Sainthood Is Not Only for the Chosen Few

Father Rosica Addresses Canadian University Students

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CALGARY, Alberta, JAN. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is an excerpt of the Dec. 30 address given by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, director of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, at the Catholic Christian Outreach 2007 Rise Up conference, held in Calgary.

The talk titled "An Extreme Revolution of Holiness: An Insider's Look at Citizenship With the Saints" can be found in its entirety on the ZENIT Web page: www.zenit.org/article-21438?I=english.

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Life in Christ Is Holy Living

The founding story of Christianity is the life of Christ. The Christian religion continues to consist of people's response to Christ's coming as the revelation of God's love: attention to his words; contemplation of his life, his death, and his Resurrection; and obedience to his desire that love of him should be expressed in love for all human beings: no one is to be left out of the circle of that love.

The liturgy of the Catholic Church includes a yearlong "reliving" of the events of the life of Christ, one after the other, and a constant reminder of the stories of people who have paid attention to it, heroically. The liturgical cycle we are experiencing this week is a perfect example of this “reliving” of the events of Christ’s life: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is immediately followed by the feast of Stephen’s martyrdom, the feast of the mystical Evangelist John, the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, the feast of another great martyr -- St. Thomas à Becket, and today’s feast of the Holy Family.

The Church teaches us that we cannot tarry at the stable in Bethlehem but hasten to Galilee and then to the hill of Calvary in Jerusalem where the whole story reaches its extreme moment and summit. As we pass from feast to feast, we move from being admirers to imitators of Jesus, we grow in our discipleship and holiness.

The Beatitudes: Blueprint for Holiness

The beatitudes in Christ's Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-12] are a recipe for this extreme holiness. Holiness is a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavor but rather a continuous choice to deepen one's relationship with God and to then allow this relationship to guide all of one's actions in the world. Holiness requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives. This fundamental orientation towards God even envelops and sustains our relationship with other human beings. Sustained by a life of virtue and fortified by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, God draws us ever closer to Himself and to that day when we shall see Him face to face in Heaven and achieve full union with Him.

A saint is a friend of God who takes the beatitudes seriously in his or her life. Each of us is called to become God's friend. We grow in friendship with God as we do with others: by being present to God, talking with God, and being generous with God. Here and now, we can find holiness in our personal experience of putting forth our best efforts in the work place, patiently raising our children, and building good relationships at home, at school and at work. If we make all of these things a part of our loving response to God, we are on the path of holiness. This need for good examples is also important in the area of Christian living. For this purpose, the Church encourages devotion to the saints. A saint is one who "has lived [or is living] in the practice of the virtues of his or her state after a manner...that is faithful, constant, ready -- to the point of heroism."

Many think that sainthood is a privilege reserved only for the chosen few. Actually, to become a saint is the task of every Christian, and what's more, we could even say it's the task of everyone! How many times have we thought that the Saints are merely "eccentrics" that the Church exalts for our imitation; people who were so unrepresentative of and out of touch with the human scene? It is certainly true of all those men and women who were "eccentric" in its literal sense: they deviated from the centre, from usual practice, the ordinary ways of doing things, the established methods. Another way of looking at the saints is that they stood at the "radical centre."

We need the example of these holy women and men who had no moderation but only exuberance! They were people with ordinary affections, who took God seriously and were therefore free to act with exuberance. Not measured or moderate, the Saint's response to God's extravagant love is equally immoderate, marked by fidelity and total commitment. G.K. Chesterton said: "[such] people have exaggerated what the world and the Church have forgotten."

"Saints," as the word is used among Catholic Christians today, are those who, in the opinion of other people, have succeeded in this enterprise. The Roman Catholic Church "canonizes" certain saints, placing them on a list (canon) of those given the seal of its approval, after long study and a process of discernment. There are far more saints not in the canon than there are in it; and many a saint in the canon receives little or no veneration from people today: it is always the people who finally decide that someone is, for them, a hero.

And if there was ever an age when young men and women needed authentic heroes, it is our age. The Church understands that saints, their prayers, their lives, are for people on earth, that sainthood, as an earthly honor, is not coveted by the saints themselves. A saint's life is always new and surprising on one hand, but always "the same" on the other hand. The lives of the saints are told and retold on behalf of the listeners, in order to clarify the issues for them, to inspire them, and to confront them with choices that only they can make, for themselves.