The “universal call to holiness” is a phrase that has become part of our Catholic lexicon. Unfortunately, many people have only heard this term in its contemporary impoverished incarnation. “Yes, yes, Deacon, everyone is called to be holy, we all know that.”
The phrase has been stripped of its meaning, becoming almost banal. It has become, most erroneously, a sort of provisional vocation, something we see as our lowercase “v” vocation in the absence of and ideally to be replaced by one of the capital “V” vocations: marriage, priesthood and religious life.
I tell you today my friends, this understanding is incorrect. The universal call to holiness is in some ways foundational to our other vocations; our vocation is built upon the pursuit of holiness. Nor does it end when you get married, enter religious life or receive holy orders. Because of its universality, no matter the special role He has for us, we are all called to give our “yes” to God.
Just as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon, John the Baptist, the Beloved Disciple and many more individuals participated in a key and definitive moment in salvation history — the ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — you too have an important role to play.
To respond to the universal call to holiness, we are all called to love not just Him who claims us as his own, but also those who by our shared adoption in Christ have become true brothers and sisters.
“But Deacon, I’m just one of eight billion people on this Earth. I’m also just a student, my vocation really starts when I graduate. What I do doesn’t make that much of a difference.” Again, this understanding is incorrect. I mentioned the role you — yes, you — have in God’s salvific plan. Because you have a part to play in this theo-drama, I want you to appreciate that nothing you do in this life is inconsequential; I want you to appreciate that what you do really matters.
And it’s not just important for you. It’s important for the entire body of Christ. What you do matters to me, it matters to your brothers and sisters in Christ, it matters to God. Because of this shared responsibility, it is so important that you answer the universal call to holiness, and you do it today.
“Deacon, how can we respond to this call to holiness?” My friend, that’s a great question. A few suggestions. One, follow the example of our Lady Mother: always give your “yes” to God and align your will to his. Our adversary loves to dissuade us from following the path our Lord asks us to follow. When you have a decision to make, remember this: Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Beware the wide gate!
Two, when you fall (and we all do), follow the example of St. Peter: get back on your feet and keep moving forward. For most, the pursuit of holiness is a process of constant conversions, day after day. Don’t despair. Holiness is found in sorrow for your sin, asking for forgiveness and then getting back up with a resolve to do better today.
And three, follow the example of Jesus Christ himself who demonstrated the greatest path to holiness: love. But not the shallow sort of love that is peddled by contemporary culture. Love selflessly, sacrificially, foolishly. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you how to love.
Let’s help each other answer the universal call to holiness. Please pray for me, just as I pray for each of you.