The Supernatural Gambit of 1964
Life’s most important things get little attention. Like the Pope’s recent letter on holiness: Gaudete et Exultate (Rejoice and be Glad). He inconveniently reminds Christians of their call to holiness. Baptism is a call to holiness, to become a saint. It’s a vocation to the Life of Christ. The Church pulled this teaching from its treasure chest of wisdom, dusted it off, and polished it up in 1964. It was the Second Vatican Council’s document absurdly titled, “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” Clergy, seminarians and other aficionados call it “Lumen Gentium,” which means the “Light of the Peoples,” in Latin. It should’ve been called “Sainthood is for You!”
In 1964, the Church excavated this teaching, like an old relic from the catacombs. Well, it was about time. In a century when neo-pagan, ex-Christian countries were bloodletting themselves to death and incinerated millions in a utopia-making fantasy, when eugenics promised a better breed, when sex became sterile and sterility became sexual, when the family served work rather than work serving the family, when we relegated millions to abject poverty and millions of others to affluence, when we sucked millions of unborn babies into sinks, when we lived on the verge of vaporizing the world with nukes, when we were but fifty years away from redefining marriage and furthermore re-hormoning and re-plumbing the human body, the Catholic Church was one of those clumsy, incompetent and prophetic voices asking the golden question: What is man? The United Nations was another clumsy and incompetent organization posing the same question, some nineteen years before 1964. Its Preamble pre-echoed the Catholic Church’s question on June 26, 1945:
WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED:
· To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and…
· To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and…
· To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and…
· To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…
AND FOR THESE ENDS:
· To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and…
· To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and…
· To ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and…
· To employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.
It’s a sign of the times and a message from Providence. It reads like CliffsNotes of Catholic Social Doctrine. But beneath the noble outlook, something else had to be accounted for: the need to purify the human “heart” – the “will.” Only grace – the work of the Holy Spirit – can do that. In 1964, the Church reminded us that this is possible. The baptized must encounter God – and find holiness – in the empathy, suffering, sorrow, grief, doubts, failures, setbacks, joys and pleasures of ordinary human life.
Here’s a digest of that teaching. It’s the basis of Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exultate (Rejoice and be Glad), his recent letter on holiness. He’s putting all his chips on one number: Grace. It’s his supernatural gambit. He’s getting us ready for the Last Judgment. Perhaps he’s going head-to-head with a forthcoming Antichrist. This summer, I’ll share key passages of the Pope’s letter with you. But first, here’s what 1964 had to say about it. It’s beautiful. And hopeful.
THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO HOLINESS
Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5, digested.
The Lord Jesus … preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author … of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all of their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God's gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints,” and to put on “as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience,” and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things we all need God's mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts.”
[Everyone] is called to the fullness of the Christian life and perfect charity. This holiness promotes a more human manner of living in this earthly society. To reach this perfection, the faithful must use their strength as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps, conform themselves to His image and seek the will of the Father. They must devote themselves… to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.
The duties of life are many, but there is one holiness cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk in his own personal gifts and duties in faith, inspiring hope and charity.
Priests, through Holy Orders, form the spiritual crown of the bishops. … They should preserve the bond of priestly communion, and they should abound in every spiritual good and present to all men a living witness to God. All this they should do in emulation of those priests who often, down through the course of the centuries, left an outstanding example of the holiness of humble and hidden service. … All priests, and especially those who are called "diocesan priests” … should keep continually before their minds the fact that their faithful loyalty and generous cooperation with their bishop is of the greatest value in their growth in holiness.
Married couples and Christian parents should follow their path to holiness by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should teach their offspring Christian doctrine and virtues. In this way, they offer everyone the example of untiring and generous love and build up the brotherhood of charity. They stand as witnesses and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church. By their lives, they are signs of the love with which Christ loved His Bride and for which He delivered Himself up for her. So too do widows and single people contribute to the holiness and mission of the Church.
May all those who are weighed down with poverty, infirmity and sickness, as well as those who must bear various hardships or who suffer persecution for justice sake, may they all know they are united with Christ’s suffering in a special way for the salvation of the world. The Lord called them blessed in His Gospel and they are those whom "the God of all graces, who has called us unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself, after we have suffered a little while, perfect, strengthen and establish.”
Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness …. Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul. Let neither the use of the things of this world nor attachment to riches, which is against the spirit of evangelical poverty, hinder them in their quest for perfect love. Let them heed the admonition of the Apostle to those who use this world. Let them not come to terms with this world. For this world, as we see it, is passing away.
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor