In recent articles I have been reflecting on the universal call to holiness. Our common vocation, rooted in Baptism, is to become a saint. We pursue holiness, however, in different ways according to our personal vocations. Blessed John Paul II, beatified just two weeks ago, canonized and beatified more men and women during his pontificate than any pope in history. By highlighting the heroic virtue of so many and raising them up for public veneration, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that all of the baptized from every walk of life are called to become saints. Since this Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I want to focus here on the call to holiness within the priesthood and religious life.
Some men are called by God to ordained ministry in the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Deacons, without sharing in the ministerial priesthood, are ordained to exercise ministry and service in the midst of the Church. Co-workers with the bishop and priests, they assist with the sacred liturgy, serve as heralds of the word and often undertake special works of charity in the name of the Church. Priests, who are the bishop’s principal collaborators, act in the person of Christ the Head and Shepherd of the Church and share his threefold office of teaching, governing and sanctifying the flock entrusted to their care.
The heart of priestly holiness consists in the exercise of pastoral charity, by which priests make a gift of themselves in the service of their people with the grace and strength provided by Christ, the Good Shepherd. The priest’s life is essentially eucharistic. He offers his life for the sanctification of his people, thus living out each day the mystery he celebrates at the altar. By his special sharing in the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, the ordained priest offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the name of Christ and the Church, thus enabling the faithful to fully exercise their common baptismal priesthood.
The priest renews the sacrifice of Calvary and nourishes the flock each time he offers the Mass for the glory of God and the sanctification of his people. He heals and reconciles them in the Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. The priest is an icon of Christ the Good Shepherd in the midst of his people. As St. John Vianney said, “The priest is not there for himself. He does not give absolution to himself; he does not administer the sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you!”
Some women and men are called to consecrated or religious life in the Church. Most consecrated persons are members of religious congregations, but all forms of consecrated life are characterized by the profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Church throughout the world and here in this Archdiocese has been enriched throughout our history by the generous dedication of these men and women whose heroic lives summon all of us to lift up our hearts beyond the mundane and recognize the presence and activity of Christ in our midst. Whether involved in active apostolates such as teaching or health care, or living hidden lives of prayer, these dedicated women and men give testimony to the Kingdom of God already in our midst and direct our attention and hope to its fulfillment in the Heavenly Kingdom.
The Church is a communion. “The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities. It is the reality of many members joined in a single body, the one Body of Christ.” (Bl. John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 46). This rich variety of vocations within the Church bears witness to this unity in diver-sity which is rooted in the life of the Holy Trinity. A spirituality rooted in communion enables us to respect and reverence our brothers and sisters within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God, and to help carry one another’s burdens.