Lent is a time of prayer, penance, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. But another event for which we prepare is the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter. These promises are part of the commitment we made when we entered a covenant with God through baptism.
Throughout this Lenten season, as we contemplate our baptism, we should be moved to grow in our knowledge and love for God and the Catholic faith he has given us. Our hearts should be stirred to deeper conversion to God by repenting of our sins and receiving the grace of the sacrament of Confession. And by reflecting on our baptism, we should be reminded of one of the God-given vocations we all received through this sacrament: the call to holiness.
Set Apart for God
In Scripture we see this call to holiness in numerous passages. We are told that we must “strive…for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and “For God has not called us for uncleanness but in holiness” (4:7).
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also said, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). And in his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that in our Christian lives, we are not to let sin continue to reign within us and the fruit of our grace-filled lives will be sanctification and life everlasting (Romans 6:3-23).
But what does it mean to be holy? Holiness is related to being set apart from the secular, the profane and especially the wicked. It is a virtue through which we wholeheartedly surrender to God. Holiness is the result of conforming our lives to Christ, substituting his principles and values for our own, and being moved by charity for God above all things.
Supernatural Life Transforms Us
Holiness is not, however, something we can achieve on our own. When we receive grace and the indwelling of God in baptism, this supernatural life transforms us. It is by this power of God that we are made holy.
As Pope Benedict XVI said in a General Audience in 2011 on holiness:
A holy life is not primarily the result of our efforts, our actions, because it is God, the three times Holy (Isaiah 6:3) who sanctifies us. It is the Holy Spirit’s action that enlivens us from within, it is the very life of the Risen Christ that is communicated to us and that transforms us…Yet God always respects our freedom and asks that we accept this gift and live the requirements it entails and he asks that we let ourselves be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, conforming our will to the will of God.
Holiness: Not Only for Uncommon heroes
Because we have diverse talents, charisms and circumstances, we will find various ways to grow in holiness. By virtue of our baptism, this call to holiness is a universal duty.
But this exhortation to sanctification is not an ideal achievable by only a few. Neither is this command from God to be holy an impossible dream.
In Novo millennio ineunte, St. Pope John Paul II wrote:
. . . this ideal of perfection must not be understood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual…The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear however that the paths to holiness are personal and call for a genuine “training in holiness,” adapted to people’s needs… 
As JPII says, this call to holiness should be a standard part of our ordinary lives as Christians. Each day we must strive for greater holiness by opening our hearts to God’s grace. We must remove any barriers and yield our will fully to his. We should look to the holy men and women who have gone before us because they are witnesses of the power of God. For all who are willing, grace will work in us to transform even great sinners into Saints.
A Gift and A Task
This call to holiness is not optional. God has revealed that one must be sanctified in order to be saved. But God, knowing our human weaknesses and failings, has not abandoned us. God freely gives us his grace to enable us to achieve our mission and become holy. Understanding these truths, holiness is rightly seen as both a task and a gift.
In Novo millennio ineunte JPII also wrote:
This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized. But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life…It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: “All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”
. . . since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalistic ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:8). [30-31]
Striving For Holiness
Living out this vocation, we must continue to strive for greater holiness throughout our lives. An essential component of a life of holiness is prayer because this dialogue results in the strengthening of the bond of charity we have with God. We must always open our hearts to God’s grace and allow God to work in us to perfect us.
Being holy also means we are to be devoted, giving glory to God in all we do. We must receive the sacraments frequently, practice virtue, read Scripture and study the truths God has revealed through Christ. We should acknowledge and obey the laws given to us by God on how to live rightly. This is because the purpose of these laws is to show us the path that leads to fulfillment of the vocation of holiness.
Love is Central to Holiness
And, most importantly, central to the life of every faithful disciple must be love – love of God above all things and of our neighbors as ourselves.
As Pope Benedict XVI said in his General Audience on holiness in 2011:
“Hence the true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of neighbor” (Lumen Gentium, n. 42). This is the true simplicity, greatness and depth of Christian life, of being holy. This is why St Augustine, in commenting on the fourth chapter of the First Letter of St John, could make a bold statement: “Dilige et fac quod vis [Love and do what you will]” And he continued: “If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow” (7,8 pl 35). Those who are guided by love, who live charity to the full, are guided by God, because God is love. Hence these important words apply: “Dilige et fac quod vis”, “Love and do what you will”.
Be A Saint!
The call to holiness is a call to live an authentically Christian life and to be a face of Christ in the world.
When God says, “You shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), it is not an unachievable aspiration or an impossible command. God calls every single person to be a saint! It is a vocation that God will fulfill in us as long as our hearts are open to the workings of his transformative grace.
Pope Benedict XVI on Holiness
As Pope Benedict XVI said during a prayer vigil in 2011:
. . . In baptism the Lord, as it were, sets our life alight with what the Catechism calls sanctifying grace. Those who watch over this light, who live by grace, are holy.
Dear friends, again and again the very notion of saints has been caricatured and distorted, as if to be holy meant to be remote from the world, naive and joyless. Often it is thought that a saint has to be someone with great ascetic and moral achievements, who might well be revered, but could never be imitated in our own lives. How false and discouraging this opinion is! There is no saint, apart from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has not also known sin, who has never fallen. Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and he wants to make you his friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light. You are Christians – not because you do special and extraordinary things, but because he, Christ, is your life, our life. You are holy, we are holy, if we allow his grace to work in us.
Allow Christ to Burn in You
Pope Benedict’s concluding remarks in this address during the prayer vigil were especially uplifting.
. . . A candle can only give light if it lets itself be consumed by the flame. It would remain useless if its wax failed to nourish the fire. Allow Christ to burn in you, even at the cost of sacrifice and renunciation. Do not be afraid that you might lose something and, so to speak, emerge empty-handed at the end. Have the courage to apply your talents and gifts for God’s kingdom and to give yourselves – like candlewax – so that the Lord can light up the darkness through you. Dare to be glowing saints, in whose eyes and hearts the love of Christ beams and who thus bring light to the world.