Pope Francis has written a new apostolic exhortation on “the call to holiness in the contemporary world”.
“Gaudete et Exsultate” is the Latin title of the text, which translated into English means “Rejoice and Be Glad”. The words are taken from the Gospel of Matthew (5:12) at the end of the discourse on the Beatitudes. Why should we “rejoice and be glad”? Because God, as Pope Francis reminds us, calls us all to be saints. But how can we respond to that call?
Fr. James Martin SJ in writing about this document, has identified five pointers we can take away with us from this new and very practical exhortation.
1. Holiness means being yourself
Pope Francis offers us many examples of holy lives throughout this document: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Carmelite who found holiness in doing small tasks; St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit founder who sought to find God in all things; St. Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians who was renowned for his sense of humor. The saints pray for us and give us examples of how to live, but we are not meant carbon copies of them. We are meant to be ourselves, and each believer is meant to “discern his or her our own path” and “bring out the very best of themselves”. As Thomas Merton said, “For me to be a saint means to be myself”.
2. Everyday life can lead to holiness
You do not need to be a bishop, a priest or a member of a religious order to be holy. Everyone is called to be a saint. “Saints next door,” Pope Francis calls them. All we need to do is to “live our lives in love” and “bear witness” to God in all we do. Pope Francis offers examples of everyday sanctity, like a loving parent raising a child; as well as “small gestures” and sacrifices that one can make, like deciding not to pass on gossip. If you can see your own life as a “mission,” then you soon realize that you can simply be loving and kind to move towards holiness. He says that a balance between action and contemplation is essential.
3. Two tendencies to avoid: Gnosticism and Pelagianism
Gnosticism is the old heresy that says that what matters most is what you know. No need to be charitable or do good works. All you need is the correct intellectual approach. Today Gnosticism tempts people to think that they can make the faith “entirely comprehensible” and leads them to want to force others to adopt their way of thinking. Pelagianism says that we can take care of our salvation through our own efforts. Pelagians trust in their own powers, don’t feel like they need God’s grace and act superior to others because they observe certain rules. It’s a real danger to holiness because it robs us of humility, sets us over others, and leaves little room for grace.
4. Be kind
“Gaudete et Exsulatate” is filled with Pope Francis’ trademark practical advice for living a life of holiness. For example, don’t gossip, stop judging and, most important, stop being cruel. That also goes for online actions, too. Francis’ comments on this topic are memorable. Online, he writes, “defamation and slander can become commonplace…since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, as people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.… In claiming to uphold other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying and ruthlessly vilifying others”. To be holy, be kind.
5. The Beatitudes are a roadmap for holiness
As you might guess from the document’s title, the Beatitudes, are central to this exhortation. Pope Francis says mercy, one of the central themes of his papacy, has two aspects: helping and serving others but also forgiving and understanding.
And what is Pope Francis’ overall summary of holiness? It’s based on the Beatitudes: “Seeing and acting with mercy.”
See link to full text of the document: Gaudete et Exsultate
(Image: Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating Mass marking the Feast of Divine Mercy, Vatican 8th April 2018 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)