“This is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thes. 4:3). This truth, which is so clearly expressed in the Scriptures, is the principle and foundation of the Christian life, of all pastoral planning and pastoral work. It has practical and far-reaching consequences for each individual Christian, for every household, for every parish community, indeed for the whole Church. God creates us for holiness. God calls us to become saints.
One of the greatest single contributions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was its clear and em- phatic presentation of this universal call to holiness. Like the wise steward in the Gospel parable (Mt 13:52) who brings from his storehouse both the old and the new, the Council Fathers represented a Gospel truth that has been present from the beginning, though frequently overlooked. Chapter 5 of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) is wholly dedicated to this foundational truth, that all Christians, in virtue of our baptism, are called to holiness. This conciliar teaching is not merely a spiritual veneer, but the very heart of the Council’s teaching on the nature of the Church.
The Church is clearly more than meets the eye. Though having a visible hierarchical structure, established by Christ upon the foundation of the apostles, the Church is also a “mystery,” that is, a sign and instrument of the unity that God intends for the human family. As such, the Church is a people gathered together into the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to share in the very holiness of God, who is love. Though hu-man sinfulness and the many harmful divisions which disfigure the Body of Christ too often fail to manifest this deep truth to the world, the Church is essentially a communion of love.
The Church is holy. She belongs to the Jesus Christ, the Word of God who alone is holy, who became man, shed his blood and gave his life to sanctify and redeem her and make her his own. This intimate communion of the Church with the Holy One is beautifully expressed in the image of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. Eph 5:32).
At the dawn of the third Christian millennium, Pope John Paul II wrote in Novo Millennio Ineunte, “Holiness, whether ascribed to Popes well-known to history or to humble lay and religious figures, from one continent to another of the globe, has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ.” (NMI7). Holy men and women offer the most credible form of testi-mony to the truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Though we are often painfully aware of the weakness and sinfulness of the Church’s members, her essential holiness remains one of the Church’s principal and defining marks. As we profess in the Creed: “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”