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Brookline Carmel Bulletin                        

September 18, 1960

Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)


The Duty of Tending to Perfection



It is a serious error to believe that all Christians are not obliged to become saints.  During his Pontificate Pius XI vigorously proposed the true doctrine on this point:  Christ has made the Church holy in itself and productive of sanctity in others, and all those who following the guidance of the Church must, according to the will of God, tend to sanctity of life.  ‘This is the will of God’, teaches Saint Paul.  ‘your sanctification.  And Our Lord Himself declares what Christian perfection must be like:  ‘Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.’  Let no one therefore believe that this command of Christ was given only to a few chosen men while others must be content with a more inferior virtue.  Absolutely everybody is included in this law.  There is no exception.”


Two arguments are adduced from reason to support the teaching of the Church.  In the first place, perfection, the full development of Charity, is the end of all the other commandments.  That is to say, the other commandments were given to us for the express purpose of enabling us to preserve and strengthen Charity.  But Charity, which is the Love of God, is capable of infinite development.  We cannot set bounds to it, therefore.  Once again in the words of Pius XI:  To hold that there are limits, or to believe that we have already reached the height of sanctity would only offend the generosity of our Savior.”


It is evident, also, that the obligation to fulfill the duties of our state in life includes the obligation of fulfilling them with as much perfection, exactness and constancy as possible.  But he, who does this, as Pope Benedict XV has pointed out, is already a saint.  Therefore, everyone is called to sanctity of life.


Perhaps one reason why the opinion that all men are not called to holiness of life became widespread was the false notion that all saints necessarily experience charisms and extraordinary spiritual phenomena.  That this is not so is clearly demonstrated by Saint Paul.  He dispenses with the necessity of charisms in his first letter to the Corinthians, 12, 27.   He does away with the necessity of extraordinary phenomena in laying no importance upon the raptures that took him into heaven to hear utterances beyond man’s power to reproduce; he gloried instead in his infirmities.  The latter are the common lot of mankind.  Besides, it has been clearly shown in recent times that not only the devil is able to counterfeit visions and ecstasy; mental aberrations can cause them also.


The truth that all men are called to sanctity makes us stop and wonder whether or not it is necessary to enter religious life, that is, to embrace the Evangelical Counsels, in order to become saints.  Many religious state that it was their desire to sanctify themselves that led them to undertake life under the vows.  Perhaps it is foolish to do so.  All Christians are obliged to become saints, and there exist sufficient means to fashion saints of them, as Pius XI affirms.  The vows would seem superfluous, then.  But no, the fact is everyone is bound to use ordinary means to become holy; to use special, very efficacious means is not.  One is free to do so.  That is why the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience remain a matter of counsel.  The ordinary Christian, however, cannot ignore the Counsels.  He must still live according to their spirit.


In the abstract (not considering this or that person in the concrete), the religious life is a far more sublime state than any other vocation in the Church (in a certain sense it is higher than the priesthood).  It remains a vocation, nevertheless, to which God does not call everyone.  Whether one has a vocation to it or not is a matter to be settled between God and the individual soul.  If one does embrace the Evangelical Counsels he does attain a degree of sanctity that is accidentally, not essentially higher than that attained by ordinary Christians.  (E.g., in heaven, virgins shall constitute a special Court of the Lamb, following Him wherever He goes, singing a canticle that none but themselves can sing).  The same is true for those who, though remaining among the laity, give their lives a religious orientation by joining a Third Order.

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