Pope Benedict XVI has asked people throughout the world to share in his monthly prayer intentions. For August he asks God (1) that the human family may know how to respect God’s design for the world and thus become ever more aware of the great gift of God which Creation represents for us and (2) that through discernment of gifts and commitment to spiritual formation, holiness may be promoted among the people of God.*
In response, Jay Masterson wrote…
I was touched at how our “Papa Ratzinger” (as the Europeans call him) has subtly interwoven St. Paul’s writings into each of his monthly prayer intentions. Because we are studying St. Paul this year, each of these two intentions seem to me to echo different themes of St. Paul.
The richness and depth of Paul’s concern for the salvation of Gentile pagans is written largely in several letters to the churches he planted (beyond the well-known sermon to the Greeks at the Aeropagus). But what is sometimes overlooked is Paul’s concern about the maturity and the holiness of believers who populated the new “churches.” As I looked through my concordance, I was amazed at how often Paul exhorted believers to a life of holiness.
This study caused me to write down my own reflections on how St. Paul and Papa Ratzinger are increasing my understanding of God’s command to “Be holy even as I you God am holy” (Lv. 19:2). I have said the prayer of Zechariah hundreds of times in morning prayer, but I never internalized the part about “[serving] him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Lk. 1:74-75).
Taken as a whole, Paul’s guidance to new believers never stops with a conversion experience. And his words didn’t stop being valuable at the time of Acts. My observation is that, just like the early church believers, we who have walked with the Lord a while sometimes lose the excitement of that new love we had when we first found our Lord and Savior and gave our lives to Him. So it is easy for us to lose sight of the call for ordinary people to be holy.
In my secular life I know that only a dynamic relationship can possess fruitful character, but I don’t apply that to my Christian walk. I can’t live off memories of the joy of my first love of Jesus. I require a nurturing experience with Him continuously to be fruitful in bringing others into God’s kingdom. To paraphrase a dear friend’s comment, “The walk and the talk must match, or it’s no sale.” My experience teaches me that canned responses to life’s questions will not satisfy cynical, disaffected people. My life and actions will be a vital witness to them only when my being reflects a living relationship with the Source of my hope, Jesus. So holiness really isn’t optional; it is a requisite element in my life as a redeemed child of God.
Love and devotion
Our dear Pope has returned often to an overriding theme about the life-giving value of an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Refer to his readable book, Jesus of Nazareth.) By seeking greater intimacy with someone who knows and loves us so deeply, a life of holiness and clarity can become possible. Pope Benedict has such a relationship, and it shows. All self-guided attempts at personal holiness seem doomed to failure because of human pride. (Even humility becomes prideful, as St. Benedict reminds us.) Self-righteousness not only turns people off, but also separates us from God’s love and approval, as many of the Psalms state. Intimacy with Jesus fulfills the deepest longings of my heart to be with Him. The God-shaped hole St. Augustine spoke of can’t be filled by doctrinal knowledge. Only increasing love and devotion to Jesus himself can lead me to desire authentic holiness.
In recent years I started some Christ-centered meditation practices. Through them I have become aware that holiness derives from Him and I can become holy only through growing toward deeper union with HIm. That may be obvious to others, but it was a revelation to me. The unspoken benefits of meditating on God’s mercy (the Divine Mercy devotion) or in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are that these practices enable a holy life to develop and to be possible now for us saints with a small s. The best part is that holiness in our walk attracts people to seek what we have! When we intimately know that Jesus is our best friend, we exude trust in Him for all things in all circumstances.
Focus on Christ
St. Paul never lost his focus on Christ Crucified and on Him only. That makes St. Paul’s writings sometimes off-putting. Yet, his love and tenderness toward new believers appear in every letter we have recorded in the New Testament. He remained vulnerable and conscious of his need for our Savior to the end. His weakness became his strength: Paul ws approachable, so he could reach believers of three generations while he was alive! Even 2,000 years after his birth, we are able to relate to Paul’s humanity and his growth in his walk with our Lord.
A holy, living epistle
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that Paul’s call to us to grow from baby Christians consuming simplistic milk to eating the meat of the Gospel is still timely and quite necessary. Spreading the Gospel isn’t for others in other places; it is something I must do for myself. If the Holy Spirit so fills me with grace and knowledge of Jesus as my Lord, then that will show in me and in my words and deeds. My life can become a holy, living epistle. Zechariah’s prayer applies to me, too!
May our ever-present companion, Jesus Christ, the All Holy One, feed your heart; and may you increase in intimacy with Him.
*Read more on Amy’s blog and find out about her latest books. This highly articulate, prolific writer reads all her email and thanks you for writing.
WP posts… Our music