Thursday, March 15, 2012

Aiming For the Stars

“To stir a response in love and good works”: these words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever more sublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, “like the light of dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day” (Prov ), makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God.

The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph ). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.

Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others (cf. Mt 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim ). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizing and proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is also meant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to “anticipate one another in showing honour” (Rom ).

In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

2012 Lenten Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Reflection – I concluded my blog post yesterday by saying that Christian maturity is the same thing as holiness, and that the only good outcome of our lives is to become saints. Anything else is tragic, actually.
I hadn’t actually looked ahead to see where Pope Benedict was going in this Lenten message. It’s always nice when he and I think alike! For here he is, calling all of us to holiness, the ‘full maturity of Christ.’

When we hear of the call to holiness, many people understandably draw back a bit. ‘Well, I’ll try to be a decent Christian, but I don’t know about becoming a saint! I’m kind of a louse, you know!’ It seems a bit presumptuous somehow to speak of wanting to become a saint. Or a bit scary: anyone who knows any lives of the saints knows that they had to go through a lot of suffering to get where they got. Can’t I just be a (kind of) nice person? Why aim for the stars when I can have a decent enough life here on earth?

“Those who do not advance inevitably regress.” This has been the universal experience of the spiritual masters of the Church. There is no ‘stasis’ in spiritual life. Either love is growing in us, which is the essence of sanctity, or love is dying in us. Our life is either expanding or contracting. If we’re not aiming for the stars, we are not going to have a decent life on earth.

This is built into our humanity and its fundamental nature. We are made for God. We are made to be open vessels receiving the life of God. This life of God in our life is another way of expressing the essence of sanctity. When we close off to this life, we generally fill ourselves with something else, and when that doesn’t work too well, begin to shrink down, reduce ourselves to something less than what we truly are and truly made to become. And this is a tragic loss, not only for ourselves, but for the world.

Saints are what the world needs: lovers, God-bearers, Christ-bearers. Anything else we can become or offer the world is a poor and ineffective substitute. Sanctity is the only fitting goal of human life. To not become a saint is tragic. It is Lent, and it is time to ponder these things, and humbly and simply ask the Lord to put us more firmly and fully on the road to become the saints he made us to be.

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