Citing the words of Lumen Gentium, Fr. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap, recalled Vatican II’s simple formula for holiness: “perfect holiness” is “perfect union with Christ” (LG 50).
This was at the heart of his second Lenten homily given this year as the preacher of the Pontifical Household. He went on to explain a key difference between the scholastic vision of holiness – based on “right reason” as in the writings of Aristotle – and the biblical version of holiness, which means following the person of Christ.
“The most complete and most compact biblical synthesis of holiness based on the kerygma is the one outlined by St Paul in the exhortation section of the Letter to the Romans (chapters 12-15),” the Capuchin Father said. “At its beginning, the apostle lays out a comprehensive vision of the path for the believer’s sanctification—its essential content and its goal:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
Father Cantalamessa point out that St. Paul lists the main Christian virtues: service, charity, humility, obedience, purity. But he reminds listeners that they are not cultivated for their own sake, but are the result of the work of Christ and baptism.
“Agape, or Christian charity, is not one of the virtues, it is the foremost virtue; it is the form of all the virtues, the one on which ‘all the law and the prophets depend’ (see Mt 22:40; Rom 13:10), Father explained. “To grasp the spirit that unifies all these instructions, the fundamental idea underlying them, or better, the ‘feeling’ that Paul has for charity, we need to start with his first exhortation: ‘Let love be genuine!’ This is not one of many exhortations but the matrix from which all the others derive. It contains the secret of charity.”
In speaking of “genuine” love, Father noted St. Paul’s insight into the external universe and interior universe of charity. He suggests that interior charity is to external charity as the soul it to the body.
“The apostle himself is the one who makes explicit the difference between the two kinds of charity,” Father Cantalamessa said. “He says that the greatest act of external charity (distributing all of one’s goods to the poor) would not amount to anything without interior charity (see 1 Cor 13:3). It would be the opposite of ‘genuine’ charity. Insincere charity is in fact precisely doing good without desiring the good; it is demonstrating externally something that does not correspond to the heart. In this case, a person has an appearance of charity that can, at worst, conceal egotism, the search for oneself, the manipulation of another, or even a simple remorse of conscience.”
Does this mean that a person should not conduct charitable works unless their heart is genuine? No. And neither, Father explained, does it mean that works done without a genuine heart have not benefit to those on the receiving end of the charity.
“We can ask ourselves, why do we ‘owe’ any love to others?” Father asked “Because we have received an infinite measure of love to distribute in turn to our fellow servants (see Lk 12:42; Mt 24:45ff). If we do not do that, we defraud our brother and sister of what we owe them. A brother comes to your door and perhaps asks for something you are not able to give him, but if you cannot give him what he asks for, be careful not to send him away without what you do owe him, which is love.”