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Posted March 5, 2007

Book: Holiness
Author: Donna Orsuto
Continuum, New York. 2006. Pp. 212

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The call to holiness is an invitation to Godly effectiveness. It means being open to the power of the Spirit so that we can follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give glory to God in our lives. It implies being practical in the humble acceptance of our humanity and recognizing the presence of Love’s redeeming work in us as individuals, in our families, in our communities of faith — that is our church, and in our world.

Holiness is God’s building project, stone by stone, brick by brick, grace and effort and grace. Sometimes the building project is nothing but disciplined drudgery and other times the effort and progress are exhilarating. Above all, we are being built together as ‘living stones. . .into a spiritual house’ (1 Peter 2:5) along with a great communion of saints. We are co-operators in a venture far beyond anything that we could have asked or imagined.

In Holiness. Donna Orsuto presents some key scriptural foundation for developing a Christian understanding of holiness as both gift and responsibility. She explores some of the creative ways this call has been lived out over the ages, and offers insights into the challenges of responding to God’s invitation to holiness in the twenty-first century.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Lay sanctity: an emphasis of the Council

One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council was a renewed appreciation of the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world, and especially of the call of the laity to holiness. Yet many lay women and men still ask: how can we respond to this call to holiness in the midst of our family, work, political, and social responsibilities? In other words, how can one live a ‘secular sanctity’? Part of the problem is that there has been a scarcity of lay models, especially when searching among the canonized saints. In her introduction to the collection of essays Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern: A Search for Models, Ann Astell maps out the multiple and shifting understandings of lay sanctity through the ages. After a careful historical survey, Astell explores lay sanctity in the context of the postmodern challenge. By a clever juxtaposition of quotations, one from John Chrysostom where he exhorted the laity of his time to ‘conduct themselves like monks’, and another from Paul VI wh reminded the participants in a congress on the lay apostolate that ‘you are not hermits who have withdrawn from the world in order to devote yourselves to God. It is in the world and in its activities that you must sanctify yourselves’, Astell showed that there has been a paradigm shift in the Church’s understanding of lay sanctity. The profound ascetical and theological implications of this shift bring one to the question (posed by Astell): ‘If the laity are not to ‘conduct themselves as monks”, what models of holiness are appropriate to them? What are the distinctive characteristics of their spirituality?’

. . . Laborem exercens specifically suggests some considerations for a spirituality of work. In the fifth section of that encyclical, Pope John Paul II offers elements for this spirituality which portray work as a means of drawing closer to God. Reflecting on it in the context of God’s salvation plan for humanity and for the world, he sees work as a way of participating in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly mission. Ideally, we work not exclusively for personal and family needs, but also to serve society, to cultivate resources for the common good, and to transcend ourselves.

Underlying this teaching is the affirmation that there is an inherent dignity in human work. Since we are made in God’s image and likeness, our work, whether manual or intellectual, reflects in some way God’s work, whether manual or intellectual, reflects in some way God’s work. At the same time, our inherent dignity comes from who we are (human beings created in God’s image and likeness), and not simply form what we do (our work). A Christian notion of work insists that ulitmately work does not define a person. We are always more than our work. This is important, especially when considering those who cannot work because of ill health, old age, or high unemployment. However, this notion is counter-cultural, because the common tendency is for people to be identified and recognized for the work they do.

Table of Contents:

1. Laying the foundations: insights from the Bible

2. Many mansion: exploring holiness through the centuries

3. Ordinary maintenance for an extraordinary dwelling

4. Beyond basic floor plans: towards a contemporary understanding of holiness

5. The expansion project: holiness in the twenty-first century