On April 9, 2018, Pope Francis issued his latest Apostolic Exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad” (Gaudete et Exsultate) on the call to holiness in today’s world.
The document is intended to re-invite us to holiness in a modern and practical way; therefore, it is not academic and, in fact, is short (only 46 pages long) and fairly easy to read and grasp. HERE is a link to the document.
Watch the Vatican Media video which highlights the theme of his latest Apostolic Exhortation.
The document is broken into five chapters: The Call to Holiness, Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness, In the Light of the Master, Signs of Holiness in Today’s World and Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment.
Below is a summary of each chapter.
The message is very uplifting. We hope you will enjoy it!
CHAPTER 1: THE CALL TO HOLINESS
There are many kinds of saints. Besides the Church’s officially recognized saints, many more ordinary people have been hidden from history books yet have been decisive in changing the world. They include many Christian witnesses whose martyrdom is a feature of our time. “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” Holiness is experiencing the mysteries of Christ’s life, “constantly dying and rising anew with him”, and reproducing aspects of His earthly life: His closeness to the outcast, His poverty, His self-sacrificing love. “Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world”, in a mission to build the kingdom of love, justice and universal peace.
Holiness is as diverse as humanity; the Lord has in mind a particular path for each believer, not just the clergy, the consecrated or those who live a contemplative life. We are all called to holiness, whatever our role, “by living our lives with love and bearing witness” and in the everyday turning to God. Among ways of bearing witness are “feminine styles of holiness”, of famous women saints and the “unknown and forgotten” women who daily transform their communities. As well as through big challenges, holiness grows through small gestures: refusing to gossip, listening with patience and love, saying a kind word to a poor person.
Holiness keeps us faithful to our deepest selves, free from every form of enslavement and bearing fruit for our world. Holiness does not make us less human, since it is an encounter between our weakness and the power of God’s grace. But we need moments of solitude and silence before God, to face our true selves and to let the Lord enter.
CHAPTER 2: TWO SUBTLE ENEMIES OF HOLINESS
Gnosticism (the belief that salvation comes from knowledge) and Pelagianism (the individualistic notion that we, as humans, can attain salvation and fulfillment without God’s help) are two “false forms of holiness” that can still lead us astray. They exaggerate human perfection without grace.
Gnostics fail to realize that our perfection is measured by the depth of our charity, not by information or knowledge. Separating intellect from the flesh, they reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything. But doctrine “is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries”. Christian experience is not a set of intellectual exercises; true Christian wisdom can never be separated from mercy towards our neighbor.
The same power that Gnosticism attributes to the human intellect, Pelagianism attributes to the human will, to
personal effort. Though modern Pelagianism speaks warmly of God’s grace, it suggests that human will is something pure, perfect and all-powerful … to which grace is then added. It fails to realize that, in this life, human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. Grace builds on nature. It does not make us superhuman but takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. If we reject this historical and progressive reality, we can actually refuse and block the grace of the Lord. His friendship infinitely transcends us: we cannot buy it with our works, it can only be a gift born of His loving initiative.
God’s grace permits us to cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation. When we overvalue
human will and our own abilities, we can tend towards obsession with the law, an absorption with social and
political advantages, scrupulous concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, vanity about the ability to manage practical matters and an excessive concern with programs of self-help and personal fulfilment as well as
certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The life of the Church can then become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This deprives the Gospel of its simplicity, allure and savor, and reduces it to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace.
CHAPTER 3: IN THE LIGHT OF THE MASTER
Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when He gave us the Beatitudes: they tell us what we must do to be holy in our daily lives and be good Christians. In the Beatitudes, “happy” and “blessed” are synonymous with “holy”. We gain true happiness – and become holy — by faithful practice of the Beatitudes. We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with His power and frees us from our weakness, selfishness, complacency and pride.
Pope Francis describes each of the Beatitudes and their invitation, concluding each section:
- “Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”
- “Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness.”
- “Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.”
- “Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness.”
- “Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness.”
- “Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.”
- “Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness.”
- “Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.”
If we seek the holiness that is pleasing to God’s eyes, Matthew 25:31-46 offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged: we must see Jesus in the poor and suffering. And it is about more than simply performing certain good works. It also means seeking social change. We cannot pursue a holiness that ignores injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.
Some deceptive ideologies can lead us on the one hand to separate the Gospel demands from our personal relationship with God, so that our faith become stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of saints. On the other hand, deceptive other ideologies can lead us to dismiss the social efforts of others, viewing our own ethical preoccupation as superior to all others.
For example, the dignity of a human life is always sacred, which demands that we defend the unborn. And other lives are equally sacred: migrants, the poor, the destitute, the abandoned, the underprivileged, the infirm, the elderly exposed to covert euthanasia and victims of human trafficking and new forms of slavery.
The ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love. Our worship becomes pleasing to God when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.
The best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy. Mercy is the key to heaven.
CHAPTER 4: SIGNS OF HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD
There are a few “signs”, or spiritual attitudes that we must adopt in order to understand the life to which God calls us. They are five great expressions of love for God and neighbor that are particularly important in today’s world: a world that suffers from anxiety, violence, negativity, sullenness, self-content bred by consumerism and individualism.
- Solid grounding in God’s love. This gives us the strength to persevere amid life’s ups and downs and to endure the hostility, betrayal and failings of others. This inner strength is the source of peace found in the saints, a peace that is free from aggressiveness born of overweening egotism.
- Joy and a Sense of Humor. The Christian life is full of the joy of the Holy Spirit. A Christian who emulates the saints is completely realistic, yet radiates a positive and hopeful spirit. And Christian joy is accompanied by a sense of humor. In fact, God tells us, “treat yourself well… Do not deprive yourself of a happy day” (Sir 14:11.14).
- Boldness and Passion. In order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, to go forth and serve, we need boldness and passion. He reassures us, “Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). “I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). But we must fight complacency: it is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things, that there is nothing we can do. By force of habit we no longer stand up to evil. We “let things be.” We must allow the Lord to rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia, to rethink our usual way of doing things; to open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord.
- Community. Growth in holiness is a journey of living and working in community with others. Sharing the Word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters friendship and a sense of belonging; they makes us a holy and missionary community. A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present.
- Constant Prayer. In the end, our desire for God will surely find expression in our daily lives: “Try to be continuous in prayer, and in the midst of bodily exercises, do not leave it. Whether you eat, drink, talk with others, or do anything, always go to God and attach your heart to Him.” (St. John of the Cross) For this to happen, however, some moments spent alone with God are also necessary. In silence, we can discern the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us.
As we go forth in our weeks, it will be helpful for us to embrace these five spiritual attitudes as we walk toward holiness.
CHAPTER 5: SPIRITUAL COMBAT, VIGILANCE AND DISCERNMENT
The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand temptation and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.
We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality . We also struggle against the devil, the prince of evil. Indeed, in leaving us the Our Father, Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to “deliver us from evil”. That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; it indicates a personal being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask daily for deliverance from him, lest his power prevail over us.
The path of holiness demands that we keep “our lamps lit” (Lk 12:35) and be attentive. “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:22). “Keep awake” (Mt 24:42; Mk 13:35). “Let us not fall asleep” (1 Thess 5:6). When we think we commit no grievous sins against God’s law, we can fall into a state of dull lethargy, we can fail to realize that our spiritual life has gradually turned lukewarm and end up weakened and corrupted. Such spiritual corruption is worse than the fall of a sinner, for it is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness.
Contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction and the world presents all of them as valid and good. Therefore, it is important that we pray for the gift of discernment. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.
Spiritual discernment is a grace that transcends existential, psychological, sociological or moral insights drawn from the human sciences. Prayerful discernment must be born of a readiness to listen: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways: to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual habits and ways of seeing things … and to become truly open to accepting a call that can shatter our security, but lead us to a better life.
An essential condition for progress in discernment is a growing understanding of God’s patience and his timetable, which are never our own. Discernment is not about discovering what more we can get out of this life, but about recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism. This entails a readiness to make sacrifices, even to sacrificing everything. For happiness is a paradox: we experience it most when we let go and trust God.