by Tess Daniels
Gaudete et exsultate, or “Rejoice and be glad,” was released on April 9 by Pope Francis, his third apostolic exhortation. The 44-page exhortation delves into the definition and consequences of holiness and gives practical advice for living out the call to holiness in ordinary life. Pope Francis writes that Jesus does not want us to settle for “a bland and mediocre existence,” and notes that the call to holiness is present from the very first pages of the Bible. Francis declares that “very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’”
Pope Francis makes sure to highlight that we should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. Some people, such as the saints, may been called to grand gestures of holiness, but most of us need to live holiness in a more ordinary way. He emphasizes that holiness is not reserved for bishops or priests; he affirms that anyone, when living his or her vocation fully, lives holiness authentically. Francis quotes Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân, who was imprisoned but nonetheless chose “to live in the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.”
From here, Pope Francis discusses the “two subtle enemies of holiness”: modern-day Gnosticism and Pelagianism. Contemporary Gnostics, he notes, judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. “When somebody has an answer for every question,” Francis writes, “it is a sign that they are not on the right road.” In contemporary Pelagianism, he writes that the common error is to believe that our own effort achieves sanctity, forgetting that everything “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Francis recognizes that the Church can sometimes become “a museum piece or the possession of a select few.” This happens, he declares, under modern Pelagianism, or when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting.
Pope Francis turns to the definition of holiness, explaining that Jesus has already explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy in the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are not “trite or undemanding”; in fact, just the opposite. Indeed, one can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power. Francis describes characteristics of holiness in the current world, including boldness, community life, constant prayer, and, most interestingly, humor. "The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness," he said. "The apostles of Christ were not like that.” In fact, the pope said, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor.”
Pope Francis addresses that some Catholics consider current political topics, such as the situation of migrants, as a secondary issue compared to ethical questions such as abortion. “That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable,” he writes, “but not a Christian.” The only thing possible and proper for a Christian, he affirms, is “to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.” Francis concludes his exhortation by addressing the constant battle of Christian life. He maintains that the devil is not “a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. Holiness "is not about swooning in mystic rapture," he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor and the sick.
Featured image courtesy of The Catholic Spirit