Father Cantalamessa on Holiness

Pontifical Household Preacher on All Saints' Day

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ROME, OCT. 31, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from the feast of All Saints.



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Holiness Is Not a Luxury ...
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14; John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

The saints the liturgy celebrates on this solemnity are not only those canonized by the Church and mentioned in our calendars. They are all those who are saved and form the heavenly Jerusalem. Speaking of the saints, St. Bernard said: "Let us not be slow in imitating those we are happy to celebrate." It is, therefore, the ideal occasion to reflect on the "universal call of all Christians to holiness."

The first thing to do in speaking about holiness is to free the word from the fear it inspires, due to some mistaken representations that we make of it. Holiness can entail extraordinary phenomena, but it is not identified with them. If all are called to holiness it is because, properly understood, it is within everyone's reach, it is part of the normality of the Christian life.

God is the "only Holy One" and "the source of all holiness." When one attempts to see how man enters into the sphere of God's holiness and what it means to be holy, the ritualistic idea in the Old Testament immediately prevails in one's mind.

The means of God's holiness are objects, places, rites and prescriptions. Heard, it is true, especially in the prophets and the Psalms, are different voices, exquisitely moral, but voices that remain isolated. In Jesus' time, the idea still prevailed among the Pharisees that holiness and justice consist in ritual purity and scrupulous observance of the law.

Looking at the New Testament, we see profound changes. Holiness does not reside in the hands, but in the heart; it is not decided outside but within man, and it is summarized in charity.

The mediators of God's holiness are no longer places (the Temple of Jerusalem or the Mountain of the Beatitudes), rites, objects or laws, but a person, Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ is the very holiness of God that comes to us in person, not in a distant reverberation of his. He is "the Holy One of God" (John 6:69).

We come into contact with Christ's holiness in two ways, and it is communicated to us: by appropriation and by imitation. Holiness is above all a gift, grace. Given that we belong to Christ more than to ourselves, having been "purchased at great price," it follows from this, inversely, that the holiness of Christ belongs to us more than our own holiness. It is what gives flight to the spiritual life.

Paul teaches how this "audacious blow" is given when he states solemnly that he does not want to be found with a righteousness of his own, or holiness based on observance of the law, but only with that which is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:5-10). Christ, he says, has made himself "our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is "for us": therefore, for all intents and purposes, we can claim his holiness as our own.

Along with this fundamental means of the faith and the sacraments, imitation must also have a place, that is, personal effort and good works. Not as a separate and different means, but as the only appropriate means to manifest the faith, translating it into act.

When Paul writes: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification," it is clear that he understands precisely this holiness which is the fruit of personal commitment. He adds, in fact, as though to explain in what the sanctification he is talking about consists: "that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor" (1 Thessalonians 4:3-9).

"There is but one sadness in the world, and it is not to be saints," said Leon Bloy, and Mother Teresa was right when a journalist asked her point-blank how she felt being acclaimed as being holy around the world, and she answered: "Holiness is not a luxury; it is a necessity."

[Translation by ZENIT]