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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

Holiness and family

Thu, 15 May 2014 17:25:00 +0000 Posted in

How can the family contribute to the shining of the light of faith in the world? What does the family need to realize this high mission statement? These are questions that we Christians must ask ourselves. But perhaps first we should ask ourselves what holiness is, if it has to do with the Church, if it is possible in ordinary life, if holiness is not an exaggerated pretension for ordinary mortals.

1. ¿What is holiness? In its broadest sense, holiness, according to the dictionary of Spanish, is that which is perfect or free from all guilt. For the Bible, holiness is properly and only in God. Derivately, what is considered holy is that which is in relation to God, whether they are persons or other realities (such as the temple, the Sabbath, the chosen people). The New Testament applies the epithet holy to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made flesh (cf. Acts 3:14; Rev 3:7); and from Jesus, to the Church sanctified by him (cf. Rev 21:2) and to Christians, since they are called to holiness (cf. 2 Thess 1:10; Acts 9:13), it calls them "saints" (cf. Eph 1:1).

With reference letter to persons, holiness can be considered as the fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit who gives us to participate in the divine life (ontological holiness), or as a manifestation of that life in the attitudes and works of the Christian (moral holiness). In this sense, Christian holiness is a decisive sign of the credibility of the Gospel message.

Is there only one kind of holiness or different kinds of holiness? In the biblical perspective holiness is one and unique and destined for all, through different stages and mediations; but this has not been well understood at least until the Second Vatican Council, which proclaims the universal call to holiness (cf. LG 11).

The universal call to holiness entails a universal call to the apostolate or evangelization (cf. LG. 33), in order to communicate the message of the Gospel. That is, the good news that Christ is the true life, present and future, of the world, also through Christians.

For this to happen, however, there must be many "street Christians" (lay faithful) - and not only clerics or consecrated persons in the canonical sense - who take holiness seriously, also "in" and "through" the things of the world: in families and through work, in cultural, social and political tasks, in leisure and sports, in all stages and conditions of human existence.

How else can it be shown that only in Christ can we find the answer to so many vital questions such as the primacy of love, the original goodness of the world, the validity of reason, the attraction of beauty that leads to truth, the close connection between the worship of God and social commitment, the hope for authentic progress, etc.?

What does holiness have to do with the Church? It is important to note that the Second Vatican Council places the universal call to holiness in the context of the holiness of the Church, a prerogative that goes hand in hand with the need for the purification of Christians (cf. LG 8ff). The Church has as mission statement that the world may know God and praise Him, because only in Him is true life. Christians are the first to live in themselves this "spiritual worship" which consists in offering their lives in praise of God and service to others in their material and spiritual needs. And what means do they have at their disposal for this, which is the realization of holiness? Principally," the Council answers, "the sacraments and the virtues.

That Christian holiness is given in the framework of the holiness of the Church also means that faith is not individualistic, it is not something solitary, like the product of my thinking, nor can it be lived apart from other Christians: "Our faith is truly staff, only if it is at the same time communitarian: it can be 'my faith', only if it lives and moves in the 'we' of the Church, only if it is our faith, our common faith in the one Church" (Benedict XVI, General Audience, October 31, 2012).

The universal call to holiness is in the very name of the Church (from the Greek ek-klesis) con-vocation or vocation of many, a call to holiness and apostolate, to extend the loving manifestation of God in Christ.

Is holiness possible in ordinary life? So far we have seen that holiness (union with God that translates into witness to Christ and service to others) is the universal vocation proclaimed by the Church. There is only one holiness, there are no "classes" of holiness, such as first and second class holiness. Holiness must be lived by each Christian according to the gifts God has given him and according to the conditions of his life; therefore, for the majority of the baptized (lay faithful), holiness is developed in ordinary life. And that ordinary life includes family life.

Now, many have the impression that the saints were special, extraordinary people, who hardly stepped on the ground, who were not made of flesh and blood. However, as Benedict XVI said at the end of two years of catechesis on the saints (13 April 2011), "holiness, the fullness of the Christian life, does not consist in carrying out extraordinary undertakings, but in union with Christ, in living his mysteries, in making his attitudes, his thoughts, his behavior our own".

Therefore," Pope Ratzinger went on to explain, "a holy life is not primarily the fruit of our own efforts, but of allowing ourselves to be made by God, to be transformed by the Holy Spirit from Baptism onward. Ultimately, holiness is nothing other than charity fully lived: love of God above all things and love of neighbor for God. This "letting oneself be done" by God requires contact with Christ, especially at Mass every Sunday, in daily prayer, in a life that follows the way of the Commandments.

4. Is it not an exaggeration to propose holiness? This is what the saints have done, not only the better known "great saints", but also the simple saints and even so many good people who will never be canonized, but who are a light for others because of their Christian coherence.

"Let us not be afraid," Benedict XVI concluded, "to look upwards, towards the heights of God; let us not be afraid that God asks too much of us, but let us allow ourselves to be guided by his Word in all our daily actions, even if we feel poor, inadequate, sinful: it will be he who transforms us according to his love.

Holiness is a high vocation, but it is attainable by all. To some, God gives a special strength, so that they can witness to their faith even to the point of martyrdom. For all of us, as Pope Francis has reminded us, holiness asks us to overcome the temptations of comfort and indifference to the needs of others, to welcome them with mercy and to give them the best of ourselves, that is, the life of Christ.

"And this entails - Francis observes - not closing oneself up in oneself, in one's own problems, in one's own ideas, in one's own interests, in that little world that hurts us so much, but going out and going to meeting of those who need attention, understanding and financial aid, to bring them the warm closeness of God's love, through concrete gestures of gentleness, sincere affection and love (Pope Francis, Homily at the canonization of the martyrs of Otranto, May 12, 2013).

5. How can each family seek holiness? In the perspective of the synods on the family, it is worth asking how the family, as such, is called to this holiness in daily life, really sought and lived; how is this union with God proper to holiness expressed in and from the family (praise and thanksgiving, prayer and sacramental life), which translates into openness to others, to their needs in every way subject; and what does the family need - from each of its members, from other persons and social, educational and ecclesial institutions - in order to carry out this high calling mission statement: to live holiness and to manifest it.

Not everything is a problem. There are many families that are a testimony of light and Christian life. For this reason, we could ask them to share their valuable experiences: how they do it, what they propose, with what means, etc., so that all this can be known, shared and perfected. There are so many valuable experiences in families that bring happiness, always accompanied by sacrifice and generosity.