Monday, April 9, 2018
New Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World: Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”)

“The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.”—Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), Introduction. The new Apostolic Exhortation was signed on March 19, Feast of St. Joseph, the 5th anniversary of Francis’ inauguration as Bishop of Rome, and made public today, April 9, at a Vatican press conference

“I like to contemplate 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. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant.” —Gaudete et Exsultate, Chapter 1, Paragraph 7

“To recognize the word that the Lord wishes to speak to us through one of his saints, we do not need to get caught up in the details, for there we might also encounter mistakes and failures… What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person.” —Gaudete et Exsultate, Chapter 1, Paragraph 22

“Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of jus­ti­fication by their own efforts… The result is a self-centered and elitist complacency, bereft of true love… an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige… This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs, or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of Pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures.” —Gaudete et Exsultate, Chapter 2, Paragraph 57-58

“The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist… Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate… Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned…” —Gaudete et Exsultate, Chapter 3, Paragraph 101

“Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forms of digital communication. Even in the 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.” —Gaudete et Exsultate, Chapter 4, Paragraph 115

A cold, rainy day in Rome.

The tunnel underneath the street in front of the Sant’Uffizio was impassable, as water would not drain. About six inches collected there during the press conference. Coming back, I could not pass without soaking my feet, so I turned back. I explained to the Italian security guard at street level, who was standing under an awning out of the rain, holding his rifle, in front of the Church of St. Monica, that many people, like myself, were turning back and so were walking past him because the tunnel was flooded. He said he knew.

Today the Vati­­can released a new Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Fran­cis, Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”): On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.

The text was signed on March 19, but released today.

The essential message of the text is that all Christians are called to a life of sanctity.

That is, to be, to become, saints.

In this, his third Apostolic Exhortation (following Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia), Francis reflects on this “call to holiness,” and how we can respond to it in the modern world.

“My modest goal,” Pope Francis says in his Introduction, “is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.”

And, since the holiness of God is a central characteristic of His being, this means that all Christians are called, in a sense, to take on God’s nature, to become holy as God is holy — to become, in this way, similar to God.

This is possible, not just for canonized saints, but for everyone.

It is a universal call to all believers to set out on the path of holiness.

One perplexity: Francis here repeats his well-known critique of “rigorism,” expressed on several occasions during his papacy.

In doing so, Francis seems to risk unfairly lumping together many well-meaning, kind, pious Catholic faithful with some who are in fact overly “obsessed with the law” or have “a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy.”

This possible “lumping together” seems a weak point in the document.

In Chapter 1, Francis eloquently sets forth the call for us to love all, especially the most needy.

“God… is always greater than our plans and schemes,” he writes. “Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14). So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find Him there; indeed, He is already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their troubles and in there profound desolation. He is already there.”

In Chapter 2, Francis examines two “subtle enemies of holiness,” namely, contemporary Gnosticism and contemporary Pelagianism (more on these dangers in a follow-up letter).

Francis in Chapter 3 then considers each of the Beatitudes as they set forth what it actually means to be holy.

But if the Beatitudes show us what holiness means, he says, other Gospel passages show us the criterion by which we will be judged: “I was hungry and you gave me food… thirsty and you gave me drink… a stranger and you welcomed me… naked and you clothed me… sick and you took care of me… in prison and you visited me.”

Francis devotes Chapter 4 to “certain aspects of the call to holiness” that he feels “will prove especially meaningful”: perseverance, patience and meekness; joy and a sense of humour; boldness and passion; the communal dimension of holiness; constant prayer.

In Chapter 5, Francis makes practical suggestions for living out the call to holiness.

“The Christian life is a constant battle,” the Pope says. “We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel.”

His emphasis on the actual existence of a being called the devil, and of this being’s deceptive wiles and snares, is a striking element of this new document.

In fact, in Paragraph 161, Francis cites the powerful words of the Apostle Peter known as OnePeterFive, which, by ironic coincidence, has become a popular website for sharp, conservative critics of Pope Francis.

Paragraph 161 cites the famous verse in the 1st Letter of Peter, Chapter 5, Verse 8 (the author of this letter presents himself as Peter the Apostle, and, following Catholic tradition, the epistle has been held to have been written during Peter’s time as bishop of Rome or Bishop of Antioch, in the 50s or 60s A.D., so approximately 20 years or so after the Crucifixion, though neither episcopal title is used in the epistle. The text of the letter states that it was written “from Babylon.” That was often a euphemism for Rome. The letter is addressed to various churches in Asia Minor suffering religious persecution.)

Here is what Pope Francis writes in his Paragraph 161:

“Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities. ‘Like a roaring lion, he prowls about, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Pet 5:8).”

Francis then calls us to exercise the gift of discernment, “which is all the more necessary today,” in a world with so many deceptive distractions.

“I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary,” Francis concludes, “because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen…”

(to be continued)

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