Holiness is the Calling Card and the Way of the Church

Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness ‘is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others’ (LG 39).

That a person is declared a Saint is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that a person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Canonisation means that a person lived his or her life with God:

  • relying totally on God’s infinite mercy,
  • going forward with God’s strength and power,
  • loving one’s enemies and persecutors,
  • forgiving in the midst of evil and violence,
  • hoping beyond all hope, and
  • leaving the world a better place.


Such a person:

  • lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next.
  • lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and
  • shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

Holiness is the calling card of the Church, it is the authentic face of the Catholic Church. 

  • Angelo Roncalli (John XXIII) and Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II)…
  • did not get caught up in the quarrels, squabbles and passing things of their age. They…
  • based their lives on God’s Word,
  • immersed themselves in the liturgy of the Church,
  • drew strength from the Eucharist and the Sacraments, and
  • put their devotion into practice through clear teaching, compassionate loving, gentle yet firm shepherding, patient suffering, and generously serving the poor. They…
  • allowed God’s will to be done in their lives on a daily basis.


The Lord worked through their doubts, strengths and human weaknesses to unite the Church. Their action on Jesus’ behalf was always positive, hopeful, courageous, and straightforward. Their active Faith in him and their decisive following of him are the unchanging quintessence of the Church’s vocation. They are authentic role models for those who wish to serve the Lord as disciples and witnesses today.

Among many points of convergence one particular unifying theme in the lives and ministries of John XXIII and John Paul II stands out. Jews throughout the world remember both of these men for taking steps that were centuries in the making.

As papal representative in Istanbul during World War II, Angelo Roncalli provided bogus papers to help Jewish refugees flee the Nazis and escape to Palestine. He personally prodded the Catholic queen of Bulgaria to persuade her husband to protect the Jews of that nation. John XXIII is duly credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews.

Perhaps because of what he saw during the Holocaust, John XXIII never lost an opportunity to modify church practices that nurtured anti-Semitism. He removed the term ‘perfidious’ Jews from the Good Friday prayer. During one audience with a visiting Jewish delegation, he introduced himself with a Biblical verse that alluded to his baptismal name and underscored the relationship between Christians and Jews: ‘I am Joseph your brother.’

If John XXIII brought about a Copernican revolution in the way that Christians and Catholics think, speak and teach about Jews, John Paul II boldly put that change of attitudes into action and went where no pope had ever gone before. As a young man in Poland under Hitler’s evil empire, Karol Wojtyla witnessed hell on earth. On April 13, 1986, the Polish born Pontiff crossed the Tiber and entered Rome’s Great Synagogue, embracing Rome’s Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and calling Jews the ‘elder brothers’ of Christians.

John Paul II visited Jerusalem and the Western Wall during the Jubilee Year of 2000, praying there for forgiveness for the way Christians had mistreated Jews for almost 2,000 years. He visited the blood-drenched killing fields of Auschwitz-Birkenau and he established full diplomatic relations with Israel.

During John Paul II’s final illness, the leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre requested an audience with him simply to say thank you. A group of Jewish leaders surrounded the very ill John Paul II and extended their hands in blessing over their brother, Karol.

Since then warm relationships with the Jewish people continue to be fostered. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the Jews as being our ‘fathers in the faith’ and Pope Francis continues to reach out, hosting them at Domus Sanctae Marthae for Jewish Sabbaths and holy days.

Holiness, the putting of the words of the Gospel into practice, heals the deepest of divisions, it is ‘the calling card’ and the way of the Church.

This article can be found in Mirror 0314.