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The laity answer God's call in a variety of ways

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 24 November 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church is holy and all her members are called to holiness. Lay people participate in the Church's holiness as fully qualified members of the Christian community. This participation, which we could call ontological, also becomes for lay people a personal ethical commitment to sanctification. In this capacity and in this vocation to holiness, all the members of the Church are equal (cf. Gal 3:28).

The degree of personal holiness does not depend on the position occupied in society or in the Church, but solely on the degree to which charity is lived (cf. 1 Cor 13). A lay person who generously welcomes divine charity in his heart and in his life is holier than a priest or bishop who accepts it half-heartedly.

2. Christian holiness is rooted in adherence to Christ through faith and Baptism. This sacrament is at the origin of ecclesial communion in holiness, as is clear from Paul's text: "One Lord, one faith, one Baptism" (Eph 4:5). Vatican II quoted this text, and drew from it the statement on the commonality that links Christians in Christ and in the Church (cf. LG 32). The ontological, ecclesiological and ethical holiness of every believer, whether cleric or lay person, is connected to this participation in Christ's life through Baptism.

The Council affirms: "The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to his own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the Baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy" (LG 40). Holiness means belonging to God. This belonging is realized in Baptism, when Christ takes possession of the human being, to make him "share in the divine nature" (cf. 2 Pet 1:4) which is in him by virtue of the Incarnation [1] . Thus Christ truly becomes, as has been said, "the life of the soul." The sacramental character imprinted on the person by Baptism is the sign and the bond of consecration to God. This is why Paul, speaking of the baptized, calls them "saints" (cf. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1, etc.).

3. But as we have said, the commitment to ethical holiness derives from this ontological holiness. As the Council states, all must "hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received" (LG 40). All must strive for holiness, because they already possess the seed in themselves. They must nurture this holiness which has been given them. Everyone must live "as is fitting among saints" (Eph 5:3), and put on, "as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Col 3:12). In the baptized, the holiness that they possess shields them neither from temptation nor from every fault, because the weakness of human nature persists in this life. In this regard, the Council of Trent taught that no one is able to avoid even venial sin throughout his life without a special privilege from God, such as the Church believes was granted to the Blessed Virgin (cf. DS 1573). This leads to prayer to obtain an ever new grace from the Lord, perseverance in good, and the forgiveness of sins: "Forgive us our debts" (Mt 6:12).

4. According to the Council, all of Christ's followers, including the laity, are called to the perfection of love (LG 40). To strive for perfection is not the privilege of some, but an obligation for all the members of the Church. The commitment to Christian perfection means persevering on the way of holiness. As the Council states: "The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of his disciples of every condition. He himself stands as the author and consummator of this holiness of life: 'Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt 5:48)" (LG 40). Therefore, "all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (LG 40). Precisely through the sanctification of each person, a new human perfection is introduced in earthly society. In the words of the Servant of God, Elizabeth Leseur, "Every soul that rises raises the world with it." The Council teaches that "by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society" (LG 40).

5. At this point it is necessary to observe that the infinite richness of Christ's grace in which humanity participates is transformed into an abundance and variety of gifts with which each may serve and benefit others in the one body of the Church. When St. Peter exhorted Christians throughout Asia Minor to holiness, he recommended: "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Pet 4:10).

Vatican II also states: "The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one--that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God" (LG 41). Thus it recalls the way of holiness for bishops, priests, deacons and clerics who aspire to become Christ's ministers, and those lay persons who, "chosen of God and called by the bishop spend themselves completely in apostolic labors" (LG 41). But it expressly considers the way of holiness for Christians committed to marriage: "Married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path (to holiness) by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner, they offer all men the example of unwearying and generous love; in this way they build up the brotherhood of charity; in so doing, they stand as the witnesses and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church; by such lives, they are a sign and a participation in that very love with which Christ loved his bride and for which he delivered himself up for her" (LG 41).

The discussion can and must be extended to the circumstances of people who live alone, either by free choice or through events and special circumstances, such as unmarried men and women, widows and widowers, those who are separated or distant. The divine call to holiness is valid for all, realized in the form of charity. The discussion can and must be extended, as at the 1987 Synod (cf. CL 17), to those who in their ordinary professional life and daily work are working for the good of their brothers and sisters and the progress of society, imitating Jesus the worker. It can and must be extended, finally, to all those who, as the Council states, "are weighed down with poverty, infirmity and sickness, as well as those who must bear various hardships or who suffer persecution for justice sake--may they all know they are united with the suffering Christ in a special way for the salvation of the world" (LG 41).

6. Therefore many aspects and forms of Christian holiness are open to lay people in the various circumstances of their life. They are called to imitate Christ, and from him they can receive the necessary grace to fulfill their mission in the world. All are invited by God to walk the way of holiness and to attract to this path their companions in life and work in the world of temporal affairs.

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 7, a. 13; q. 8, a. 5"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je salue avec plaisir les personnes de langue française ici présentes, et notamment le groupe d’employés des sanctuaires de Lourdes qui se dévouent au service des pèlerins de Notre–Dame. A tous, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I gladly greet the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the members of the General Chapter of the Daughters of our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and the Students of Church History from the Archdiocese of Melbourne in Australia.

Upon all present I invoke the abundant grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini del Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini del Giappone.

Sta ormai terminando l’anno liturgico della Chiesa e sta per iniziare il nuovo. Esprimo il desiderio che voi tutti possiate inserirvi più profondamente nella vita della Chiesa, sotto la guida della Madonna Santissima. Questo è un augurio, che affido alla stessa Madre di Dio e Madre nostra, mentre imparto a ciascuno di voi la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung heibe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich willkommen. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den zum Generalkapitel in Rom versammelten Marienschwestern von der Unbefleckten Empfängnis.

Euch allen, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie all jenen, die uns in diesem Augenblick geistlich verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora con gran afecto a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos países de América Latina y de España. En particular, al grupo de sacerdotes latinoamericanos, que hacen en Roma un curso de espiritualidad sacerdotal.

A todos bendigo de corazón.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa,

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs, perseverai na obra da vossa santificação, lembrados de que uma alma que se eleva, eleva o mundo. Que o amor de Deus reine nos vossos corações, e a terra será nova! As maiores felicidades para vós e para os vossos queridos, com a Bênção que vos dou em nome do Senhor.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski: ze Skawiny – parafia św. Judy Tadeusza, z Brzeska – parafia Miłosierdzia Bożego, z Pszowa – chór “ Cecylia ” z sanktuarium Matki Bożej, prócz tego Kapituła Generalna sióstr ze Zgromadzenia Maryi Niepokalanej oraz różne grupy turystyczne: z Krakowa–Gdowa – “ Krak ”, z Opola – “ Itaka ”, z Petersburga – “ Voyager ” oraz z Miejskiej Górki grupa “ Anda ”; na koniec wszystkich innych uczestników audiencji, pochodzących z kraju oraz z emigracji.

Ai gruppi di fedeli italiani

Accolgo con gioia il folto gruppo di Religiose operatrici sanitarie negli ospedali o al servizio delle Consorelle anziane e malate. Carissime, il Convegno al quale state partecipando sia occasione di valido aggiornamento e di interiore rigenerazione, nello scambio delle esperienze e nella preghiera comune. Portate a quanti sono affidati alle vostre cure la mia affettuosa benedizione. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli presenti. La prossima domenica segnerà l’inizio dell’Avvento, il periodo liturgico che precede e prepara la celebrazione del Santo Natale. Auguro a ciascuno di voi di aprire il cuore al Signore, per preparare la strada a Colui che viene a colmare con la luce della sua presenza ogni nostra umana debolezza. Vi accompagni in questo impegno anche la mia apostolica benedizione.

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