One of the most important seasons in the Church’s calendar is the season of Lent. We celebrate special seasons by remembering the special people in our lives. For instance, family gatherings and traditions become more important for us, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Lent is less of a “social” season than it is a “spiritual” season. We become more introspective and aware of our spiritual well-being, less festive and more cerebral. So, at Lent, several matters of our spiritual lives tug a bit more at our thoughts and even our souls, calling us to think deeply about two particular areas of life. First, of course, is holiness—our closeness to God and to “Godly” things. Secondly, we start to think of our relationship with the Church.
The Second Vatican Council stressed the importance of personal relationships with God. In the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes), people of this age are touched by the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties, and these aspects of life affect the lives of the followers of Christ. Indeed, write the councilor fathers, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in the hearts of the followers of Christ. Indeed, it should be noted, there is a depth of mystical mystery in every human life that resonates with the living presence of God. We know this as grace—the living presence of God’s life within and around us. When was the last time you sat or knelt and thought about grace? Thinking about God’s life within us truly stirs up what Pope St. John Paul the Great referred to when he spoke with us about the ardor for the love of God. Ardor is that intense, burning devotion and zeal for a closeness to God. This, the stuff of which saints are made—depth of love for God!
All the faithful of Christ are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.
“The world is too much with us,” a sonnet by William Wordsworth, published in 1807, is one of the central compositions of the English Romantic Movement. The poem laments the withering connection between humankind and nature, blaming industrial society for replacing that connection with material pursuits. This thought is certainly not lost on the modern man and woman, where our natural union with God withers by the absorption of humanity in the relativism and selfishness prompted by modern culture, such as it is. As society is being suffocated by a transition from Christian values and norms, a vacuum is being created with little room for a deeper sense of the authentic purpose of life: the knowledge and service of God.
With such thoughts, we turn back to Vatican II and its considerations for holiness—especially as we move through the weeks of Lent. It may be easier for us to reflect, during this Lenten season, on one of the pastoral constitutions of the council: Lumen Gentium, (the teaching of the council that offers the identity of the Church).
It is evident to everyone that, “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; by this holiness, as such, a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.” (LG 40) “All Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world.”(LG 41)
This Lent, with these thoughts, I encourage you to ponder the entire Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium as part of your Lenten spiritual reading, and focus on the council’s teaching on the Universal Call to Holiness.
The title of this article calls our attention to “holiness” and “homecoming.” I’ve tried to direct your thoughts and reflections on Vatican II’s specific thoughts about holiness, but now I draw your attention simply to the action of homecoming.
Lent is a time of introspection. Taking time and spending energy on the very basic understanding that as people called to be holy—belonging uniquely to God—we should spend some time—quality time—with God. During Lent, there may be some time available to attend Mass with greater purpose and focus. Given the sense of the current pandemic, we may be able to find time for Mass, for the celebration of the sacrament of penance, the recitation of the holy rosary and for remembering old favorite prayers that once brought us joy and consolation. Isn’t that what “being home” is supposed to help us recover in our maddening world? These are the ways in which holiness can be mastered, and with their mastery, we may find ourselves making a difference in the world in which we live—and even find a way of bringing joy to ourselves and those around us. New life; the joy of the resurrection.
MOST REVEREND WILLIAM PATRICK CALLAHAN is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published March 2021 Catholic Life Issue