The Universal Call to Holiness

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". . . but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct: since it is written 'you shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Pet 1:15-16).

As members of the Mystical Body we have a general calling, or vocation, from God.  Each Christian is called to holiness, which means that we are each called to follow Christ so that one day we may be with him in Heaven for eternity.  As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, God "chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph 1:4).  The vocation of each Christian, then, is to become a saint.

In addition to becoming saints, we are also called by God to spread the faith given at our Baptism.  Each of us must be a missionary, or apostle, for Christ, preaching the gospel in whatever way we can, by word and by example.  We call this work the apostolate.

For each of us, becoming a saint and spreading the faith are done in different ways.  This is our specific vocation, to which God calls us, according to our own gifts, talents, and circumstances.  St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that the Church, like the body, has many members, each of which has its own particular role:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom 12:6-8).

Thus our own particular vocation depends upon the gifts that God has given us.

In discovering our vocation, we cannot simply follow our own desires, for often these may lead us away from God.  Nor can we expect God to hand us a detailed list of instructions about how to live our lives.  Rather, we should pray for the wisdom to recognize our talents and abilities - as well as our limitations - and to choose our life's work accordingly.  We also have to recognize the circumstances we are in, where God has placed us.  For instance, a father who has to take care of his family cannot say, "Well, I have a special gift to be an artist (or some other talent), so I ought to pursue that without any concern for my responsibilities for caring for my family and children."

Obstacles to Holiness

Before considering how to become holy, we must recognize those things that are obstacles to holiness.  We know that all men are born with original sin, and that it is removed through Baptism.  After Baptism, however, we are still weak and inclined toward sin.  We are still easily tempted, and inclined toward evil, toward disobedience to God and his Commandments.

This inclination to sin can also be seen in the way we often use our natural tendencies.  God has placed in all men certain tendencies to help us live here on earth.  For example, we have a natural desire for food and drink so that we can survive physically.  Because of original sin it is easy for these tendencies to get out of control.  When this occurs, they lead us to sin.  For example, the desire for food and drink can become excessive, leading a person to gluttony or drunkenness.

If we allow these tendencies to get out of control frequently, they can become habits.  Habits are ways of acting that are acquired by repetition of certain actions.  Habits are a familiar part of our daily routine.  We brush our teeth, for example, without giving it much thought.  Once we have learned to drive a car, we develop the habit and drive without thinking about all the steps we are following.  These habits are morally indifferent - that is, they are neither good nor evil.  Some habits however, are sinful.  These are acquired by repeatedly doing bad actions and are known as vices.

There are seven principal vices, which are known as the seven capital sins.  They are called capital, from the Latin word for head or source, because they are the source of all other sins and vices.  They are not the only vices, just the chief ones from which many more stem.  Because these vices are the major obstacles in our path to holiness, we should consider each of the briefly and learn to recognize them.

"The beginning of man's pride is to depart from the Lord; . . . for the beginning of pride is to sin, and the man who clings to it pours out abominations" (Sir 10:14-15).

Pride is the chief capital sin, for it is at the root of all the others.  It is an excessive, disordered love of oneself.  This leads us to prefer our own desires to those of God and our neighbors.  It is pride that was at the root of the sin of our first parents - their desire to be like God.  They did not want to be subordinate, as creatures, to their Creator.  We should not confuse this vice with the rightful pride we take in our accomplishments or with a correct sense of self-esteem.  These are sinful only if we exaggerate them.

"And Jesus said to them, 'Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'" (Lk 12:15). 

Covetousness, or avarice, means greed.  It is an uncontrolled desire for earthly possessions, such as money, clothes, and so on.  A certain desire for these things is natural, since they are necessary in order to live in the world.  However, we must constantly take care that these desires do not turn to greed, and that we do not put these things first in our lives or ahead of more important values.  Not only covetousness itself wrong, as the Ninth and Tenth Commandments tell us, but greed can easily lead to further sins.  For example, the person with this vice may eventually lie, cheat, steal, or even murder, in order to possess those things he desires.

"But I say, walk by the spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; . . . Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness" (Gal 5:16-19).

Lust is the uncontrolled desire for or indulgence in sexual pleasure.  It should not be confused with the lawful use of our sexual powers within the holy state of marriage.  God created human beings with a natural attraction to the opposite sex.  As long as this attraction is controlled and ordered finally to Christian marriage, it is healthy and good.  This attraction becomes disordered when it is focused on our own pleasure instead of a selfless, true love of another person, and when it is separated from marriage and the purpose of marriage.

"Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger . . . Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you" (Eph 4:26, 31).

Anger is an uncontrolled expression of displeasure and antagonism, often accompanied by a desire for revenge.  This is not the same as the righteous anger spoken by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians or that exhibited by Our Lord when he threw the moneychangers out of the Temple.  Anger is the proper response to an injustice - for example, defrauding the poor, abortion - but we must control it and use it properly.  If our anger is uncontrolled or if it is bitter and full of hate and we seek only revenge, it has become a vice.

"Do not have an insatiable appetite for any luxury, and do not give yourself up to food; . . . Many have died of gluttony, but he who is careful to avoid it prolongs his life" (Sir 37:29-31).

Gluttony is an uncontrolled desire for and indulgence in food and drink.  Eating and drinking are intended to be pleasurable and are certainly not sinful in themselves.  In fact, they are necessary for our survival.  However, like our desire for possessions, these desires can become excessive and be abused by us.

"For where jealousy (envy) and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice" (James 3:16).

Envy is unhappiness or discontent over the good fortune or success of others.  We are envious when we are saddened at another's prosperity or when we rejoice in another's misfortune.  This vice is not the same as the ordinary desire or wish we might have to be successful like someone else.  Similarly, it is not the wish or desire to possess a certain talent.

"And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb 6:11-12).

Sloth is excessive laziness or carelessness. it is unlike the other vices, because it is not an ordinary desire that is uncontrolled.  It is really a lack of desire to do one's duties, particularly spiritual ones, because of the effort that is involved.  It is not the same as a reasonable desire for times of rest or leisure.

We do not all have equal inclinations to these vices.  Some of us must struggle more against temptations to envy, while others are more tempted by anger or gluttony.  The first step on the path to holiness is to look at ourselves, try to recognize our weaknesses, and try to overcome them with God's help.

   Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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