Q&A with Fr John Flader: Out of the Catholic comfort zone

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Women pray during a Holy Hour. Women in the Church will be looking to the results of the summit on abuse in Rome with more than passing interest. Photo: CNS, Gregory A. Shemitz

Dear Father, In the gospel there are radical counsels, like take up your cross, blessed are the poor in spirit, sell what you have, etc. In view of this, is it okay just to be a sacramental Catholic, attending Mass on Sundays and saying some prayers, or should we do more than that?

I think many people are content to be “sacramental Catholics”, as you call them. They consider it enough to attend Mass on Sundays, go to confession from time to time and say a few prayers.

To be honest, those who do that are already in the top echelon of Catholics in this country, where only some twelve per cent attend Mass regularly on Sundays.

But even they should not rest easy. After all, we are called to holiness, and this means getting out of our comfort zone.

The call to holiness is clear in the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen gentium: “It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society” (n. 39).

Before the Council someone might have been forgiven for thinking that holiness was only for those extraordinary people, the canonised saints, whose feasts we celebrate in the Mass.

I am not called to be like them, we are inclined to think. No, we are probably not called to be like them, but we can still be saints whoever, wherever, we are.

In one of former papal photographer Arturo Mari’s famous photos, he shows Pope John Paul II celebrating his final international World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. April 2, 2020, is the 15th anniversary of the pope’s death in 2005. (CNS photo/Arturo Mari)

St John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte in 2001: “As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonise a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life” (n. 31).

Among the lay people beatified or canonised in recent times have been Pier Giorgio Frassatti, Louis and Zelie Martin, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Guadalupe Ortiz de Landázurri and Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.

Indeed, Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, wrote: “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (n. 14).

What does it mean then to strive for holiness? First, it does not mean that we commit no sins. We all sin.

A saint is someone who struggles to avoid sinning and who gets up and begins again after each fall, going frequently to the sacrament of penance.

Confession itself is a great means of growing in holiness, as St John Paul II said in an address to priests at the beginning of Lent, 1981: “We recall that confession periodically renewed, the so-called confession ‘of devotion’, has always accompanied the ascent to holiness in the Church.”

Pier Giorgio Frassati is among the lay people beatified or canonised in recent times. Photo: Luciana Frassati/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Pier Giorgio Frassati is among the lay people beatified or canonised in recent times. Photo: Luciana Frassati/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

On the positive side, seeking holiness certainly means that we strive to attend Mass as often as we can, not limiting ourselves to going only on Sundays.

The Eucharist is an especially powerful means of growing in holiness, through the readings and homily, the prayers, and especially the reception of Our Lord himself in Holy Communion.

Naturally, a saint is someone who spends more time in prayer each day. This may include mental prayer, the rosary, reading of scripture, spiritual reading, etc. And a saint will be generous in serving those in the family, those in need, etc.

In summary, holiness consists essentially in love for God, and love for God consists in doing his will. We can all strive to respond promptly to whatever God is asking of us in each moment, in the ordinary circumstances of our life.

The more we strive for holiness, the more our light will shine out in this world of so much moral and spiritual darkness. We will make the world a better place and more people will be helped to come closer to God by our example and word.

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