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Chapter 27: Life Formed by the Modes of Christian Response

Question E: Does the Christian conscience demand perfection?

1. Vatican II teaches that every Christian is called to the perfection possible in this life (see LG 40–42). This perfection is holiness, and charity is its heart: “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. For 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 all their strength (cf. Mk 12.30) and that they might love one another as Christ loved them (cf. Jn 13.34; 15.12)” (LG 40). The Christian conscience demands that one live according to the calling one has received (see Eph 4.1). Therefore, the Christian conscience demands perfection.

2. Charity is the heart of Christian perfection, but it does not constitute perfection by itself. One must grow in charity (see S.t., 2–2, q. 24, aa. 4–8; q. 184, a. 3, ad 3). This happens when charity is bodied out by prayer, the sacraments, and a morally good life shaped by these principles.

3. Holiness cannot be separated from love of neighbor; one can only find oneself by giving oneself (see GS 24). Because love is the law of human perfection, love demands the transformation of this world (see GS 38). Thus, Christian perfection requires that this world be built up by fruitful activity (see GS 34). Moreover, this activity cannot be limited to the promotion of religion. It must include cultivation of the many human goods, for here and now we “make ready the material of the celestial realm” (GS 38).

The love which is at the heart of Christian life is not a mysterious something hidden in the depths of one’s inner self. Rather, it is the disposition to total fulfillment in divine and human life. Charity rules all the means of attaining holiness, because it organizes and enlivens the whole of Christian life, which is communion in divine life, and this very living and flourishing whole is holiness (see S.t., 2–2, q. 184, aa. 1, 3).

The perfection of Christian life is perfection of the whole interpersonal relationship with God, with other persons, and with the remainder of creation. God initiates a friendship with creatures; holiness is the blossoming of this friendship. In this blossoming, nothing of divine goods is held back by God, and nothing of created goods may be held back by those who love him. All one’s life, all society, everything good, beautiful, and true must be drawn into this friendship. Charity excludes no human good, but rather requires the cultivation of every good of the human person: “By this holiness a more human way of life is promoted even in this earthly society” (LG 40). The idea that the perfection to which Christians are called in this life is exclusively spiritual and religious—that holiness has little to do with the body and secular human goods—is radically mistaken. Indeed, this idea is at war with Christianity, which is centered upon the Word made flesh.

In Jesus the mystery of humankind takes on new light. Jesus, “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS 22). For Jesus makes clear that the new law of love can be fulfilled by the Spirit’s power, that human persons are called to integral human and divine fulfillment, that the way to this fulfillment requires love and service also of bodily goods, that the way leads through death to resurrection, and that heavenly fulfillment will enhance individuality and every aspect of human potentiality (see S.t., 2–2, q. 25, a. 5; 3, q. 56).

4. Since every Christian is called to perfection and perfection includes love of all human goods, the demand for perfection extends to the whole of moral life. As question C explained, the Christian modes of response are moral principles of the specific norms reached by a Christian conscience. They require that every choice conform to charity and contribute to the living out of redemption. Since the requirements of charity demand perfection, a fully mature Christian conscience demands perfection in every act. Thus, in every act one ought to carry out the fundamental redemptive commitment of the act of faith (see DS 1535/803). In other words: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3.17).

5. As the previous questions of this chapter have made clear, Christians must implement their fundamental option of faith by finding, accepting, and committing themselves to their personal vocations. It follows that Christians respond to the universal call to holiness in no other way than by responding perfectly to the personal call each one receives to play his or her unique role in God’s all-embracing plan of salvation. A perfect response to one’s personal vocation is sanctifying, because in carrying it out with all one’s resources one brings one’s whole mind, heart, soul, and strength into the service of God’s plan.

Vatican II confirms this conclusion by explaining how holiness can be reached in diverse conditions and states of life and summing up: “All of Christ’s faithful, therefore, whatever be the conditions, duties, and circumstances of their lives, will grow in holiness day by day through these very situations, if they accept all of them with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father, and if they cooperate with the divine will by showing every man through their earthly activities the love with which God has loved the world” (LG 41).

John Paul II builds upon the teaching of the Council about vocation and also treats personal vocation as an essential principle of Christian moral life. We must remember, he teaches, that efforts at renewal are authentic only insofar as they are “. . . based on adequate awareness of the individual Christian’s vocation and of responsibility for this singular, unique and unrepeatable grace by which each Christian in the community of the People of God builds up the Body of Christ. This principle, the key rule for the whole of Christian practice—apostolic and pastoral practice, practice of interior and of social life—must with due proportion be applied to the whole of humanity and to each human being.” After exemplifying the principle with respect to several states of life, he adds: “It is precisely the principle of the ‘kingly service’ that imposes on each one of us, in imitation of Christ’s example, the duty to demand of himself exactly what we have been called to, what we have personally obliged ourselves to by God’s grace, in order to respond to our vocation.”1

1. John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, 71 AAS (1979) 318–19; The Papal Encyclicals, 278.87.