The Readings for Monday in the 28th Week, Tempus Per Annum (C1)
Omnibus qui sunt Romae, dilectis Dei, vocatis sanctis.
To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints.
Romans is Paul’s most amazing letter. It’s also his most problematic. He will rattle of lists of forbidden things that are very popular today. We won’t be reading those: the Mass lectionary has skipped over those since, at least, the council of Trent (those who say this is a “modernist concession to the world” need to pay more attention to the Church). But, they are there. And they are listed in contrast to this first passage which is in the old lectionary in a very telling place: this passage was read at Mass during the day on 24 December, the Vigil of Christmas. In a way, this Epistle is the “last word of Advent”. In that light (that dawning light) let’s look at it again.
The Coming of Jesus, the arrival of God in the Flesh, means that something new has begun, something unprecedented in all time and space. This is a scandal to Jews and to Muslims alike: for God, born in the flesh, means not only the Creator God has walked on the Earth, but that all the things we experience he, too, experienced. I’m not referring to the things that end up in Hallmark cards like sunrises and birdsong, dew, and the scent of spring. I mean the stuff of life that is more realistic: blood, pain, fear, farts, bad food, and preferring Mom’s hummus to Aunt Elizabeth’s – which tastes funny.
God becoming human means there was a moment in time – several long moments in time by our standards – when God the Word was without words, not only on his lips, but in his brain. Babies do not yet have the synapses needed to cogitate towards words. Baby brains have a very binary mode which we would call “good/bad” but they don’t have those concepts. For God in the Flesh, for a few months there was only “Cry/Don’t Cry”.
On this day before Christmas, Paul reaches out to us and says, “Today we begin.” And the Church here reminds us that today is always today. Today, Monday of the 28th Week, we begin.
Paul – after a reminder of who he is and who Jesus is – says to the Romans (that is, us) “to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Going backward in this reading, called to be holy is paralleled with called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Called is the Greek word κλητός kletos. We are summoned, invited. We are playing with our friends in the back yard when Moms begin to yell names across the neighborhood: BI-LEEEEEE, AN-THU-NEEEE! SUPPER! Called. And someplace, God the Father, standing on the back porch, did the same thing by sending Jesus into the world. We are called to belong to Jesus, called to be saints. This is the Gospel, the good news, for God doesn’t not call us to things we cannot do – by his Grace. The second Greek word is ἅγιος agios and it means holy, set apart for God. That is the meaning of Saint – not miracle worker, not inspired teacher – wholy holy. Set apart for God.
This is the pitch.
But the how is still coming up. You are called to be a saint. This sounds good you say, ok, Paul. How? Paul’s got a list of things to stop doing but the Church has named this the “Universal Call to Holiness” and they can best be summed up in the “Evangelical Counsels”: living as Jesus lived according to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. These are not just for monks – they are for everyone.
Poverty first. Remember that Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God – but all things are possible with God. Jesus had nothing against rich people but he recognized that attachment to things of this world was all it took to keep you out of heaven. Any undue attachment will take you straight to hell. The Apostolic and Patristic writings are filled with advice on this topic. Share all things, give away all things, give to anyone who asks; your extra clothes are stolen from the poor; food you let spoil is stolen from the hungry. All things come from God and are yours to distribute as God would. The Church insists on the universal destination of goods, professing that the goods of creation are destined for humankind as a whole. Possessions are part of our vocation to care for those around us. This includes a fair and just use of Creation nd her resources – food, water, land, air – for all of the people on the planet (now, and in the future).
Chastity is the most misunderstood of the evangelical counsels. It is not the same thing as celibacy. Some Christians are called to a vowed abstention from marriage but all Christians are called by their Baptism to chastity which means to make appropriate use of God’s gift of human sexuality according to their state in life. Christians within a sacramental marriage are to engage in the gift of sexual union as a means o furthering the relationship between husband and wife and open to the generation of new life in their children. This includes abstaining from sex at times that would be spiritually (emotionally, physically) harmful for the participants in the relationship. Christians outside of a sacramental marriage are called to abstain from sexual actions which are generously gifted by God for a specific place in the created order. This includes not objectifying others sexually, not using the sexuality of others for financial gain (violating their chastity), and not allowing onc self to be used in those ways either.
Obedience is the one that drives many Christians bonkers. At least in social media what I tend to hear is some version of “The Church says X, but I disagree, therefore it’s not part of the Magisterium and I don’t have to follow it. The Church says Y and I agree and therefore it is part of the Magisterium – and you’re a crazy heretic for disagreeing.” In fact, the Documents of the Second Vatican Council are rather broadly drawn when obedience to the Pope is involved:
In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.Lumen Gentium #25
Working up to that statement, the same document underscores the hierarchical nature of the Church, with each layer owing humility, reverence, and service across the board to priests, bishops, and especially the Pope. That, however, is the Magisterium. Paul – and the Church Fathers – carries this further. We owe reverence and obedience to each other. The enemy calls us to self-will. Any chance to escape what the Fathers call our “slavery to my own reasoning” is a gift from God and a chance to grown in virtue. This does not go against our divine gift of Freedom. Our Freedom in Christ is not the freedom from rules. It is the Freedom for the power of this world, from the power of the Devil, from the slavery to sin and “to my own reasoning” that we may grow in Virtue. It’s not, the license to do whatever but rather the restoration (in Christ) of a freedom to do the Good that we lost in the fall.
Miss Aretha sang it best. Wholy holy. We’re called to be Wholy Holy.
Oh, wholy holyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-XtO9Bov64
We can conquer hate forever, yes we can
Ah, wholy holy, Oh Lord
We can rock the world’s foundation
Yes we can
Better believe it
Wholy holy together and wholy
Holler love across the nation
We proclaim love, our salvation
The incarnation means that this physical stuff of us is called to Holiness: and we are called to holiness by doing the things of this world. By living the life God has given us. If you are a married bridge builder raising a family, that is your path to holiness. Wrap it up and give it as a Christmas present to God.
St John Henry Cardinal Newman offers us this simple way to perfection, a way to hold our life out to God:
If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first-
– Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
– give your first thoughts to God;
– make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
– say the Angelus devoutly;
– eat and drink to God’s glory;
– say the Rosary well;
– be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
– make your evening meditation well;
– examine yourself daily;
– go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
These three then, poverty, chastity, and obedience are our pathway to answer the Universal Call to Holiness. When Paul says to us we are “called to be holy” or “called to be saints” as it is in some translations, this is what he means. All the lists that follow in St Paul’s text that are skipped over boil down to these items. It’s possible to go all your life as a Christian without addressing these. But what’s the point?
Becoming a Saint is the greatest adventure possible.