Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, spoke about our call to holiness on Friday morning in his Second Advent sermon.
Fr Cantalamessa began his sermon by drawing a link between the recently inaugurated Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Second Vatican Council.
He quoted St John XXIII in his opening address for the council when he said “The Church… prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity” when dealing with errors.
The focus of the homily was on Chapter 5 from Lumen genitum, a key document from Vatican II, the key message of which was the call to holiness.
Fr Cantalamessa noted, however, that holiness was the one accomplishment of the council “at most risk of being neglected, since it is only God and one’s conscience that require it… rather than pressures or interests from any particular group in the Church”.
He went on to say that the first thing that needs to be done when speaking about ‘holiness’ is to “free this word from the apprehension and fear that it strikes in people… Holiness can involve extraordinary phenomena and trials, but it is not to be identified with these things”. He continued saying “If all people are called to holiness, it is because it is within everyone’s reach”.
To exemplify this further, he compared saints to flowers: “there are more of them than just the ones that get put on the altar. How many of them blossom and die hidden after having silently perfumed the air around them!”
Speaking of God’s holiness, he said it is the summary of all of God’s attributes. He explained that the biblical word, quadosh suggests the idea of separation or of difference. God is transcendent, and is fully pure. Fr Cantalamessa then explained how Old Testament ideas of holiness have a ritualistic edge, suggesting that in order to be holy, one needs to follow a code of laws.
However, moving forward into the New Testament, Jesus demonstrates that holiness is no longer a legal or ritualistic matter, but a moral one; an ontological one. “The mediators of God’s holiness are no longer places (the temple of Jerusalem), rituals, objects or laws but one person, Jesus Christ. In this vein, being holy does not mean being separated from God but in being united with Jesus.
In the third section of his address, Fr Cantalamessa emphasized the fact that holiness is “not an imposistion… but a privilege, a supreme honour”. To illustrate this, he referred to Blaise Pascal’s principle of the three levels of greatness: the level of bodies and material things, the level of intelligence, and the level of holiness. He also quoted the musician Charles-François Gounod who said “A drop of holiness is worth more than an ocean of genius”.
His fourth section spoke about resuming the path towards holiness. He said the pursuit of holiness “is a journey consisting of continuous stops and fresh starts”. “On special occasions like the Jubilee Year of Mercy… the time of setting out again on our march towards holiness occurs when we sense within ourselves the mysterious call that comes from grace”.