As we emerge from Eastertide and begin to keep again the season of grace which follows the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the celebration of the feast of the Holy Trinity, we are launched into what might at first seem to be a less exciting time of the liturgical year. Certainly we will shortly keep the feasts of Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart, and the Assumption of Our Lady, but, on the whole, we now revert to green vestments and to the cycle per annum, or “of the year.” In the personal ordinariates we retain the medieval custom of referring to this time as “after Trinity,” reminding ourselves of the source and focus of all worship. Yet, whatever name is used, the apparent ordinariness of these weeks must be characterised not by a spiritual lethargy or boredom, nor a return to the way things were—the old habits of sin and waywardness—but rather by the simple and vital task of our sanctification: the outworking of our baptismal promises, renewed at Easter and again at Pentecost.
Such “normality” requires us to engage in the spiritual life with a certain fervour and intentionality. We refer, after all, to the spiritual life and not the spiritual existence. Thus this relationship with God must be animated and vivified by grace, in order that it might develop and grow; in order that it might come to maturity in a true and profound friendship with the person of Christ. Such a challenge inevitably requires of us a kind of preparation. Just as the athlete trains for the marathon, so the Christian is to strive for the ultimate goal of holiness—of sainthood—by a methodical and steady means, whereby he continually sheds the dead weight of his old life, replacing it with the vitality and newness of the life of Christ. This is the essence, of course, of the sacrament of Holy Baptism, but it is also an ongoing task throughout our lives, requiring of us the building up of habits which become so part of who we are that they take the place of other habits, which may in the end cause us to forfeit the eternal life offered us through the sacrifice of Christ.
This is what we mean by virtue; what Saint Thomas Aquinas calls habitus operativus bonus (a good habit bearing on activity). Thus those things that are oriented toward Christ are necessary not only because they are good in and of themselves, but also because they must form the foundations of our daily lives in order that we might grow in grace and, thus, in holiness. We are called to commit ourselves to the little (and great!) tasks of this work of sanctification in order to chip away at all that encumbers us, and in order to provide a properly cultivated seedbed in which the grace we receive from the sacraments can put down roots, be nurtured, and come into flower. We cannot expect God’s grace, which we receive in the sacramental economy of the Church, truly to take effect in our lives, if we have not first sought to clear the ground of our souls of all sin and self-centredness. If grace perfects nature, again as Aquinas tells us, then it follows that our nature must first be conditioned to virtue; to courageously living out the life that Christ demands of us, in order that he can then perfect us with his grace, and prepare us for eternal life with him.
This is the call of Saint Peter in his first epistle, read this evening: to set our minds on the new life we enjoy in Christ, through his sacrifice and by our baptism into his life. “As obedient children,” he writes, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1: 10-13). In other words, the “ordinary life” of the Christian should see us not simply slump back into a spiritual laziness, or worse to regress to habits or vices which cut us off from grace, but rather move forward toward the goal of heaven—our rightful home—by a convinced and intentional life oriented toward beatitude, toward Christ, and so focussed only on the prize of salvation which is found uniquely in and through his life.
Through the grace of the sacraments, and in particular confession and frequent Holy Communion, may we attain a life that is truly formed after the pattern of Christ. May this pattern be thus imprinted on our souls. And may the grace we receive from this life make us fit for the eternal joy of the kingdom of heaven, so that we there we might remain in the perfect worship and charity of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.