictory to the world around us will often bring times of hostility and persecution. We saw this in the Early Church as Christianity grew. Hostility and persecution rose up to meet Christianity and the martyrs of the Early Church were born. The word martyr comes from the Greek term – witness.  St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60). Other individuals such as St. Lawrence, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Martina of Rome, and eleven of the twelve apostles (excluding John) and many others all died the martyr’s death. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch says about his impending martyrdom, “…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts…only let me get to Jesus Christ…I would rather die.”

There are two forms of martyrdom – red martyrdom and white martyrdom. Red martyrdom is witnessing to the faith where a person endures death. The Church proclaims those who are killed for the faith are baptized by blood and are directed straight to heaven. The red martyrs are genuine examples of heroic fortitude and conviction that is unparallel. White martyrdom (dry martyrdom) is social persecution rather than death. This form of martyrdom is when a person or group of persons are attacked either verbally or in writing for having a conviction of faith or when they choose not to violate their moral conscience. This is the most common form of martyrdom for us Catholics in America to date, but that could change soon.

Although the 20th century witnessed more red martyrs for the faith around the world than any other century, here in the United States white martyrdom was more common. However, in recent years and with the multiplying of the culture wars, white martyrdom has dramatically increased against Catholics in general (see Huffington Post article). With the announcement of the HHS Mandate and the so-called “compromise”, verbal and hate filled attacks have been on the rise against Catholics since we stand against this unjust law. We will not allow a tyrannical government like the Obama Administration to force us into anything that contradicts our Religious Freedom and First Amendment Rights on the grounds of “women’s health” (see yesterday’s results from the Blunt Amendment – right down party lines). We will not comply!

In the 1920’s, the government of Mexico declared war on the Catholic Church killing bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay faithful in the streets. It was terrible time for the Church in Mexico and many good and faithful people lost their lives. If the dangers we have now continue and the current administration is re-elected for four more years, Mexico from the 1920’s could appear on the shores and in the heartland of the United States.

The Erroneous Conscience

The Erroneous Conscience is the last post in a series that I have been writing the past couple of weeks. Technically, this should be Conscience Formation 104, but I chose the title from the theme. I have given my readers and anyone else that stops by the blog some good things to think about over the past three posts. Today, I will discuss the characteristics of an erroneous conscience as well as what the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us in regards to this subject. At the end, I will use the film, The Emperors Club, to clarify my points.

The first characteristic of an erroneous conscience is ignorance. Ignorance can occur if someone bypassed an important point or was never taught the truth about a moral issue. A young person may never have been raised to know that stealing property that belongs to another is a serious moral issue. I speak of this particular issue because I’ve seen this first hand and have dealt with students that did not understand why it was wrong to take the property of others. In this case, I am speaking of the stealing of cell phones and IPODS/MP3 players.  These individuals had a distorted view of freedom since they thought freedom allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do at that moment. Stealing for the sake of stealing destroyed their relationship with God, although they may not have seen it at the time. Stealing not only violates freedom but also destroys the dignity of the person doing the stealing and the dignity of those who lose their belongings. Just ask St. Augustine of Hippo who writes about stealing in The Confessions. He talks about how he would steal apples from other orchards just for the sake of stealing, even though his family had plenty of apples in their orchards.

The second characteristic of an erroneous conscience is insincerity. This is where an individual makes no effort to learn the importance of truth or goodness when it comes to moral issues. Idleness and intellectual stubbornness dominate this person. Let’s say someone tells this person something in secret about a moral action, instead of speaking to a mentor or someone that has experience in this particular situation, this person pulls out his megaphone and tells everyone what he knows. This person should have taken the time to figure out a good course of action instead of doing what he did.  If insincerity is not corrected, the person can fall into bad habits that increase in magnitude, often leading to some very evil actions. Let’s take the same scenario from above – a person who perpetually steals has turned into a thief. The stealing has become a habit and the person has no recompense to even correct the behavior. He will say – that’s what I do. This habitual sin leads to greater sins and will potentially destroy the individual. However, there is the chance that the person can repent and do the good (as in the case of St. Augustine).

Paragraph 1792 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that that these factors can also lead to poor conscience decisions: “Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, mistaken notion of autonomy [“No one can tell me what to do…I am my own law”], rejection of Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and lack of charity (love).”

To clarify the erroneous conscience, I now turn to the film, The Emperors Club. The film is about an educator, William Hundert (Kevin Kline) who teaches Greek and Roman Philosophy at St. Benedict’s School for Boys. It’s an elite school where many of the students go on to Ivy League institutions upon graduating. Mr. Hundert clearly loves to teach and has a passion for Ancient Philosophy.  During the early part of the film, a student transfers into the school and begins to give Mr. Hundert a difficult time about the subject matter. The name of the student is Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) and he is an overall nuisance to the classroom. Because he seems to be “cool” and pushes the authority of the school, his fellow classmates like him and follow him blindly.

It seems that Mr. Hundert eventually gets through to Sedgewick (his father is a US Senator who never has time for his son).  There is an interesting dialogue between Mr. Hundert and Senator Bell about education and formation in this film as well. Sedgewick’s attitude and grades improve so much that he is chosen to be one of three boys in the “Mr. Julius Caesar” contest that assesses knowledge on Roman History. Now there is moral dilemma on the part of Mr. Hundert, but you are going to have to watch the film to see it…I can’t give the whole story away. During the “Mr. Julius Caesar” contest, Mr. Hundert realizes that Sedgewick is cheating and tells the headmaster. The headmaster tells Hundert to ignore it (another moral dilemma…Senator Bell is in the audience). Mr. Hundert eventually asks Sedgewick a question that does not pertain to Roman History and knocks Sedgewick out of the contest.  After one of the other boys wins the contest, Mr. Hundert proceeds to Sedegwick’s dorm room to question him. Watch how Sedgewick admits to cheating (starts at 00:58).

It’s very clear from what we have discussed above, that this boy was never properly taught the importance of forming his conscience. He is clearly insincere in his attitude towards his teacher and the actions that he committed. He knows that he can get away with it because of who is and his position in life.

As the film moves on, 20 years later, Mr. Hundert is asked by the school (they are going to receive a big donation) to re-do the contest that Sedgewick Bell competed in as a boy. Actually, it’s Sedgewick Bell that wants to “regain his intellectual integrity.” By this time, he is a very successful businessman and decides to hold the contest at a country club that he owns. All the boys from the graduating class are found and invited. They are all very successful men by this time in life. Once again, the contest is held, and once again, Mr. Hundert realizes that Sedgewick is cheating. Hundert fools him again with another question and the boy who lost it as a child again loses it as a man. To make matters worse, Sedgewick announces after the contest that he is going to make a run for the same Senate seat that his father once served in. He uses Mr. Hundert for his virtue, principles, and integrity.  As you can see, Sedgewick Bell never developed a well formed conscience and continued to cheat and lie later in life. He remained ignorant and insincere although he made it seem that he discovered the errors in his decisions as a boy.  His cheating becomes so habitual that his entire moral code is a distortion of truth and goodness. Sedgewick Bell is the poster child for the erroneous conscience.

This clip is the scene between Mr. Hundert and Sedgewick after the second contest…but Sedgewick gets a surprise he never intends to receive…someone overhears the conversation. Can you figure out who it is?

Our conscience is important and it must be developed well. This will not happen over night – it’s a life long process. It will also make mistakes since it’s not infallible. As Catholic Christians, we must do all that we can to form our conscience.  We must strive to have an upright conscience by acting virtuously, using our God-given reason and freedom, look to others as models of holiness and virtue, hold each other responsible in a community and pray that with God’s grace we are given the necessary tools to have a pure and good conscience.

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