This week His Holiness Pope Francis published an apostolic exhortation entitled Gaudete et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s world. While I have only made it about a quarter of the way through, I am struck by the use of what he calls “the middle-class of Holiness” He says in article 7:
7. I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”.
When Joseph Scott and I spoke about the virtue of hope (A virtue I came to realize I’m not naturally inclined to) I began to look for areas where I could trust in what God has already accomplished and ordained for my life. Too often, it is the case that we become discouraged by the mind-blowing example of heroic saints that we lose a sense of how holiness is attained in our own lives. Holiness is achieved by sticking to two major ideas.
The first is that Christ calls each of us to conquer our major faults because he is preparing us for the wedding feast of Heaven. If we have been washed in the blood of the lamb, as with any stained garment, you are sometimes going to have to be rough with the material in order to remove the grime. In order to purge ourselves of our imperfections, we are going to have to cause ourselves a little bit of suffering. This is why it is necessary to fast and offer penance on our journey towards Heaven. They teach us to regard our feelings as less important or good than the good that God is.
The second is that holiness consists of nothing more than obeying the will of God at each moment. Not everyone is called to fly to Mozambique and live their lives in service. Most of us are called to figure out how to be obedient and have patience when there’s traffic on the 405 freeway. Most of us will not have our arms stretched out on a crucifix, offering ourselves like St. Paul Miki. Most of us will have our hair and ears stretched by the curious infant who doesn’t know any better. In all cases, the question is not “how do I live a life of radical holiness”? The question is “what is Jesus asking of me right this instant”?
But who can consistently live a life like this? The answer is everybody. We simply need the virtue of hope to help us to recall that Jesus promised that the Father would never refuse to hear us in his name. We need hope to help us to recall that “life does not have a mission, but is a mission”. I suppose that is why I was struck by the reading of the Last Supper that appears during Holy Week.
St. Luke introduces the preparation of the last supper by mentioning a character so glossed-over in the history of the Church, you almost feel bad for him. See if you can pick out what I mean.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready.” And they went and found it as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
-Luke 22:7-13 RSVCE
When PopeFrancis speaks of the “middle class of holiness” I’m almost positive he’s got this guy in mind. Most of us are called to be this man. Here smack-dab in the climax of the gospel is a man who sets the stage for the greatest gift Jesus will give us. The very place where Jesus will allow heaven to break into our earthly reality, where he gifts us his body, blood, soul, and divinity, where he begins to accomplish the restoration of the cosmos…that place is prepared by a dude who happens to be minding his own business, carrying a water jar. WHAT?!?!?!?!?!
We focus so intently on the Passover meal and the Institution of the Eucharist that we gloss over the insane reality that Jesus called upon a common man, who till this day lives in obscurity, to set the stage for arguably the greatest miracle in human history. This man was doing nothing more than the common work he probably would have done anyway.
Now, Jesus in his divine nature knew where this guy was going to be. But what brought the man to be exactly where Jesus told them he would be? Did he get a feeling that “now” was a good time to get the water? Did an Angel show up and give him a water break without explanation? What? In the grand scheme of things, these are side-questions. Here is what is truly important.
The fact that this happened means that from all eternity, God created the heavens and the earth and arranged all of time and space for this one crystallizing moment when a man was inspired to carry a jar. What to him probably seemed like a mundane and angering task became for the world the beginning of our salvation. He did not live a life of heroic virtue and levitate like St. Joseph Cupertino. He did write the 1st theological auto-biography defending the Christian Faith like St. Augustine of Hippo. He abided by 2 rules. He stayed close to the blood of the lamb at the last supper, the beginning of the wedding feast, and was obedient to what he was told at that moment.
As His Holiness tells us, Saints can be heroic or “middle-class”. The difference is not always one of greater commitment as much as it is obedience to the state of life God calls you.
Let us pray intently for the Holy Father and all of his intentions as well as for our own sanctification, that we might merit the grace to continue to give it The Ol’ Catholic Try.