An new apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis on “the call to holiness in the contemporary world.”
“Gaudete et Exsultate” is the Latin title of the text, which translated into English means “Rejoice and Be Glad.” The words are taken from the Gospel of Matthew (5:12) at the end of the discourse on the Beatitudes.
Gaudete et Exsultate Talking Points
“I want to insist primarily,” the Holy Father writes, “on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you….” (emphasis added, no. 10). In this exhortation, Pope Francis discusses the mission of each Christian – which is to grow in holiness (chapter 1). Two false understandings of holiness still confound us to this day – Gnosticism and Pelagianism. The first can be described as knowing all the doctrines of the faith, but not the Mystery. The second can be understood as living what looks like a holy life, but is lacking in humility, the knowledge that everything comes from God (chapter 2).
These false ways are countered by a genuine understanding of holiness, which the Holy Father presents by a reading of the Beatitudes. These instruct us in how to be holy. Here, at the center of the exhortation, some of the Holy Father’s strongest words are found. Holiness does not just involve prayer, but also by how much our life has been transformed and lived out in the light of mercy. “Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands, for mercy is ‘the beating heart of the Gospel’” (no. 97) (chapter 3).
The Holy Father then offers five great expressions of love for God and neighbor that speak directly to our current times. These include illustrations of perseverance, patience, meekness, joy a sense of humor, boldness and passion, community and family life, and constant prayer (chapter 4).
Pope Francis describes how holiness comes out through the daily struggles each disciple of Christ faces. This spiritual combat is not only with worldly values and our own weaknesses, but is also with a very real enemy, the devil. To aid in that fight, the Holy Father concludes his exhortation by addressing discernment. Discernment is … “about recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism” (no, 174). And that mission, of course, is to be holy (chapter 5).
- The call to holiness is inspired by the saints, “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12.1) (no. 3), but each person is called to holiness “each in their own way” (Lumen gentium, 11) (no. 10).
- What we are called to imitate from the saints is not their specific actions (no. 11), but their desire to “being open to God,” turning to him in every situation (no. 15), listening to God in prayer, discerning the signs he gives you (no. 23), and to living out to the full, the mission given to you – reflecting the life of Christ and his self-sacrificing love (no. 22, 31).
- We are not saved alone; “We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people” (no. 6).
- “Do not be afraid of holiness” (no. 32). “We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer…. We are called to be holy by living our lives with love and bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (no. 14).
- The constant “noise” of new gadgets, new pleasures, new experiences, does get in the way of holiness. “How can we fail to realize the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God?” (no. 29).
- Two enemies to holiness are modern manifestations of two old heresies – Gnosticism and Pelagianism. These were taken up in the recent document Placuit Deo from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- The Holy Father expounds on how these are false paths to holiness that have returned within the culture and can even be found in our own attitudes.
- Gnosticism is manifested in those who believe they have the truth, and see themselves as “already saints, perfect and better than the ‘ignorant masses’” (no. 45). True holiness lies in seeking the truth, but realizing that “God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises” (no. 41).
- True holiness, true charity is when “we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions” and not just those who agree with our way of thinking (no. 42).
- Gnosticism is where one believes he or she is saved by the power of their intellect, by what they know. Pelagianism is the same thing, but instead of the power of the intellect, it is the power of the will, of human effort, that brings one to holiness.
- This neo-Pelagianism expresses itself in many varied ways: “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programs of self-help and personal fulfilment” (no. 57).
- “[W]e cannot celebrate this free gift of the Lord’s friendship unless we realize that our earthly life and our natural abilities are his gift” (no. 55).
- “The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card” (no. 63). “The word ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’ thus becomes a synonym for ‘holy.’ It expresses the fact that those faithful to God and his word, by their self-giving, gain true happiness” (no. 64).
- “The Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite. We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride” (no. 65).
- “In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 31-46), Jesus expands on the Beatitude that calls blessed the merciful. If we seek holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged” (no. 95). “Holiness, then is not about swooning in mystic rapture” (no. 96). “Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands, for mercy is ‘the beating heart of the Gospel’” (no. 97).
- There are two harmful errors that come from ideologies, and that misconstrue holiness. The first is when we separate the Gospel demands of mercy and our own personal relationship with the Lord treating them as two separate things (no. 100). The second is when we relativize the concerns of social engagement or when we believe only one particular issue to be import (no. 101).
- We cannot see issues such as migration, bioethical questions or other concerns as secondary issues (no. 102).
- “Hedonism and consumerism can prove our downfall, for when we are obsessed with our own pleasure, we end up being too concerned about ourselves and our rights, and we feel a desperate need for free time to enjoy ourselves” (no. 108). for Christianity is meant above all to be put into practice” (no. 109).
- Today “we see a sense of anxiety, sometimes violent, that distracts and debilitates” and the marketing of all kinds of inferior substitutes to genuine spirituality and holiness (no. 111).
- Expression # 1 of Holiness: perseverance, patience, and meekness – a fidelity born of love (no. 112-121). This can only come about through humility, without which, there is no holiness (no. 118).
- Expression #2 of Holiness: joy and a sense of humor – “the saints are joyful and full of good humor” (no. 122- 128). “The necessary result of the love of charity is joy” (no. 122).
- Expression #3 of Holiness: boldness (parrhesía) and passion – “an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world” (no. 129-139). “How often we are tempted to stay close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into the deep and let down our nets (cf. Luke 5:40)” (no. 130). “Complacency is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things” (no. 137).
- Expression #4 of Holiness: in community – “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others” (no. 140-146). “The common life, whether in the family, the parish, the religious community or any other, is made up of small everyday things” (no. 143). “Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details” (no. 144).
- Expression #5 of Holiness: in constant prayer – “though it may seem obvious, we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration” (no. 147-157). In the silence of prayer “we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us” (no. 150).
- “The Christian life is a constant battle” (no. 158). It is a battle not only against “a worldly mentality” and “our human weaknesses and proclivities” but also “a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil” (no. 159).
- The devil is more than a myth. The devil “is a personal being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask daily for deliverance from him, lest his power prevail over us” (no. 160).
- “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” (no. 162).
- “The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good” (no. 167).
- “For this reason, I ask all Christians not to omit, in dialogue with the Lord, a sincere daily ‘examination of conscience’” (no. 169).
- “We must remember that prayerful discernment must be born of a readiness to listen: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways” (no. 172).
- “Naturally, this attitude of listening entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it” (no. 173).
- “Discernment is… about recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism” (no. 174). That mission, of course, is to be holy.