The Church, Holiness and Perfect Charity

4/3/2011

The Church is the Body of Christ and so shares in his essential holiness. This is worth pondering further!  The Church was born from the wounded side of Christ as he hung upon the cross. (Jn. 19:34). He is the Head, we are his members.  Together, Head and members, Christ and his Church, we are the Body of Christ. It is simply impossible to separate Christ from his Church.

Through  the  Sacrament  of Baptism we are initiated into the Church and so participate in the Church’s holiness. We draw divine life from the Church and are nourished by the Church as by a  loving mother. Baptism into the Church truly begins our initiation into the holiness of God! Through faith and Baptism we become living members of the Body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:1). We enter into an intimate communion with the Body of the Risen Lord through the Holy Spirit who makes us living stones in this holy temple. (1 Pt. 2:5). Baptized into Christ’s death, we die to sin. We rise victorious with Christ from the waters of Baptism, to begin a new life, sharing in the power of his resurrection through the gift of his Holy Spirit who comes to dwell within us.

The sacraments are the special channels of grace, established by Christ in his Church, that enable us to live this divine life. “The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1210). The Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist) lay the foundation of the Christian life.  They incorporate us into Christ and the Church and equip us with the supernatural grace, the virtues and spiritual gifts necessary to grow toward full maturity in Christ, that is, to grow in holiness.
When we begin to recognize our high calling, we see how utterly unworthy of our dignity it is to settle for a life of moral or spiritual mediocrity and shallow religiosity. The call to Baptism is the call to heroic sanctity, the call to become a saint; nothing less. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48).

Our challenge is to embrace and proclaim anew this high standard of ordinary Christian living. Holiness is not the prerogative of an elite few in the Church.  It is the fundamental vocation which every Christian re-ceives in Baptism. As the Second Vatican Council clearly teaches, “All Christians in any state and walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” (LG, 40).

This is the essence of holiness: perfect charity.  To be holy is to love.  It is to love perfectly as Christ loves.  This perfect love of God and neighbor is beyond our mere human strength to realize but not beyond our hope, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5). Pope Benedict writes about this divine source of love in his first encyclical letter. “Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. Both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love.” (God is Love, 18). Holiness, too, grows as love is put into action.