Our Call To Holiness

"Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" -- Matthew 5:48

St. Louis de Montfort--that renowned Apostle of Mary--says to us: "Chosen soul, living image of God and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, God wants you to become holy like Him in this life, and glorious like Him in the next.

It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation. All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake, must lead you towards that end. Otherwise you are resisting God, in not doing the work for which He created you and for which He is even now keeping you in being. What a marvelous transformation is possible! Dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness, creature into Creator, man into God! A marvelous work, I repeat, so difficult in itself, and even impossible for a mere creature to bring about, for only God can accomplish it by giving His grace abundantly and in an extraordinary manner. The very creation of the universe is not as great an achievement as this.

"Chosen soul, how will you bring this about? What steps will you take to reach the high level to which God is calling you? The means of holiness and salvation are known to everybody, since they are found in the Gospel; the masters of the spiritual life have explained them; the saints have practiced them and shown how essential they are for those who wish to be saved and attain perfection. These means are: sincere humility, unceasing prayer, complete self-denial, abandonment to divine Providence, and obedience to the will of God. The grace and help of God are absolutely necessary for us to practice all these, but we are sure that grace will be given to all, though not in the same measure. I say "not in the same measure," because God does not give His graces in equal measure to everyone, although in His infinite goodness He always gives sufficient grace to each. A person who corresponds to great graces performs great works, and one who corresponds to lesser graces performs lesser works. The value and high standard of our actions corresponds to the value and perfection of the grace given by God and responded to by the faithful soul. No one can contest these principles. It all comes to this, then. We must discover a simple means to obtain from God the grace needed to become holy. It is precisely this I wish to teach you. My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God."

Mary Mediatrix of Grace

All graces come to us through Mary--Christ has earned them, but she distributes them. She cooperates with God in our sanctification and salvation. Like a father comes home and gives the contents of his hard-earned wage-packet to his wife and tells her buy and distribute to everyone in family what is needed, so too Mary distributes to us the graces of God. We ignore Mary at our peril.

At Our Lady's apparition at the Rue de Bac, in Paris, France, we see rays of light pouring forth from the rings on Our Lady's outstretched hands. When St. Catherine Labouré asked what these rays of light were, Our Lady replied that they were graces. Some were bright, others dull. Catherine asked what they signified. Our Lady told that the bright rays were graces that God gave to us through the hands of the Blessed Mother and the dull rays were those graces that God did not give. When asked why they were not given, Our Lady replied that the reason was that WE DIDN'T ASK.

Our Blessed Mother holds such a place in the economy of our redemption that some do not hesitate to state that devotion to Her is a necessary condition of salvation.

St. Albert the Great says: "They who are not thy servants, O Mary. shall perish."

St. Bonaventure repeats the same thought when he says: "They who neglect the service of Mary shall die in their sins." And again: "For them from whom Mary turns away her face there is not even a hope of salvation."

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a martyr of the second century, writes: "A sinner can be saved only through the holy Virgin who, by her merciful prayers, obtains salvation for so many who, according to strict justice, would be lost."

St. Alphonsus Liguori says: "It is impossible that a servant of Mary be damned, provided he serves Her faithfully and commends himself to her maternal protection."

St. Anselm writes: "He who turns to Thee and is regarded by Thee cannot be lost."

St. Antonine is of the same opinion. He says: "As it is impossible for them from whom Mary turns away her eyes of mercy to be saved, so it is necessary that they to whom She turns her eyes of mercy and for whom She intercedes to be saved and glorified."

We might apply here what St. Alphonsus says about devotion to Mary in general: "When we declare that it is impossible for a servant of Mary to be lost... we do not mean those who by their devotion to Mary think themselves warranted to sin freely. We state that these reckless people, because of their presumption, deserve to be treated with rigor and not with kindness. We speak here of the servants of Mary who, to the fidelity with which they honor and invoke Her, join the desire to amend their lives. I hold it morally impossible that these be lost."

It is clear from the above quotes that a certain measure of fidelity is required on the part of those who wish to gain the graces and special love, intercession and protection of Our Lady.

Only Saints Go To Heaven

In the heart of every right-thinking Catholic, God has implanted the desire to become a Saint. Yet few make a serious attempt to realize the ambition. The cause for this is, to a large extent, discouragement, due to the misunderstanding of what a Saint really is. What is a Saint? The answer usually returned to this question is: one who does extraordinary penances and works miracles.

Now, this is an incorrect description, for neither miracles nor great penances are essential. The man who works a miracle does not raise himself in God's eyes by it; and, while penance in some shape is necessary, still the teaching of the Saints on this difficult question is encouraging. What they direct is not bodily penances of a terrifying kind, but rather the strict avoidance of delicacies, softness, comfort. We are told to beware of injuring our health, and to eat enough plain food to enable us to work and pray without hindrance. There is ample opportunity for the severest mortification in the restraint of eyes and tongue, and in a warfare against the Seven Deadly Sins.

Thus, there is another definition of what a Saint is. It is this: One who, with the object of pleasing God, does his ordinary duties extraordinarily well. Such a life may be lived out without a single wonder in it, arouse little notice, be soon forgotten, and yet be the life of one of God's dearest friends. It is obviously an encouragement to look on sanctity in this way. When we see that those things which so terrified us in the lives of the Saints, because we felt we could not do them ourselves, are not the important part of their sanctity at all, we should feel heartened to begin today and make a serious effort for great holiness. Believe this: it is only the first few wrenches given to the will that really hurt.

Perhaps the following words of Cardinal Newman will tempt us to take a step forward on the road: "If you ask me what your are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first do not lie in bed beyond the time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God's glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening mediation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and your are already perfect."

Who are Called to be Saints?

Every person that is born is called to be a Saint. Take it as most certain that you--no matter how unfitted your life may seem for holiness--are being given graces sufficient, if corresponded with, to bring you to sanctity. We have already seen that nothing beyond our strength is expected; neither is sanctity the exclusive property of any grade or manner of life. Among the Saints canonized by the Church are kings and beggars, and representatives of every trade, slaves, hermits, city people, mothers of families, invalids, soldiers, and persons of every race and color. Since a canonized Saint is a pattern provided by God, it is evident that an invitation to become Saints is extended to men and women of every type. It is equally a fact that to those who seriously try to respond to His invitation, He gives help sufficient to carry them to the goal.

Watch how the thought of fame or gold moves men. What sufferings they will endure for a mere chance of earthly gain. And in the end, though disappointed themselves, they will fill the minds of their children with the same longings for worldly success, so that each generation sees the same weary beat of the pendulum--ambitious youth to soured age. Is it really worth the trouble? So many are handicapped by lack of health, or knowledge, or brains, that it never is a fair fight. Except for a few, striving is pure waste of time. How differently God deals with anyone striving after holiness. Here all is certain. Every effort gets its reward. Everything is made to favor us; for alike out of health and sickness, poverty and wealth, what looks good and what looks evil--can the man of good-will extract spiritual gain. Every reasonable request granted; obstacles removed for the asking; no trial beyond our strength permitted. In the ears of the world, this would sound like a fairy-tale, but it is, in sober truth, God's way of dealing with the earnest seeker after Heavenly riches. Surely, to announce calmly, as so many good people do, that they have no ambition to be Saints, is very ungenerous treatment of One so kind. As He has so plainly set His Heart upon our doing great things, let us resolve to please Him and return generosity for generosity.

I Am a Bundle of Weakness

"I am appalled at the thought of a life of constant effort to crush my nature into a new form. I have no strength of will, and such a life is beyond my powers." With such reasonings, we harden ourselves against the call which rings so often in our ears. We forget that the same holy lips which say, "Come follow Me," say also to all, "My yoke is sweet and My burden light," What, then, is wrong with us that we fear the yoke of Christ? It is this…our point of view. Unimportant ideas occupy the strongholds of our minds and shape our thoughts; while He, the owner of Eternity, is left only as one of the hundred interests in our lives, so that it is not surprising that the zeal, the courage, the ardor, that do big things, are spent on gains, or pleasure, which give a visible and rapid return, In a word, we undervalue holiness. Once we alter this--and little is required to do it--once we accept the fact that holiness is the most important thing in the world for us, and it will become the most natural thing in the world for us to strive after it. There lies the whole secret of effort. Make the goal attractive and reasonable, and we pursue it in spite of hardships and almost in spite of ourselves. The human mind works in that way.

Starting Again

Consider all the past as nothing, and say, like David: "Now I begin to love my God." It was in this manner that the one-time Christian persecutor, the Apostle St. Paul, acted; though, after his conversion, he had become a vessel of election, filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ, yet, to persevere and advance in the heavenly way, he made use of this means, for he said in his Epistle to the Philippians: "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended. But one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14).

Similarly, the glorious St. Anthony went from day to day, stimulating himself to virtue. St. Anastasius said of him that he always looked upon himself as a beginner, as if every day were the first in which he was serving God, and as if in the past he had done nothing good and were but just setting foot in the way of the Lord and taking the first steps on the road to Heaven. And this was the very last admonition he left to his monks at his death: "My sons," he said to them, "if you wish to advance in virtue and perfection, never give up the practice of considering each day that you are then beginning, and of conducting yourselves always as you did on the day you began."

Likewise, we find that St. Gregory, St. Bernard and St. Charles acted and advised others to act. To make clear to all the necessity and utility of this method, they made use of two beautiful comparisons, saying that we must act in this like travelers who do not regard the road they have gone over, but, rather, what remains for them to traverse and this they keep always before their eyes, even to their journey's end; or, like merchants eager for riches who make no account of what they have hitherto acquired, nor of the fatigue they have borne, but put all their thought and care upon new acquisitions, and upon daily multiplying their possessions, as if in the past they had made no profit at all.

Constant Renewal of Resolutions

St. Francis de Sales tells us that "We must begin with a strong and constant resolution to give ourselves wholly to God, professing to Him, in a tender, loving manner, from the bottom of our hearts, that we intend to be His without any reserve, and then we must often go back and renew this same resolution."

One of the means for the acquisition of perfection which was chiefly inculcated and much practiced by St. Philip Neri was a frequent renewal of good resolutions. St. Francis de Sales made from time to time a spiritual renovation, and always conceived in it new desires to serve God better. St. John Berchmans, at his very entrance into religion, planted in his heart a strong resolution to become a Saint, and then he not only remained constant in all the practices and resolutions which he took up for this end, but he went on daily gaining new vigor to his spiritual advantage.

Humility and Obedience in face of the Will of God

"All perfection is founded upon only two principles, by means of which, with due attention to the daily actions suited to our state, we shall certainly arrive at the summit and fullness of it. The first principle is a very low esteem for all created things, but, above all, for ourselves. This low esteem should show itself, in practice, by renouncing ourselves and all creatures; in our hearts, by a firm resolution; and in our lives, in such ways as may be suitable, especially by manifesting contentment and cheerfulness when the Lord takes from us any good. The second principle is a very high esteem of God, which may be easily acquired by the light of faith, as He is Omnipotent, the Supreme Good and our End; as also because He has loved us so much, and is ever present with us, and guides us in all things, both as to nature and grace, and, in particular, has called us and leads us by a special vocation to a lofty perfection. From this esteem there must certainly arise in us a great submission of will, and of every power and faculty, to His greater glory, without any mingling of our own interest, though it be ever so holy. At the same time, there will be great conformity with the Divine Will, which will be the actual measure of all our designs, affections, and works. Of this, all are capable; and all, with certainty, though not without crosses, can arrive at it" (Fr. Achille Gagliardi).

"A servant of God signifies one who has a great charity towards his neighbor, and an inviolable resolution to follow in everything the Divine Will; who bears with his own deficiencies, and patiently supports the imperfections of others." (St. Francis de Sales).

The whole life of this Saint, as well as of St. Vincent de Paul, was but a faithful and continual exercise of these virtues, on the occasions which every day presented themselves. In this way they both became great servants of God. In the Lives of the Fathers of the West, it is told of St. Fintan that he was daily visited by an angel, but that once the visit was omitted for several days. When the Saint had the happiness of seeing him again, he asked the angel why he had been so long deprived of his most sweet companionship. "Because," replied the angel, "I had to be present at the death of Motua, who was a great servant of God, and better than yourself, for he did what you have not done. This man never spoke a harsh word to anyone present, nor an unkind word of anyone absent. He never complained of heat or cold, nor of anything else, whatever it might be, or however it might happen; but always conformed himself to the will of God, in whose hands are all things."

Sin of Pride and Disobedience

The sin of Adam and Eve was one of pride and disobedience. The way back must be one of humility and obedience. As Eve showed pride and disobedience in her conversation with the evil angel, Our Lady, the new Eve, showed humility and obedience in her conversation with the good angel.

To do the will of another, requires great humility. It was always the principal study of St. Vincent de Paul to establish and perfect himself in these two principles. Therefore, as his profound humility made him believe himself incapable of great things, he thought only of fulfilling faithfully towards God the obligations of a true and perfect Christian. And since he knew, by heavenly illuminations, that all Christian perfection depends upon a good use of these two principles, he aimed at them alone and sought above all to penetrate them well and to fix them in his soul, that they might serve as an unerring rule and guide for all his actions.

"Perfection consists in one thing alone, which is doing the will of God. For, according to Our Lord's words, it suffices for perfection to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Him. Now, who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Christ better than he who seeks not to do his own will, but always that of God? Behold, now, how little is needed to become a Saint! Nothing more than to acquire the habit of willing, on every occasion, what God wills" (St. Vincent de Paul).

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word."

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