Our path to heaven, to holiness, is challenging and can always use a dose of inspiration. Today we have that jolt of stimulation thanks to Pope Francis.
Last Monday, the Vatican released the latest apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), calling it a guide to Christianity for the 21st century.
“My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time,” states Pope Francis.
In his refreshing style, Pope Francis not only offers everyday Catholics ways to pursue the call to holiness, he assures us that God is drawing himself to us.
Holiness is found in the saints and prophets who have gone before us, but Pope Francis reminds us that a “middle class of holiness” exists in you and me.
“I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile,” he says.
The pope’s exhortation is brief by church document standards, just 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.
In Chapter Three, Pope Francis says that no better example of holiness can be found than in the Beatitudes.
“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card,” he says. “So if anyone asks: ‘What must one do to be a good Christian?’ The answer is clear. We have to do … what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.” He then goes on to give a short discourse on each beatitude and concludes the chapter by reminding us of our duty to serve the least among us.
“It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others,” says Pope Francis.
While good examples of holiness abound in this document, Pope Francis also points to vices that challenge holiness.
“We need to recognize and combat our aggressive and selfish inclinations and not let them take root,” he says in chapter four.
Here he lays down ground rules for Catholic communicators.
“Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication,” he writes. “Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.”
His parting words for Catholic communicators and social media junkies:
“It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze” (cf. Jas 3:6).
This Easter season (the 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday) is a good time to meditate on holiness, and thanks to Pope Francis we have a great source of material on which to reflect.