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Dominican Life: “Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

By Br Bede Mullens The Scholastics used to say, “bonum est diffusivum sui”, “goodness spreads itself about”: a dictum people might be more inclined to indulge around Christmas time, and perhaps less as we approach mid-January of the New Year. 

The Scholastics used to say, “bonum est diffusivum sui”, “goodness spreads itself about”: a dictum people might be more inclined to indulge around Christmas time, and perhaps less as we approach mid-January of the New Year. But, even if we struggle to grant the Scholastics their saying as an optimistic gloss on life, we have to grant it as a theological principle: a principle, that is, of God’s manner of relating to things, and especially to us. That command, “Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy,” was addressed to a people, Israel, not to any one man. The same commandment is addressed to each Christian, tacitly, at Baptism. By the overflowing water and the invocation of the Trinity, God through his Church declares to each at his Baptism what he declared of Jesus the Christ, “This is my Son the beloved.” The Son is the begotten image of the Father: the Son is holy, as the Father is holy. Baptism makes us each sons of God – only, not as individuals, but in Christ; we are sons as members of the Son, as his Body. Indeed, St Irenaeus teaches (see e.g. Adversus Haereses III.9.3, III.17) that at the Lord’s Baptism it is Christ’s Body that receives the anointing of the Holy Spirit: for Christ in his own person as Head was overflowing with that ointment from the moment of his conception. And so St Peter talks of the baptised as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’. ‘Once you were no people,’ he goes on to say, ‘but now you are God’s people’ (1 Pet. 2.9-10).

So it is of the nature of holiness to draw people together into a people. There is no being sanctified oneself, without beginning to sanctify others. Our Lady is the supreme example of this principle among the saints. She who was conceived without sin, who ranks above the Cherubim, ‘the highest honour of our race’, is also commissioned to the supreme task in the creation’s sanctification. We often hear talk of vocation as if a vocation were a task specially committed to some particular individual for fulfilment: it was our Lady’s vocation to say ‘Yes’ to the Angel, it was Mother Teresa’s vocation to go to the slums of Calcutta, it is my vocation to preach in the lower parts of Uttar Pradesh or to teach religion in a Catholic school in Hull. And that is fair enough, in a certain sense… But these disparate tasks hardly amount to the call that St Peter describes, to enter, belonging to a people, into God’s light; and none of those tasks guarantees that its performer shall be holy as God himself is holy.

Our vocation, the vocation of all Christians, in the first place is simply to be counted among God’s people, and to live in the holiness of that people. That already is enough to begin spreading the holiness. Bonum est diffusivum sui. (St Paul speaks of it as a fragrance: a people perfumed with holiness.) Perhaps God does have some particular task in mind for us; his Providence gives to each a place in the history of that holy nation, and to each some unique declaration of his wonderful deeds. But we needn’t count on this to think that one has a vocation, or to make sense of one’s vocation. A vocation means a calling. And what we are called is, son of God: a son in the Son. By being called son, we are called into his Body, that people God has assembled to himself. Our vocation, therefore, requires of us primarily the imitation of Christ. Not, I hasten to add, by asking that inane question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ We think we know the answer to that too easily: he liked to catch people off-guard. What we may legitimately ask is, ‘What did Jesus do?’ The answer to that is summed up in the three Evangelical Counsels: he lived totally consecrated to God the Father in celibacy, poverty and obedience, rejecting earthly loves, earthly possessions and the exercise of his own will. So lived our Lady, so lived the Apostles, and many of the saints known and unknown after them. So is called each Christian to live, in the full measure of the religious life if he can, and if not then as fully as possible in another appropriate state of life.

If we take up and take seriously the membership of his people that God has granted us, then we surely shall declare the wonderful deeds of him who above all is Holy. 

Br Bede Mullens O.P.

Br Bede was born in Enfield and grew up in Essex. He read Literae Humaniores at St Hugh’s College in the University of Oxford. It was in Oxford that he first met the Dominicans, and he joined the Order in 2017 after completing his degree. The writings of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger greatly influenced his development in the Faith. He retains a wide interest in literature; among religious authors, he particularly admires St Augustine and St John Henry Newman. | bede.mullens@english.op.org


MORE ON: VOCATIONS, MARY, SAINTS

Comments

Robert Tickle commented on 27-Jan-2019 09:29 PM
Thank you a Brother Bede. One can recall in the context of vocations Newman's prayer: " I am a link in a chain..."

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