Consecrated Life and the Universal Call to Holiness
In this Year for Consecrated Life, the Dominican student brothers on Godzdogz will share our perspective on the consecrated life – how it remains as relevant as ever as a way of Christian discipleship, a way of loving God and our neighbour. In the first post of the series, we consider ‘the universal call to holiness’.
Like Ronseal wood stain, the universal call to holiness “does exactly what it says on the tin”. The Church teaches that all people are called to be holy – no ifs, no buts. It doesn’t matter what your station in life: whether you’re a Carthusian monk dwelling in the foothills of the Alps, for example, or a single mother working hard to support your family. God calls each one of His children to the “fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” [Lumen Gentium 40]. The key question for each of us, therefore, is how to do this.
Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document which gave over a whole chapter to the topic, provides some guidance: “In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, [the people of God] must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history… Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.”
A similar sentiment struck me recently when we read from St. Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life”. He wrote: “the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular… in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.” Here we might detect a resonance with the Parable of the Talents.
And yet we might well ask, if everyone is called to be holy, what is the point of entering consecrated life? We might try answer this by saying that each of us has a particular calling, a particular way of following God, which each of us must walk. The direction and destination is always Christ, but we take different paths. The path of the consecrated life is the contemplation of God, which will leads to the virtues, St. Thomas Aquinas says. The religious life removes obstacles to perfect charity so as to obtain perfection – or at least strive to it, giving oneself “entirely to the divine service, as offering a holocaust to God” [ST IIa-IIae q186, a.2] . All of this is done by grace as we try to conform ourselves to Christ, who made the ultimate offering of himself.
So everyone is called to holiness but not everyone is called to such a radical offering. But for those who are called to consecrated life, for those who receive this precious gift, there can be no greater joy.
Image: Fra Angelico OP, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (c. 1423-24)