On March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation entitled Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), a letter dealing with the call to holiness. In that document our Holy Father urged all of us to fulfill the mandate Jesus gave the apostles at his Ascension to the Father: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
We believe that Jesus, seated at the Father’s right hand, continues to call us to holiness — that life expressed in the fullness of charity: “Holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.” Pope Francis went on to quote Leon Bloy: “The only tragedy in life, is not to become a saint” (#32).
So what is the connection between holiness and our Lord’s Ascension? Just as the historical Jesus issued the commandment of love, so the risen Christ continues to call us, day in and day out, to be loving people, that is, to be holy. And how do we do this?
Pope Francis, in his down-to-earth and practical way, offers these suggestions: avoid negativity and sullenness; foster a sense of joy and a sense of humor; don’t stay close to the shore but venture out to help those on the margins; journey with the community and pay attention to the little details of love; foster a spirit of prayer and humility; avoid the rat race; allow yourself to be loved and liberated.
In Gaudete et Exsultate we hear again the teaching of Jesus as Pope Francis walks through the simplicity and beauty of the Beatitudes. These are the key to both holiness and happiness. The ascended Jesus continues to teach us that the poor in spirit trust in God, not in their own security. Those who are pure of heart will experience a perennial newness. Through meekness, we have a way of dealing with conflicts, disputes and enmity. When we are merciful, we join “the army of the forgiven.” In time of persecution, we carry the cross that Jesus himself carried. And a warning: beware of the danger of mediocrity. Be bold and passionate.
St. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, witnesses to the power of the Ascension. He reminds us that “in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,” God the Father has put Jesus as head of all things. It is Jesus who intercedes for us that we might be a holy people, a loving community bringing peace and joy to others and building the kingdom of God.
At the end of his exhortation, Pope Francis speaks of Mary: “She [Mary] teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side” (#176). On this feast of the Ascension we rejoice and are glad that both Mary and her son Jesus continually guide us onward to the kingdom of love, justice and peace.
Bishop Morneau, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Green Bay Diocese, serves as sacramental minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Green Bay.