Answering our call to holiness Print E-mail
Bishop's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Nov. 05, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

As I write this column, we are in the midst of two days of the Church year, which call us both to hope and rejoicing, and also to deep prayer and reflection upon the core reality of Christianity.

The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls are, for the Church, where the rubber meets the road.

It is the time when we, who make up the Church Militant -- the Church still fighting and struggling in this life -- recall the whole Church Triumphant and Church Suffering.

Around this time of year, I’m often drawn to focusing upon All Souls Day, given that many have forgotten the need to pray and offer sacrifices for the dead.

Universal Call to Holiness

With the Solemnity of All Saints falling this year on a Sunday, however, it provides us with a fantastic opportunity to focus upon something which is at one and the same time, both a source of hope and of challenge, that is “the Universal Call to Holiness.”

Through the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium, and affirmed in a particular way by Saint John Paul the Great, many in the Church have been reawakened to the fact that sanctity, or holiness, is not just the purview of the canonized saints of the Church.

Nor is holiness simply a nice idea, enshrined by the beauty of Christian art and the lofty ideas of theology. And it is certainly not a facade that is to be worn by “Church people.”

Holiness/sanctity is that for which each and every man, woman, or child who calls themselves “Christian” is called to strive.

Holiness is the call to pick up the cross and slog it out, to recognize one’s faults and failings, to seek mercy and forgiveness, and to try again.

The call to holiness does not mean a release from all suffering, nor a direct reprieve from all of the crosses that surround us, but it does mean an opportunity to have those things transformed into a means of redemption, of deep joy, and of life.

Holiness expressed in the Gospel

The call to holiness is expressed in our Gospel reading from the Solemnity of All Saints (Mt 5:1-12), which calls those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are persecuted and insulted, blessed!

It says that those who suffer can be happy! It does not say that the suffering is taken away in this life, but that it is transformed!

We might as well call that fifth chapter of Matthew the instruction book of the Universal Call to Holiness, and it might as well have been the guidebook for the just-concluded Synod on the Family.

After Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes, He goes on to discuss our call to witness (Mt 5:13-16), and the reality of “the law,” and the need to seek after righteousness (5:17-20).

He discusses anger and the essential need to forgive (5:21-26), touches on the evils of adultery (5:27-30) and divorce (5:31-32), the need to be honest (5:33-37), to avoid retaliation (5:38-42), and to love our enemies (5:43-47). And in the end, after mentioning so many of the sins and failings which plague marriages and families to this day, He provides the most difficult challenge of all -- “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).”

It’s almost unbelievable. Jesus demonstrates that He understands so much of our human condition, He acknowledges the suffering and the reality of sin in human relationships, and then He tells us to strive to be perfect saints. Surely that’s impossible, no?

Of course, with God it is not impossible. And we commemorate that on the Solemnity of All Saints. Countless women and men have strained toward and reached that goal in this life, and we are called to do the same.

The reality is that there are many who still respond to that call -- especially young people!

When I spend time with our seminarians, and with the young women and men involved with St. Paul’s at the UW in Madison and St. Augustine’s in Platteville, and when I get to know more and more young families around the diocese, I am blown away by their commitment to living lives aimed at holiness.

They are not perfect and they do not claim to be, but they are striving to get there with the help of God. It’s inspiring and it’s a challenge in my own attempts at holiness.

Witnesses to the synod

In some ways, I think that the witness of these faithful married couples provided one of the greatest inspirations and challenges to the Synod Fathers of the just-concluded Synod of Bishops on the Family.

The synod was motivated by the truth that our world is in a troubled moment. The Church sees the state of the family, the reality of broken marriages, and suffering that is being unleashed upon so many, and she desires to do more.

There were some involved with the synod who argued that given such suffering, especially in the area of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, perhaps a mode of accommodation is now in order; perhaps, in response to human suffering, the Church should adjust and change her teaching so that those who are suffering from the results of human sinfulness would experience relief if the Church lowered the bar a bit.

After all, people will not sin if we stop calling sins, sins. Perhaps, it was posited, we are asking too much.

I give every benefit of the doubt that those who proposed such things were motivated by a very deep compassion and desire to diminish suffering. Unfortunately, such an approach will never succeed.

It will never succeed because it is not the approach of Jesus Christ, who does not lower the bar. He encourages us, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!”

And the Synod Fathers did not have to look far to see that there are many, many couples throughout the world who prove to us that the Church, inspired by our Lord, is not asking too much. These couples are responding with heroic fidelity and love.

At the close of the synod, Pope Francis named one such married couple – Louis and Zélie Martin – the Church’s newest canonized saints.

Responding to suffering

The Church has a way of responding to human suffering. It is the way of Jesus. It is the way of All Saints. It is the way of the “Universal Call to Holiness.”

We must recall and proclaim this universal call to holiness, we must continue to strive to live it ourselves and --this is one of the things Pope Francis is reminding us of so well -- we must accompany those who have not yet heard the call, and who are struggling fiercely.

And so, just as I discussed in this space last week, let us continue to prepare ourselves for the Year of Mercy by recognizing the need in our own lives for God’s mercy, as well as our call to holiness.

Let us walk with one another and provide a witness to mercy, demonstrating how Jesus Christ desires to take us where they are at and to call them to somewhere greater -- to a life of conversion and holiness.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! May God bless each one of you!

Praised be Jesus Christ!