by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Some of the most profound things are actually very simple.
Take, for example, the value of holiness.
It seems like a no-brainer. Aren’t Christians supposed to live holy lives? After all, Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount by saying, “So be perfect (holy), just as your heavenly Father is perfect (holy)” (Mt 5:48).
One of the most profound — and simple — teachings of the Second Vatican Council can be found in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”), in Chapter Five, the “Universal Call to Holiness”: In a nutshell, it said that everyone should strive for a holy life.
That teaching is so integral today that even the youngest Catholic schoolchild could articulate it. But it was not always so.
“I think [before the council] there was maybe an unspoken but assumed feeling that the real call to holiness was to religious life and the priesthood,” said Msgr. Thomas Tank, pastor of the Church of Ascension in Overland Park. “But the Vatican Council certainly affirmed that universal call to holiness.
“Each and every person — by reason of his or her baptism and confirmation — is called to a deep holiness of life.”
The Second Vatican Council reminded us that a life of holiness wasn’t only to be found in a religious discipline or behind monastery walls, he said, but was a necessary part of the everyday fabric of life for all Catholics.
This universal call to holiness came out of a renewed understanding of the sacrament of baptism, said Father Al Rockers, senior associate in residence at Church of the Nativity in Leawood.
“We are all equally baptized, so we equally have the Holy Spirit within us,” said Father Rockers. “The Spirit equally dwells in all baptized hearts, and so we are all called to respond to that Spirit.
“The council emphasized that entrance role of baptism,” he continued. “That’s all of us. It’s by baptism that we are called to be part of the holiness of the church of Jesus Christ — the universal call to holiness.”
Changes in the way the Mass was celebrated — switching from Latin to English, with the priest facing the people — also had a profound effect on Catholic spirituality.
Father Rockers studied Latin for 12 years and knew it quite well, but it was still a chore to translate in his head. To pray in English, with others, was easier and more natural. Likewise, he found celebrating the Mass from the other side of the altar spiritually enriching.
“[Facing the congregation] had a big impact on my spirituality — facing and interacting with them. That’s how the original altars were in the first century. It was just a natural thing when you’re eating, talking and praying with people to face them.”
Like many Catholics, Msgr. Tank grew up with a deep love for the Mass. The changes to the Mass brought by the council only deepened that love.
“While I’ve always had a great devotion to the Mass, [the council] helped me shift from private devotions to a much more liturgical spirituality — seeing the liturgy as shaping my spirituality in a very special way,” he said.
“So I tended to move away from a devotional spirituality,” he continued, “much more to a realization of the Paschal Mystery — the death and the resurrection of Jesus — as not only the means of salvation but also the call for holiness as a way of life for each of us: to die in order to rise with him.”
Part of understanding the universal call to holiness is the realization that the Council Fathers saw the world as a “theater of redemption,” said Father John Melnick, SSA, director of campus ministries and religious studies at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan.
“The council sees the world as the place where redemption happens,” he said. “So, the spirituality of Vatican II is incarnational. In other words, God redeems us in the flesh. This world is a good world. It’s in need of redemption, but it’s a good world.”
And all the baptized are called to holiness in this theater of redemption. The way each becomes holy will differ according to our differing vocations, but we are all called to one holiness.
“Ultimately, that holiness is Jesus, because of the incarnation,” said Father John.
The next logical step is to ask how that spirituality is incarnated. Father John pointed to five things: Scripture, liturgy, the universal call to holiness, ecumenism and the call to practice social justice.
“If we are an incarnational people, and we celebrate that in the word of God and the liturgy, then we have to carry out that ‘Word’ that has become flesh in us,” said Father John, “feeding the poor, taking care of people and eradicating injustice. All those are mandates of the call to holiness.”
We are called to redeem the world by celebrating our incarnational spirituality — God who has come in the flesh. The Mass, the source and summit of our lives, feeds us and empowers us to go out.
“Everything we do ‘out there’ leads us back in to this summit of prayer,” said Father John.
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