Universal call to holiness
The Universal Call to Holiness and Apostolate is a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that all people are called to be holy, and is based on Matthew 5:48 - "Be ye therefore perfect, as also thy heavenly Father is perfect."
The universal call to holiness has always been a teaching of the Church and is rooted in Her mission to take sinners and raise them from their sinful nature into saints by the glory and perfection of Jesus Christ. For, God does not choose us by our virtue or goodness, but by His infinite mercy and desire for all mens salvation. An example of this teaching can be found in the Introduction to the Devout Life of Francis de Sales. Written in the 17th century, it describes a method to approach holiness in everyday life.
Chapter V of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium discusses the Universal Call to Holiness:
...all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; ...They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke on the Universal Call to Holiness during his General Audience of Wednesday, 13 April 2011, saying:
"...The saints expressed in various ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One. They let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with St Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Following their example, seeking their intercession, entering into communion with them, “brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from their fountain and head issue every grace and the life of the People of God itself” (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 50).
At the end of this series of Catecheses, therefore, I would like to offer some thoughts on what holiness is. What does it mean to be holy? Who is called to be holy? We are often led to think that holiness is a goal reserved for a few elect. St Paul, instead, speaks of God’s great plan and says: “even as he (God) chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4). And he was speaking about all of us. At the centre of the divine plan is Christ in whom. God shows his Face, in accord with the favour of his will. The Mystery hidden in the centuries is revealed in its fullness in the Word made flesh. And Paul then says: “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19)...The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, speaks with clarity of the universal call to holiness, saying that no one is excluded: “The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one — that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and… follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory” (Lumen Gentium, n. 41)"
The universal call to holiness is rooted in baptism, and the Paschal Mystery, which configures a person to Jesus Christ who is truly God and truly man, thus uniting a person with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, bringing him in communion with intra-trinitarian life.
John Paul II states in his apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, his apostolic letter for the new millennium, a "program for all times", that holiness is not only a state but a task, whereby Christians should strive for a full Christian life, imitating Christ, God the Son, who gave his life for God the Father and for his neighbor. This entails a "training in the art of prayer". According to the Pope, all pastoral initiatives have to be set in relation to holiness, as this has to be the topmost priority of the Church. The universal call to holiness is explained as more fundamental than the vocational discernment to particular ways of life such as priesthood, marriage, or virginity.
At the very core of the spirituality of a Catholic is this call to perfection. In more modern times it is also exemplified in a special way through the important role it plays in the spirituality of both Opus Dei and The Legion of Mary, which were both founded before the Second Vatican Council and emphasize strongly the call to sanctity for lay people.