Everyone's Call to Be a Saint
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience of April 13, 2011
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience of April 13, 2011
The whole of the Church’s history is marked by men and women who, with their faith, with their charity, and with their life, have been beacons for so many generations, as they are for us too. These saints expressed in various ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One. They let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with St. Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Following their example, seeking their intercession, entering into communion with them, “brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom, as from their fountain and head, issue every grace and the life of the People of God itself.” (Lumen Gentium 50)
What does it mean for us to be saints (holy)? Who is called to be a saint (holy)?
Often it is thought that holiness is a goal reserved for a few chosen ones. St. Paul, however, speaks of God's great plan and affirms: "[God] chose us in Him [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love He destined us." (Ephesians 1:4) And He was speaking about all of us. At the center of the divine design is Christ, in whom God shows His Face. The Mystery hidden in the centuries has been revealed in the fullness of the Word made flesh. . . .
Therefore, the whole of Christian life knows one supreme law, which St Paul expresses in a formula that recurs in all his holy writings: Jesus Christ. Holiness, the fullness of Christian life, does not consist in carrying out extraordinary enterprises, but in being united with Christ, in living His mysteries, in making our own His example, His thoughts, His behaviour. The measure of holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, inasmuch as, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on His. . . .
However, the question remains: How can we journey on the path of holiness, how can we respond to this call? Can I do so with my own strength?
The answer is clear: A holy life is not primarily the fruit of our own effort, of our actions, because it is God, the thrice Holy, who makes us saints, and the action of the Holy Spirit who encourages us from within; it is the life itself of the Risen Christ, which has been communicated to us and which transforms us. . . .
Holiness has its main root in baptismal grace, in being introduced into the paschal mystery of Christ, with which His Spirit is communicated to us, His life as the Risen One. . . . However, God always respects our liberty and asks that we accept this gift and that we live the demands it entails. He asks that we allow ourselves to be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, conforming our will to the will of God.
How can we make our way of thinking and our actions become thinking and acting with Christ and of Christ? What is the soul of holiness?
Once again the Second Vatican Council explains; it tells us that Christian holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.“'God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.' (1 Jn 4:16) Now God has poured out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Rom 5:5); therefore the first and most necessary gift is charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbour through love of Him. But if charity, like a good seed, is to grow and fructify in the soul, each of the faithful must willingly hear the word of God and carry out His will with deeds, with the help of His grace. He must frequently receive the sacraments, chiefly the Eucharist, and take part in the holy liturgy; he must constantly apply himself to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service and the exercise all the virtues. This is because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14; Rom 13:10) governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification.” (Lumen Gentium 42)Perhaps this language of the Second Vatican Council is a little too solemn for us, perhaps we should say things even more simply. What is the essential?
The essential means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week. It means never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, on the path of our life it means following the “signposts” that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations. It seems to me that this is the true simplicity and greatness of a life of holiness: the encounter with the Risen One on Sunday; contact with God at the beginning and at the end of the day; following, in decisions, the “signposts” that God has communicated to us, which are but forms of charity.
"Hence the true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of neighbor.” (Lumen Gentium 42) This is true simplicity, grandeur and profundity of the Christian life, of being saints. This is why St. Augustine, commenting on the fourth chapter of the First Letter of St. John can affirm an astonishing thing: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do as you will). And he continued:"If you are silent, be silent out of love; if you speak, speak out of love; if you correct, correct out of love; if you forgive, forgive out of love, may the root of love be in you, because from this root nothing can come that is not good" (Homily 7, paragraph 8: PL 35).He who lets himself be led by love, who lives charity fully is led by God, because God is love. This is what this great saying means: "Dilige et fac quod vis."
Perhaps we might ask ourselves: Can we, with our limitations, our weakness, reach so high? During the liturgical year, the Church invites us to recall a line-up of saints, who have lived charity fully, have been able to love and to follow Christ in their daily lives. In all the periods of the history of the Church, in every latitude of the geography of the world, the saints belong to all the ages and to all states of life; they are the concrete faces of all peoples, languages and nations. And they are very different among themselves.
In reality, I must say that also, according to my personal faith, many saints, not all, are true stars in the firmament of history. And I would like to add that for me not only the great saints that I love and know well are "road signs," but also the simple saints, that is, the good persons that I see in my life, who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, so to speak, without a visible heroism, but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of the faith. This goodness, which they have matured in the faith of the Church, is for me a sure defense of Christianity and the sign of where the truth is.
In the communion with saints, canonized or not canonized, which the Church lives thanks to Christ in all her members, we enjoy their presence and company and cultivate the firm hope of being able to imitate their way and share one day the same blessed life, eternal life.
Dear friends, how great and beautiful and also simple, is the Christian vocation seen from this light! We are all called to holiness: It is the very measure of the Christian life. . . .
I would like to invite you to open yourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms our life, to be, we also, pieces of the great mosaic of holiness that God is creating in history, so that the Face of Christ will shine in the fullness of its brilliance. Let us not be afraid to look on high, to the height of God; let us not be afraid that God will ask too much of us, but let us be guided in all our daily actions by His Word, even if we feel that we are poor, inadequate, sinners: He will be the one to transform us according to His love.