“Holiness is the source. In Christ, the absolute holiness of God is hypostatically united to the holiness of man.. this holiness is the basis for redemption – also understood as the ‘re-evaluation’ of everything; God restores the value of everything in man, who is personally united with Him.. In this manner, Christ becomes the model of holiness. In Him, that holiness is in a way identical to redemption. In us, it has to depend on, first, the conversion to God, and second, re-evaluation of everything in accordance with the value that everything has in God, and which Christ the Lord has shown us.” – St John Paul II, “In God’s Hands, the spiritual diaries, 1962-2003”
I am presently reading the book from which the above quotation is taken. This book offers a deep and rare insight into the mind and the spiritual thoughts of a Pope – and not just any Pope, but one whom many loved so deeply and remember now with great affection and reverence.
This particular quotation appears within the first few pages of the book; it was written by Pope John Paul whilst still a Bishop, as part of his notes during a retreat given at the Convent of the Felician Sisters in Rome, in November 1962, and which addressed the Mystery of the Incarnation. He had arrived in Rome for the first session of the Second Vatican Council, at which he was participating.
I have now read the quotation a number of times and it has struck me deeply, particularly the idea of ‘conversion .. and .. re-evaluation’. I suspect that in many ways, this idea will act as a summary for the remainder of the Diaries, as I suspect this was a core feature of the spirituality of Pope John Paul; constant conversion and constant re-evaluation of all things in the light of God, Who is all holy and Who is revealed perfectly in Christ.
This, surely, contains echoes of the call of the Second Vatican Council with regard to the ‘universal call to holiness’, which was carefully examined and placed before us in ‘Lumen Gentium‘, the ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’, chapter five of which tells us –
“Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness”
John Paul was writing this section of his spiritual diary exactly two years before Lumen Gentium was published by the Council. But the thinking is the same. Interestingly, writing about his participation at the Council a month before he wrote the words at the top of this page, he had noted his sense of the Council itself –
“I have realised that all those present are connected in one spirit and it is the Spirit of Christ, the Son of God. I experienced this unity in diversity very clearly.. not a gathering of many separate units, but the unity of substance. It is the substance of thought, doctrine – and it is attended to by the Pope and the Council. But it is also the substance of life, morals, which we realise through the one Church, through, above all, the Sacraments..”
And so, the Spirit of God is like a living river, flowing through the Church with divine power and washing over all of her members, while at the same time, holding all of them in unity as one Body, and calling each one to holiness.
Something else that strikes me is how deeply Pope John Paul responded to this action of the Spirit. Reading his diaries, it is already clear from the outset that for him, the spiritual life was the focus of all and the reason for all; the path upon which everything else was placed. All the events of his life were seen in the light of this thinking.
The Gospel of St Matthew tells us to “store up treasures for yourselves in Heaven.. for where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (cf.Mt6:20-21). In the person of Pope John Paul, that treasure was Heaven, and it was there, too, that his heart clearly lay.
Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, also recently spoke at length about the Second Vatican Council and the universal call to holiness, during a General Audience given on 19th November 2014 –
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning.
A great gift of the Second Vatican Council was to have retrieved a vision of the Church founded on communion, and to have also embodied the principle of authority and hierarchy in this context. This has helped us to better understand that all Christians, as baptized, are equal in dignity before God and are united by vocation, which is to holiness (cf. Const. Lumen Gentium, 39-42). Now we ask: what does this universal call to holiness consist of? And how can we achieve it?
1. First, we must bear in mind that holiness is not something that we can procure for ourselves or obtain with our quality and our skills. Holiness is gifted to us by the Lord Jesus, when He takes us up with Him and clothes us in Himself, making us like Him. In the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says that “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”(Eph 5.25 to 26). There, holiness truly is the most beautiful face of the Church, the most beautiful face: it is rediscovering ourselves in communion with God, in the fullness of His life and His love. It is understandable, then, that holiness is not the prerogative of only a few: holiness is a gift that is offered to all, without exception, so that it constitutes the distinctive character of every Christian.
2. All of this helps us to realize that the call to holiness is not just for bishops, priests or religious … No. We are all called to become saints! So often, we are tempted to think that holiness is granted only to those who have the opportunity to break away from the ordinary tasks, to devote themselves to prayer. But it is not so! Some people think that holiness is closing your eyes and putting on a pious face… No! That is not holiness! Holiness is something greater, more profound that God gifts us. Indeed, it is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints. And everyone in the particular condition and state of life in which they find themselves. Are you consecrated? Be holy living your gift and your ministry with joy. Are you married? Be holy loving and taking care of your husband or your wife, as Christ did with the Church. Are you a baptized person who is not married? Be holy performing your work with honesty and competence and giving time to the service of others. “But, father, I work in a factory … I work as an accountant, always with the numbers, I cannot be a saint there…” – “Yes, you can! There, where you work you can become a saint. God gives you the grace to become a saint. God communicates with you.” Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by passionately teaching your children or grandchildren to know and follow Jesus. And this takes a lot of patience, to be a good parent, a good grandfather, a good mother, a good grandmother, it takes a lot of patience and this patience is the holiness exercising patience. Are you a catechist, educator or volunteer? Be holy by becoming a visible sign of God’s love and His presence beside us. This is it: every state of life leads to holiness, always! At home, on the streets, at work, at church, in the moment and with the state of life that you have, a door is opened on the road to sainthood. Do not be discouraged to travel this road. God gives you the grace to do so. And this is all that the Lord asks, is that we are in communion with Him and serve others. If lived in communion with the Lord and in the service of others.
3. At this point, each of us can examine our conscience, we can do it now, everyone answering for himself, inside, in silence: So far how have we responded to God’s call to holiness? But do I want to improve, to be a better Christian? This is the path to holiness. When the Lord calls us to be saints, he does not call us to something hard or sad… Not at all! It is an invitation to share His joy, to live and offer every moment of our lives with joy, at the same time making it a gift of love for the people around us. If we understand this, everything changes and takes on a new meaning, a beautiful meaning, to begin with the little everyday things. An example. A lady goes to the market to shop and meets another neighbor and starts talking and then comes the gossip and this lady says, “No, no, no I will not gossip about anyone.” That’s one step towards holiness, this helps you to become more holy. Then, at home, your son asks you to talk to him about his fantasies: “Oh, I’m so tired, I worked so hard today…” – “But sit down and listen to your son, he needs this.” And you sit, you listen with patience… This is a step towards holiness. Then at end the day, we are all tired, but prayer… We must pray! That’s one way to holiness. Then Sunday comes and you go to Mass and to take Communion, at times, a good confession that cleans us up a little. This is a step towards holiness. Then, Our Lady, so good, so beautiful, I take up the Rosary and pray. This is a step towards holiness. And so many steps towards holiness, little ones… Then I go down the street, I see a poor person, someone in need, I ask him, give him something, another step towards holiness. Small things are small steps toward holiness. And every step towards holiness will make us better people, free from selfishness and being closed in on ourselves, and open us up to our brothers and sisters and their needs.
Dear friends, in the First Letter of Saint Peter we hear this exhortation: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, (4.10 to 11). Here is the call to holiness! Accept it with joy, and let us support one another, because we do not travel the path to holiness by ourselves, no, each on their own, but together, that one body which is the Church, loved and made holy by the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us go forward with courage, on this path towards holiness. Thank you.