It seems like each week a new picture or story about Pope Francis pops up in the news. The love of God the Father is revealed in the beautiful and personal way he connects with people who come to see him, looking for answers. Part of the appeal of Pope Francis is his sincere belief that God is radically present to his people right now.
Pope Francis desires to bring everyone into relationship with Jesus. Because we can’t all visit him in person and because of his deep conviction that God wants to speak to all of us, Pope Francis’ writings reach out to us with the same passion and care as those who experience him in person.
Gaudete et Exsultate: An Overview
In his new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis outlines a path for holiness in the modern world. He reminds us that sanctity is possible in our era just as it has always been in the past. It just may look a little different.
Wholeheartedly committed to our growth in sanctity, Pope Francis, in his own humble way, offers us “the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2).Pope Francis reminds us that sanctity is possible in our era just as it has always been in the past. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
The Universal Call to Holiness
Pope Francis has a style of writing that both affirms and challenges the reader. His desire that everyone grow in holiness is mirrored in the way this document is constructed. You can hear him preaching this as a homily. He begins with telling us that we are all called to holiness, and he’s going to help us see how to be holy right now.
If your first objection was to push back and say you aren’t really set up to be holy, Pope Francis begins the document with a chapter dedicated to the universal call to holiness seen throughout the history of the Church, and particularly stated in the documents from the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Francis believes you can be holy! Francis even highlights particularly beautiful “feminine styles of holiness” as “essential means of reflecting on God’s holiness ” (#12).
Heresies Against Holiness
The second chapter is a warning of the common pitfalls of holiness–Gnosticism and Pelagianism. These heresies were refuted in the early centuries of the Church. But their spirits live on in the temptation to overconfidence in our own abilities.
In highlighting Gnosticism, Pope Francis warns us against making our religion too intellectual. It is not something we can abstract and therefore fully understand.
Similarly, Pelagianism can find us relying too much on our own will power. We become convinced that we can muscle our way to holiness.
Both are heresies because they reject the vulnerable and docile heart that must be characterize the Christian, a heart open to the Holy Spirit.
The Roadmap to Holiness
In the third and fourth chapters, Pope Francis gives us a roadmap and some signposts for holiness in our own lives.
He goes through every beatitude (Matthew 5) and the Great Criterion (Matthew 25) in some depth. These ancient teachings of the Church are as relevant to the believer today as they were when Jesus first spoke them. Pope Francis warns that living our lives modeled on Christ will not be safe or easy. They are contradictory to the world. Pope Francis doesn’t want a life of conflict for us. Rather, he desires for us an extraordinary one, lest we “sink into an obscure mediocrity” (#90).
Pope Francis ends the meditation on each beatitude with a simple, one-sentence description for holiness. Those eight phrases would be perfect for a multi-week Bible study or personal retreat.
Careful not to neglect our duty to our neighbors, Pope Francis stresses the importance of mercy and compassion. He acknowledges that the suffering we witness in the modern world is uncomfortable: “For Christians, [recognizing the dignity of each human being] involves a constant and healthy unease” (#99). “Deeds of charity for our neighbors are not something ancillary to the Christian life, but a response to God’s love and mercy for us and the measure of our own conversion” (#105).
What Does Holiness Look Like?
The fourth chapter is Pope Francis’ markers on the path to holiness. Armed with the beatitudes and the works of charity, these five characteristics are essential to a Christian in today’s world. While he is careful to say that these are not the totality of holiness, Pope Francis considers these traits essential. “…five great expressions of love for God and neighbor that I consider of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture” (#111).
I was delighted by the qualities Pope Francis listed. He mentions a sense of humor, boldness and passion, and a sense of community as vital to today’s Christian.
I have witnessed the evangelizing power a sense of humor and passion can have on hardened hearts. Pope Francis shows himself completely attuned to the modern situation with his observations. He concludes with a final reminder that the Enemy is very real and will attempt to dissuade us from the life of virtue. Pope Francis warns against spiritual sloth and (consistent with his Jesuit formation) recommends training in discernment.
Holiness in the Modern Era
For Pope Francis, the life of the modern Christian should not be characterized by sadness or stinginess. It should manifest as an open heart and open hands. I felt deeply loved and shepherded by the Holy Father’s letter of encouragement. We can see from the title he chose for this Exhortation (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) that Pope Francis considers joy the hallmark of the modern Christian. Joy is necessary for both for her own salvation and for the salvation of souls.Pope Francis considers joy the hallmark of the modern Christian. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Pope Francis desperately wants to reach out to you and I, and does it through this beautiful missive. He mentions us all early on as signs of encouragement to him:
…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. (#7)
I believe this exhortation is what Pope Francis would say to me if we had some time alone together. Pope Francis wants the true life that Christ promised to us and will stop at nothing to inspire us.A Look at Gaudete et Exsultate #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Chelsea Piper is passionate about the religious formation of youth and young adults, despite it being a conversation-killer at rooftop parties and family get-togethers. She spends her time attempting to (and generally failing at) keeping houseplants alive.
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