GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE
ON THE CALL TO HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD
1. “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” (Mt 5:12), Jesus tells those persecuted or humiliated for his sake. 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. The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1).
2. What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4).
CHAPTER ONE: THE CALL TO HOLINESS
THE SAINTS WHO ENCOURAGE AND ACCOMPANY US
4. The saints now in God’s presence preserve their bonds of love and communion with us.
THE SAINTS “NEXT DOOR”
6. Nor need we think only of those already beatified and canonized. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.
7. I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. A holiness found in our next-door neighbours; the middle class of holiness.
THE LORD CALLS
11. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable.
FOR YOU TOO
14. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.
15.In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness.
YOUR MISSION IN CHRIST
19. 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.
21. “Holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full”. (Benedict XVI)
ACTIVITY THAT SANCTIFIES
26. It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service.
29. This does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary.
MORE ALIVE, MORE HUMAN
32. Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you.
34. Do not be afraid to set your sights higher. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. “The only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint” (León Bloy).
CHAPTER TWO: TWO SUBTLE ENEMIES OF HOLINESS
An intellect without God and without flesh
38. Certainly this is a superficial conceit: there is much movement on the surface, but the mind is neither deeply moved nor affected.
39. It can be present within the Church: to reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.
A doctrine without mystery
42. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there.
The limits of reason
45. Saint John Paul II warned of the temptation on the part of those in the Church who are more highly educated “to feel somehow superior to other members of the faithful”.
A will lacking humility
49. When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will; God commands you to do what you can and to “command what you will” (Saint Augustine).
An often overlooked Church teaching
52. The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative.
58. Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism.
The summation of the Law
60. “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Gal 5:14).
CHAPTER THREE: IN THE LIGHT OF THE MASTER
63. “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.
GOING AGAINST THE FLOW
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
69. This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what Saint Ignatius of Loyola calls “holy indifference”, which brings us to a radiant interior freedom.
70. Being poor of heart: that is holiness.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”
72. “Perfect charity consists in putting up with others’ mistakes, and not being scandalized by their faults” (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux).
74. Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”
75. The world tells us exactly the opposite: Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed.
76. Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”
79. While it is true that the word “justice” can be a synonym for faithfulness to God’s will in every aspect of our life, if we give the word too general a meaning, we forget that it is shown especially in justice towards those who are most vulnerable. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy”
80. The Catechism reminds us that this law is to be applied “in every case”, especially when we are “confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult”.
82. Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”
85. From the heart’s intentions come the desires and the deepest decisions that determine our actions.
86. Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”
89. It is not easy to “make” this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but embraces even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult. Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
94. Persecutions are not a reality of the past, for today too we experience them, whether by the shedding of blood, as is the case with so many contemporary martyrs, or by more subtle means, by slander and lies. Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.
THE GREAT CRITERION
95. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25, 35-36).
In fidelity to the Master
98. If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father. That is what it is to be a Christian!
Ideologies striking at the heart of the Gospel
100. I regret that ideologies lead us at times to two harmful errors. On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace.
101. 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.
102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions.
103. This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.
The worship most acceptable to God
107. Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy.
108. Hedonism and consumerism can prove our downfall. Similarly, when we allow ourselves to be caught up in superficial information, instant communication and virtual reality, we can waste precious time and become indifferent to the suffering flesh of our brothers and sisters.
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109. The powerful witness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beatitudes and the criterion of the final judgement. I recommend rereading these great biblical texts frequently, referring back to them, praying with them, trying to embody them. They will benefit us; they will make us genuinely happy.
CHAPTER FOUR: SIGNS OF HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD
110. I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well. Here I will speak only of certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful.
111. They are five great expressions of love for God and neighbour that I consider of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture. There we see a sense of anxiety, sometimes violent, that distracts and debilitates; negativity and sullenness; the self-content bred by consumerism; individualism; and all those forms of ersatz spirituality – having nothing to do with God – that dominate the current religious marketplace.
112. PERSEVERANCE, PATIENCE AND MEEKNESS
122. JOY AND A SENSE OF HUMOUR
129. BOLDNESS AND PASSION
140. IN COMMUNITY
147. IN CONSTANT PRAYER
CHAPTER FIVE: SPIRITUAL COMBAT, VIGILANCE AND DISCERNMENT
158. The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.
COMBAT AND VIGILANCE
159. We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities. It is also a constant struggle against the devil. Jesus himself celebrates our victories.
More than a myth
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.
Alert and trustful
162. Our path towards holiness is a constant battle. Those who do not realize this will be prey to failure or mediocrity. For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach.
164. “Let us not fall asleep”. Those who think they commit no grievous sins against God’s law can fall into a state of dull lethargy.
166. How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. 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.
An urgent need
167. All of us, but especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.
Always in the light of the Lord
169. Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems. We need it at all times. Often discernment is exercised in small and apparently irrelevant things.
A supernatural gift
171. The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment. Yet we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations. Speak, Lord
172. Only if we are prepared to listen, do we have the freedom to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual habits and ways of seeing things.
173. It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past.
The logic of gift and of the cross
175. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives. Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind.
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176. I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, 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 and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”
177. It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.
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