Lent is widely recognized as a time for penance—fasting and abstinence, giving up drinking alcoholic beverages, candy, and what have you. All this is true, but Lent is also an opportune time to meditate on our Divine call to be saints in and through our daily deeds. Through baptism, we have entered into the paschal mystery of Christ. We have, in, with, and through Christ, died to sin and risen to a new kind of life. We have “put on Christ,” become incorporated into his body, the Church, and made truly children of God, members of the divine family; we have literally been “divinized,” truly sharing in Christ’s divine nature.
And yet some deeds we freely chose to do are utterly incompatible with this divine life; these kill it and are called mortal sins that only God, through his ordained priests, can forgive and thereby renew in us this divine life. Others, although not fully compatible with that life are nonetheless not utterly incompatible with it. Such freely chosen deeds are called venial sins, and can be forgiven by a prayer, loving deed, reception of communion, etc. An example will help. Adultery is utterly incompatible with love for my spouse, but if I tell her a lie that is not harmful, for instance, if I tell her I mailed the birthday card she gave me to mail when I had forgotten to do so, that is not “utterly” incompatible. To maintain domestic harmony I tell her that I did mail it, fully intending to mail it immediately the next day. I surely told her a lie not harmful to anyone, but a lie nonetheless. And if we lie like this every day, we make ourselves liars.
There are many organizations and movements within the Church to help us in this most important struggle to be “holy as our heavenly Father is holy,” such as Third Order Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Knights of Columbus, Liberation and Communion, Focolare, Opus Dei and many others. These groups help us to form our faith in community, and provide opportunities for charitable works and deeds, education and accountability. But there are other means as well.
Clarence Enzler’s remarkable work My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith, first published by the Bruce Publishing Company, where I was working as an editor, in 1957, the year I met my wife, is one such means. This great spiritual classic has just been reprinted by Christian Classics at Notre Dame, IN.
Some passages from his book will give us some understanding of its great spiritual depth. Among them are the following:
My dear friend, I [Jesus Christ] am overjoyed to see you…Do not be afraid. I am your God, your King, robed in all majesty, clothed with all power. But I am also human, even as you. I am your Savior….You are my friend; yes, even more than that, you are my brother, my sister, my mother. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, my mother. I am glad you desire to watch with me, to confide in me, allow me to confide in you. Have you ever wondered what I would have said to you if you had been at my side as Peter was, and John, Mary, Martha, and the rest? …they were favored, but so are you. It is better for you to live now than at any other time of human history….this is my hour, just as much as nineteen centuries ago. I see you as clearly as I saw them [Peter and the others]. I love you as I loved them. …But still you are thinking, they saw you face to face. What was it that my disciples saw? They saw a man, a worker of miracles, yes, but only a man. It was many months before they knew me as “He who is to come” the Messiah and as “He Who Is,” God. And when they knew me at last, it was not by the sight of their eyes, but by faith….That is exactly how you know me today, by faith. (pp.3-5 in Christian Classics reprint)
Let me explain to you exactly what you must do to be what I desire [holy, as your heavenly Father is holy, saints]. You must faithfully fulfill all your daily duties, big and little, out of love for me. Remember that these are the duties I have given you. They are “sacraments” of the moment. Thus you will have the right disposition for me to live in you. You must pray for the grace to imitate me more closely, to understand me more fully, to unite your will with mine more fully. Ask for this grace. Ask for it here and now. Ask for it every day. You must be faithful in participating at Mass and receiving the sacraments; do so as often as your position and circumstances permit. Especially when I come to you in my sacrament of the Eucharist, appeal to me to make you into my likeness. I cannot refuse you. I will it even more than you do. Ask and you will receive.
In short, our vocation to sanctity means that we become “other Christs.”
But, in addition to his or her common vocation, each Christian has a unique and irreplaceable vocation within the family of God, the Church. Not only are different Christians called to different ways of life in the world — the married life, the priestly life, the religious life, the life of a single person within the world — but within each state of life each Christian has his or her unique role to play in filling up what “is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” and in bringing to completion his work of redemption. Vatican Council II insists that each one of us has a personal vocation to carry out as a member of Jesus’ people. Indeed, as the Council Fathers noted, “by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities [our earthly ones as Christians] according to the vocation of each one.” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 43)
The personal vocation of each one of us as Christians is emphasized by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptor Hominis. In that document, the Holy Father wrote: “For the whole of the community of the People of God and for each member of it what is in question is not just a specific ‘social membership’; rather, for each and every one what is essential is a particular ‘vocation.’ …If we wish to keep in mind this community of the People of God, which is so vast and so extremely differentiated, we must see first and foremost Christ saying in a way to each member of the community, ‘Follow Me.’” [no. 71]
Moreover, in his 1988 apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici, John Paul II had this to say about personal vocation: “God calls me and sends me forth as a laborer in his vineyard. He calls me and sends me forth. . . . This personal vocation and mission defines the dignity and the responsibility of each member of the lay faithful. . . . To be able to discover the actual will of God in our lives always involves the following: a receptive listening to the Word of God and the Church, fervent and constant prayer, recourse to a wise and loving spiritual guide, and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given by God, as well as the social and historic situations in which one lives.” [no. 58]
Personal vocation is each individual Christian’s unique way of following Jesus, of walking in his path. Jesus needs the special contribution of each one of us to complete his work of redemption. Let us listen then, and follow him in every moment.