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March 18, 2008
To grow in holiness we must be reconciled with God
By Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila *

By Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila *

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Each year the Church invites us to celebrate the great season of Lent emphasizing both baptism and conversion. Catechumens are preparing for baptism, while we who are baptized recall our baptism and recognize our own need for ongoing conversion. The Second Vatican Council reminded all the faithful, clergy, religious and laity that we are called to holiness. Holiness is not an option just for a few! Every baptized person is called to holiness, which means to be a saint!

“The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples, regardless of their situation: ‘You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt. 5:48). He Himself stands as the Author and Finisher of this holiness of life. He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might inspire them from within to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and strength (cf. Mk. 12:30) and that they might love one another as Christ loved them (cf. Jn. 13:34; 15:12)” (Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church 40).

The Lord himself commands us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While this is impossible if we depend on ourselves, it is possible if we depend on the grace that God desires to bestow upon us. Holiness is the work of the Trinity and our work is to receive the gifts the Spirit desires to pour out on us. Growth in holiness means to become like Jesus – to know our true identity as the beloved daughters and sons of God, to live the virtues, to choose the good and avoid the evil, to love as Jesus loved. “To be perfect” means to be perfect in charity, loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

The parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-24) helps us to understand the call to conversion and holiness (See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1439). At the heart of the parable is the merciful and loving father. The son rejects his true identity as a beloved son of his father, and the father lets him depart. The son fails to live the virtues and chooses all sorts of evils, squandering his money on loose living and with prostitutes. He ends up destitute, lost and tending pigs – one of the worst jobs a Jew could have.

The son comes to his senses, recognizing his sin and the evil he has chosen. He understands that, through his sin, he has offended both God and his father. He does not deny his sin but fully accepts what he has done. He acknowledges the depth of his poverty and feels that he is worthless. The son does not think that he can return to his father as a son but hopes that he will accept him as a hired worker.

He returns to the father, and the mercy and love of the father is revealed. It is important to note how the father receives his son. He does not wait for the son to come all the way to him but rather the father runs out to meet his son and embraces and kisses him. As the son admits his sin before his father, the father restores the signs of sonship to the son with the robe, the ring, the sandals and the banquet. Just as the father in this parable forgives the repentant son, our Father in heaven, through his action, mercy and love, forgives and welcomes home with joy the repentant sinner.

Our interactions with the Father and our acceptance of his love and forgiveness help us to grow in holiness. The more we turn to the Father and receive his love for us, the more we become like Jesus. We must have a true desire to grow in holiness, to receive the virtues, to surrender our lives as Jesus surrendered his life to the Father. We must have a true desire to grow in charity.

Like the prodigal son, we too must come to our senses. Too often today we justify sin, deny sin, or think of an evil as a good. We see this in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, in the lack of respect for others, in the gossip and talking behind another person’s back, in cheating to get ahead, in the holding of grudges, in the refusal to forgive, in the objectification of women, in the misuse of our sexuality, and in the taking of innocent human life.

The sacrament of reconciliation is essential for growth in holiness. One of the reasons today for a lack of holiness is that we do not celebrate regularly the sacrament. If we are truly serious about coming to our senses and receiving the Father’s love for us then we will go to Confession not just during Lent, but at least every month. The sacrament of reconciliation helps us to see our sins, to seek God’s mercy, and to experience his tender love for us.

Lent is a time for us to examine our lives in the light of the Father’s love for us. The prodigal son comes to his senses as he remembers all that he had at his home, most especially the love of his father. Our true home is in the heart of the Father, and only in remembering that truth will we be able to recognize our sin, seek God’s forgiveness, and grow in holiness.

As we grow in holiness we grow in charity. In receiving the Father’s love for us we will learn to love our neighbor as God loves our neighbor. We will desire to exercise charity in our homes, workplaces, society and world. We will grow in the fruits, virtues, of the Holy Spirit, “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity” (Gal. 5:22-23). We will be willing to forgive as our Father forgives us (Mt. 6:14-15), and we will be merciful as the Father is merciful with us (Lk. 6:36). We will keep the commandments, live the beatitudes, and “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in prison, welcome the stranger” (Mt. 25:31-46).

Conversion and growth in holiness do not happen overnight. We can become overwhelmed and discouraged if we think we must have all of these signs of holiness. We must remember that every saint, save the Blessed Mother, was a sinner. Some were great sinners and others less. For most saints it took many years to become holy, it was not achieved overnight nor without trials and failures. Perseverance was a must. And what every saint realized was that they were loved unconditionally by the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – that God was truly for them and desired only the good for them. Today we too must recognize the same if we are to become saints. My prayer for every Catholic is that each one of us will respond to the call of Jesus and grow in holiness during this Lenten season.

The original story can be found at the Diocese of Fargo site.

Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the bishop of the Diocese of Fargo.
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