Saint Augustine has referred to the Sermon on the Mount as the “charter of the whole Christian life.”
The first part of the Sermon, the Beatitudes, is proclaimed at Mass on the Solemnity of All Saints. Pope Benedict XVI teaches that the Beatitudes, taken together like so many brushstrokes, form a picture for us of Jesus Christ. And to this extent it needs to be said that the call to holiness we all share demands that we strive to live all of the Beatitudes. We can’t pick some and ignore others, or the picture of Christ in us will be distorted.
At the same time, the exact composition of the Beatitudes will be different in each of us. The Church’s roster of saints, the whole of which we celebrate on All Saints, is proof of this. The Book of Revelation presents us with “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” This text points to the wondrous variety of of the saints.
But the variety of their vocations also distinguishes the saints. All of them—the glorious company of apostles, the noble fellowship of prophets, the white-robed army of martyrs, and so on—lived all of the Beatitudes. But they did so with varying degrees of emphasis depending upon their various vocations.
Going back to St. Augustine for a moment, in his Confessions the saint writes that he wanted to go into contemplative life after the ideal of Greek philosophy, but was called forth by the bishop of Hippo and “constrained to receive ordination.” Augustine continued, “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15).”
And the vocations of the saints aren’t only different in the most basic way, that some were priests, some religious, some rulers of nations, some parents, martyrs, virgins, etc. The details of their lives were also very different from each other, and that’s where I want to zoom in and sharpen the focus on our own lives.
We are each called by God to some particular vocation, and even compared with others who share our vocation, it will take a somewhat different shape in each of our lives. Which is to say that the call to become a saint will take a somewhat different shape in each of our lives.
For each of us, the path to sainthood involves not just in doing what is good, but in doing precisely the good thing God chooses for us. This is the daily path of sanctity down which we need to walk, step by step, day by day, choice by choice.
And notice that Augustine discovered God’s will through the direction of his bishop. Such is the life of every Christian, a life of obedience. In my life as a priest, for example, it is very often my superior whose voice tells me the difference between all the good things I might do and the specific good thing God is calling me to do right here and now. Or, to employ the language of the Society of Jesus, we might ask, “What is ad majorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God) for me right now?”
As in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we share in the heavenly banquet of all the saints, may God give us the grace to know the next good thing he is calling us to do, and the faith, hope, and love to do that next thing. And the next one after that. And the next one after that.
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Beautifully expressed sentiments. However, sainthood is a foreign endowment and is unattainable ANY OTHER WAY. “He HAS MADE perfect forever those who ARE BEING MADE holy.Heb 10:14. Any attempt to make oneself a saint is self-contradictory and a lowering of the Biblical definition itself. Gifted, unattainable perfection is ours AS SAINTS. A higher level of actual expression is the more appropriate concept Biblically. IMO
Awe-inspiring indeed! Thank so much Fr. Fox. Please do keep me in your prayers.
Nice essay Fr Charlie Fox. Indeed one needs to spend one’s precious life serving others. Sainthood requires a certain number of miracles which only the Almighty can do through the intercession of the humble life of the dead and departed doer of good deeds.