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Rossini: The call to holiness is a call to deep prayer

In my last column, we established that God calls everyone to holiness. Vatican II teaches this doctrine, following Scripture. How can we become holy? 

Holiness is normally impossible without deep prayer. Therefore, the call to holiness is a call to the deep prayer of contemplation.

Contemplation is an intimate prayer that God initiates. It brings to fruition the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in baptism and confirmation, so that we can live in conformity with God’s will. In the contemplative life, the gifts of the Holy Spirit predominate in our souls. We experience the gifts of understanding, knowledge and wisdom in a deeper way than we could through our striving with ordinary grace. In addition, in contemplation God infuses virtues into our souls, enabling us to act in accordance with the spiritual gifts. (See “Spiritual Theology” by Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP, Part I, Chapter 4.)

One of the first steps in the canonization process is the diocesan investigation into the life of a candidate. The diocesan tribunal decides whether or not the candidate has lived a life of heroic virtue. If not, the case will be closed. If so, the case advances. 

According to The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910, a “heroic virtue, then, is a habit of good conduct that has become a second nature, a new motive power stronger than all corresponding inborn inclinations, capable of rendering easy a series of acts each of which, for the ordinary man, would be beset with very great, if not insurmountable, difficulties.”

Through our efforts aided by grace, we are able to overcome many temptations to sin. But let’s be honest. For most of us, resisting temptation is difficult. It is anything but “second nature.” How then can a person live a life of heroic virtue without the predominance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? How can he or she do so without infused graces?

The first people to whom Christians gave the name hero were the martyrs (ibid.). It takes a particular grace from God to give up one’s life for the faith. It likewise takes a particular grace to die to oneself daily as a matter of habit. So does that mean that only certain people are given the graces necessary for sanctity?

Yes and no. God gives the gifts necessary for holiness to those who have prepared themselves to receive them. Most people never prepare themselves sufficiently. We habitually choose to do our own will rather than God’s. The Catechism says, “No one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. … These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions” (no. 2010, emphasis in the original).

Prayer helps us gain “the graces needed for our sanctification.” Therefore, if we wish to attain to sanctity, we must devote ourselves to prayer. In the deepest of prayers, God gives the graces our faithfulness has merited. If God calls all to holiness, then he calls all to the deep prayer through which the graces necessary for holiness are given. This is another way of saying that he calls everyone to contemplation.

Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.

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