Pope Francis' Guide to Holiness

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Pope Francis' Guide to Holiness

Reflections based on the new Apostolic Exhortation

On the Call to Holiness in the Modern World


Pope Francis has released a new Apostolic Exhortation: On the Call to Holiness. In Latin the document will be known by its title Gaudete et Exsultate. The Holy Father seeks "to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities" (No. 2).

As with his other documents, Pope Francis is speaking directly to the Catholic in the pew, that’s all of us. For “the Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people, for ‘it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather as a people who might acknowledge him in truth and serve him in holiness.’” (no. 6)

So Pope Francis speaks directly to you and me. He even calls us “the saints ‘next door.’” I love that phrase. It is not only the beatified and canonized saints who are holy. We too are holy. Our lives are made up of a complex fabric of interpersonal relationships, and it is through the patience we learn and show to those who live beside us, wherever that may be, that persevering holiness is developed.

In the words of Pope Francis: “I like to contemplate 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. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness.” (no. 7)

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While there will be studies and articles and discussions on this document for years to come, I’d like to stay right in the heart of Pope Francis’ love for you and pull out from the document 7 ways of holiness for those who live “the middle class of holiness.”

  1. Holy people make history. “Real history is made by so many of the humblest members of God’s people.” (no. 8) Believe in your own special call to holiness, and ask God what he has in mind for you to do in the world around you today.
  2. Holiness is everyone’s call in life. “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. 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” (no. 14).
  3. De-cluttering helps the spirit. Do not ignore “the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God” (no. 29). Pope Francis talks about a few things that can make it difficult for us to leave room for God’s voice to be heard: the presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel, and an endless array of consumer goods. “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?”
  4. Holy people go against the flow. Jesus’ words in the Gospel are very poetic. The Beatitudes are beautiful to read and to hear. But they also unsettle us, challenge us to make real changes in our life. “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). “The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card” (no. 63).
  5. Holiness is seeing with your heart. Pope Francis writes, “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, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a Christian!” (no. 98)
  6. The Face of Jesus has great power. “We need to remember that ‘contemplation of the face of Jesus, died and risen, restores our humanity, even when it has been broken by the troubles of this life or marred by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ.’ So let me ask you: Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy” (no. 151).
  7. The Christian life is a constant battle. “This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives” (no. 158). “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 (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil. Jesus himself celebrates our victories” (no. 159).

Mary, the saint among the saints and blessed above all others, teaches us the way of holiness. “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…’” (no. 176).

by Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

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Two subtle enemies of holiness

Circling back to Chapter Two, the pope devotes the second chapter of the document to discussing two false philosophies that can hinder us on the way of sanctity: Gnosticism and Pelagianism. These are old errors and have surfaced in different ways throughout Church history. “In our times too, many Christians, perhaps without realizing it, can be seduced by these deceptive ideas” (no. 35).

Basically, Gnosticism is a way of ignoring the reality of the Incarnation so that we try to seek God in some purely spiritual way, without the body or the material world. But God is the creator of everything, including matter. In the Incarnation, God the Son became a man in order to save us. To become holy we need to live out the mysteries of Christ in our own lives, as the Pope explains:

“At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love” (no. 20).

Pelagianism concerns the idea that we can become holy solely on our own merits, without the help of God’s grace. This leads to pride and self-sufficiency. Instead, we must trust in Jesus’ help in order to become holy. “Only on the basis of God’s gift, freely accepted and humbly received, can we cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation. We must first belong to God, offering ourselves to him who was there first, and entrusting to him our abilities, our efforts, our struggle against evil and our creativity, so that his free gift may grow and develop within us” (no. 56).

by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP


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