Bernardo M. Villegas
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Everyone Is Called to Holiness

          Millennials (those born after 1982) are more fortunate as regards Christian living than those of us who are baby boomers (born during or after the Second World War).  From the day they could think, those who became adults in the new millennium learned from their parents and educators who were nurtured in the doctrine of the Second Vatical Council that the call to holiness is universal, that every baptized person is obliged to strive for the fullness of Christian life or in short, to be a saint.  Holiness is not reserved for those who have a calling to be a priest, a nun or a religious.  Christ uttered the words “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” to everyone without exception.  It is the means used to be holy that may differ depending on the state of life of a person.  For the vast majority of Christians, the way to holiness is the sanctification of ordinary work and the other duties of daily life.  This was not very clear to us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s.  Especially for us who were educated in Catholic schools, there was the misunderstanding that if one wanted to strive for the fullness of Christian life, one had to leave the world and become a priest or religious.  Those who decided to get married and raise a family were relegated to a second-rate or mediocre type of Christianity.

         That is why when I heard of St. Josemaria Escriva during my student days at Harvard in the early 1960s, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of what at that time was a revolutionary idea.  Through some of my classmates and friends, I got to know what the Founder of Opus Dei (whose feast the universal church is celebrating this coming Tuesday, June 26) was teaching: “If you want to follow Christ, to serve the Church and help other men recognize their eternal destiny, there is no need to leave the world or keep it at arm’s length.  You don’t even need to take up an ecclesiastical activity.  The only condition which is both necessary and sufficient is to fulfil the mission which God has given you, in the place and in the environment indicated by his Providence…The one and only mission of Opus Dei is the spreading of this message which comes from the Gospel, among all those who live and work in the world, whatever be their background, profession or trade.  And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and the doctrinal, ascetical and apostolic training which they need to put it into practice.”  St. Josemaria started to preach this doctrine as early as 1928 and because it sounded so different from conventional wisdom at that time, he was even tagged as a heretic or a madman.  Fortunately by 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, it became clear to all who cared to listen to the Council fathers that the universal calling to holiness had always been part of the teachings of Christ.

         Pope Francis, through his Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Rejoice and Be Glad”, recently reiterated this teaching of the Second Vatican Council.  In his usual direct and familiar way, he tells all of us: “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious.   We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer.  That is not the case.  We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.  Are you called to the consecrated life?  Be holy by living out your commitment with joy.  Are you married?  Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church.  Do you work for a living?  Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters.  Are you a parent or grandparent?  Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.  Are you in a position of authority?  Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”

         Not one to remain at the level of principles or motherhood statements, Pope Francis gives very concrete examples of how to struggle to be a saint in the ordinary circumstances of life:  “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.  Here is an example:  a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts.  But she says in her heart:  ’No, I will not speak badly of anyone’.  This is step forward in holiness.  Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love.  That is another sacrifice that brings holiness.  Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith.  Yet another path of holiness.  Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him.  One more step.”

         Whether you are a millennial or not, I suggest to the reader to use your smart phone and google “Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, Apostolic Exhortation” to get the complete document.  Read his entire message.  As he said in introducing the Apostolic Exhortation: “My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.  For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love’ (Ephesians, 1:4).”  Follow the advice of His Holiness and then convince your relatives and friends to do the same. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.