January 16, 2011 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Corinthian Christians must have been shocked when they received a letter from the Apostle Paul, who had founded that Church not long before. They thought they were making great progress in following the new faith he preached to them. It was centered, after all, on Jesus, who had been crucified but, Paul said, had been raised and had ascended into heaven. To inspire his followers, he had sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church and sanctify the members.
But Paul had heard that not everything was rosy in that Corinthian Church. They were divided into several factions, and some were claiming that they had been given special wisdom, which made them superior to other members of the Church. In addition, many of them – converted directly from the licentious paganism for which Corinth was infamous – had not grasped the most basic Christian morality and even got drunk at their eucharistic celebrations. So Paul had to recall them to the core Christian message and then give them further instruction in Christian living.
He began this task at the very beginning, in the letter’s salutation, when he addressed them as “the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.” The translation used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church may startle us even more when it tells us (1695) that we are “called to be saints.” For what was expected from the early Christians in Corinth is expected of contemporary Christians in America. Paul even expanded his greeting to include “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
We may think of ourselves as respectable, maybe even good, but “holy” and “saints”? That’s for the special people, the St. Francis of Assisi types, or the Mother Teresa sorts, if we need modern examples. But the term “saint” comes from the Latin word for holy, and the expectation that we’re supposed to be saints is one of key teachings of Vatican II. An entire chapter of Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is devoted to “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church.” In it, the teaching is set forth that holiness, sanctity, sainthood (although probably not canonization) – whichever term you choose – is the goal for every Christian, the laity no less than the clergy and the religious.
So what does it mean to be one who has been “called to be holy”? It means that we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, for we do not become holy by our own efforts alone. We have to depend upon God’s grace, won for us by Jesus, to shape our way of living. But we have to cooperate with that grace. God has so arranged the pattern of salvation that our response, our willingness to follow his leading, is also necessary.
And that’s how stewardship fits into our growth in holiness. When we respond positively to God’s grace, we find that we want to follow his will in our use of the time, the talent, and the treasure available to us. We want to spend time with God in prayer and worship. We desire to use our abilities to help others and to serve the Kingdom of God. We find we have a spiritual need to give, to share our material resources with others. And as we respond to grace by using our time, talent, and treasure for God’s sake, we grow in holiness and become – to use St. Paul’s term – saints.