Universal Call to Holiness

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph. 4:4).

St. Francis de Sales, whose feast we celebrate today, is known for his teaching that all Christians are called to holiness. The teaching of the universal call to holiness did not originate with the Second Vatican Council, but was also taught before. "Universal call," means, quite simply, that all men and women and called to holiness. And in Casti Connubii, for example, Pope Pius XI says precisely that: "All men of every condition," in whatever state of life they are, "can and ought to imitate that most perfect example of holiness," Christ himself, "and by God's grace to arrive at the summit of perfection." (n. 23) Nevertheless the universal call to holiness is a particularly special emphasis of the Second Vatican Council; it is taken up expressly in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium, which we look at today. The following is an attempt to draw out briefly some of the basic important points made in this chapter on this universal vocation of all Christians.

The Fathers of Vatican II see the call to holiness as deriving from two sources: the mystery of the Church, and more fundamentally, the mystery of Christ himself.

The Church and Holiness
"The Church is believed to be indefectibly holy" (n. 39), for Christ gave himself up for her "that he might sanctify her," uniting her to himself as his body and perfecting her by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the Church is holy, all members of the Church are called to be holy, "to become what they are," and to manifest this holiness in their lives, by faithfulness to the movement of the Spirit, by the practice of charity.

Christ and Holiness
Christ himself preached holiness of life to all. "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." He provided the means for holiness, sending the Spirit, who pours love into men's hearts, that they might love God above all, and love each other as Christ loves them. Moreover, in baptism the faithful put on Christ, becoming sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. Thus they are made holy by the grace of God. They must then hold on to this holiness and live it out in their concrete lives, they must live in a manner that is fitting to those who are holy.

The Council concludes then, that all members of the Church, all Christ's faithful, whatever their rank or status, are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.

Attainment of Holiness
The concrete way of attaining holiness and the perfection of charity depends on one's situation and duties, yet some things can be said in general:
(1) we should use our strengths and talents as a gift from Christ.
(2) We should follow Christ and become like him, seeking the Father's will in all things, the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
(3) We should use our personal gifts and fulfill our duties in the spirit of faith working through love.
(4) We should receive all things with faith from the hand of the heavenly Father.

These four means of attaining holiness can be grouped into two basic attitudes: the spirit to accept all things as coming from the loving hand of God, and the aim to do all things in accordance with God's will out of love for him.

The Council in the following paragraphs makes a number of particular remarks on the paths to holiness of bishops, priests, clerics, married persons, and those who suffer. It then returns to the theme of holiness as the common pursuit of all. Holiness is first of all a gift of grace, the gift of love by which we love God above all things and our neighbor for God's sake. But in order for love to grow, we must cooperate with this grace, completing what God has begun in us. (n. 42)

Some actions flowing from grace are common to all Christians: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, participation in the liturgy, prayer, self-denial, service of our brothers and sisters, and the practice of all the virtues. All such actions are to be ruled by charity, enlivened by charity, and expressions of charity.

Some exceptional expressions of love, which are not actually common to all Christians, are given particular mention by the Council.

The greatest proof of love is martyrdom. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for Christ and one's brethren. Not all will be faced with martyrdom, but all must be prepared to confess Christ, whatever may come, whether it means losing one's job, one's reputation, or even one's life.

Virginity, Poverty, and Obedience
The evangelical counsels of virginity/celibacy, poverty, and obedience are special means for fostering the holiness of the Church, each being in its own way a particular imitation of Christ.

The chapter closes with the summary statement: "all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive."

Call to Holiness in Marriage
See also the article on the call to holiness in Christian marriage.

Universal Call to Poverty?
The spirit of poverty, and even a degree of actual poverty, is a invitation and call not only to religious, but to all Christians. A very worth-while book on the gospel call to poverty is Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Thomas Dubay. This book is written for all Catholics (not just for those considering or discerning a religious vocation!) and seeks to present the Gospel challenge simply and directly, and thus help them to live their Christian vocation.

11 thoughts on “Universal Call to Holiness”

  1. I Googled Love and Holiness and this is where I ended up. Thank you for this blog. I find increasingly that as I surf the net for meaningful Christian content I run into compelling stuff written by Catholics. I was raised in the Catholic Church, left when I went to high school, turned to God when I was 33, joined a very strict fundamental Christian Church, studied the Bible diligently for 20 years and sought the Lord. Now with my convictions "solidified" I find that great, deep kindred spirit with those who follow Christ in the Catholic Church. I clicked the link "Happy are You Poor" and am looking forward to reading this book very much. I am also happily looking forward to sharing this with my wife.
    Thanks Again.

  2. Thanks for the note. I'm glad you found your way here, and like it. The book "Happy are you poor" is challenging, as Christ's call to take up the cross and follow him is challenging… and I found it very helpful.

  3. This is just what I was looking for and with your consent, i would like to use it for Bible Study at my church.

  4. I too found my way here via Google, whilst looking for articles on the Universal Call for Holiness. In addition I greatly appreciate many articles of solid theology written by Roman Catholics worldwide, to which your article is a part of.

    I am constantly refreshed and renewed by such writting.

    In short, please keep up the good work!

    Yours in Christ, Graham

  5. Yes, we're called to be a saint!
    I dream to be a saint too 🙂

    GOD calls us to be holy and we can be holy through any vocation we're called to….

    Nice blog and web!

  6. Great article.

    Check out this link: http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/holiness-is-for-all

    I had the blessing of being there when Pope JPII canonized this Saint and called him "the Saint of the ordinary", for we are all called to be Holy in the middle of the world. Doing what we do with excellence, loving and facing God. Ephesians 4:4: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call."

    Keep putting good information on the cyberspace, usaully too much trash out there. Thanks, Maria

  7. Dear Deacon Joseph Bolin,
    I am a seminarian doing final year of Theological studies in Ranchi, India. I am delighted to read your review on "Universal Call to Holiness". It is well-prepared and really helpful for the people of God. Congratulations and God Bless you!

  8. Wonderful piece!
    I just "stumbled" on this blog through Google : was searching for UNIVERSAL CALL TO HOLINESS.
    I live in Africa (Nigeria) and have been quite concerned for some time about how ordinary persons can attain union with Christ in holiness in their daily endeavours, whatever situation in life they are in. Daily life here is very challenging: irregular utilities (water, electricity), lack of roads, poorly equipped clinics, high rate of diseases around, etc.

    All these could be daunting at times and it's great to know that while we search for solutions to these problems, we can maintain real intimacy with the Lord who continually directs our efforts.

    Thanks for your great blog!
    Another very inspiring article I've come across which I thought to share is: http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/friends_of_god-chapter-18.htm

    Keep up the good work.
    Cheers, Obi

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