Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN
CITY (CNS) — God calls all Christians to be saints — not plastic statues of
saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for
others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on
holiness.

“Do
not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or
joy,” the pope wrote in “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), his
apostolic exhortation on “the call to holiness in today’s world.”

Pope
Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the
Vatican released it April 9.

Much
of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the
individual reading it. “With this exhortation I would like to insist
primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the
call that he also addresses, personally, to you,” he wrote near the
beginning.

Saying
he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused
mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of
each Christian and which requires a personal response given one’s state in
life, talents and circumstances.

“We
are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can
withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer,” he wrote.
But “that is not the case.”

“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,” he said.

He
wrote about “the saints next door” and said he likes “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.”

Pope
Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly
about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian
journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of
hell.

“We
should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure
of speech or an idea,” the pope wrote in his exhortation. “This
mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more
vulnerable” to the devil’s temptations.

“The
devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred,
desolation, envy and vice,” he wrote. “When we let down our guard, he
takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our
communities.”

The
path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in
prayer, in sacrifice and in service to others.

Being
part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist
and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope
wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. “I do not believe in
holiness without prayer,” he said, “even though that prayer need not
be lengthy or involve intense emotion.”

“The
holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures,” he
said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a
neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is
tired, prays the rosary and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind
word.

The
title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says “rejoice and be glad” to
those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.

The
line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, “Jesus
explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy”: living simply,
putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble,
mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for
justice and seeking peace with all.

The
example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he
said, but no one else’s path can be duplicated exactly.

Each
person, he said, needs “to embrace that unique plan that God willed for
each of us from eternity.”

The
exhortation ends with a section on “discernment,” which is a gift to
be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection,
reading Scripture and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.

“A
sincere daily ‘examination of conscience'” will help, he said, because
holiness involves striving each day for “all that is great, better and
more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things,
for each day’s responsibilities and commitments.”

Pope
Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness
involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others’ company
and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And,
“needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to
impress others will not lead to holiness.”

Being
holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always
frustrated and surly, something is not right.

“The
saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity
and bitterness,” he said. “The apostles of Christ were not like
that.”

In
fact, the pope said, “Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of
humor.”

The
exhortation included many of Pope Francis’ familiar refrains about attitudes
that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves
to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and
being quick to judge others for not following them.

Holiness
“is not about swooning in mystic rapture,” he wrote, but it is about
recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the
poor and the sick.

Holiness
is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one
should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.

“Our
defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and
passionate for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always
sacred,” the pope wrote. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of
the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the
underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert
euthanasia….”

And,
he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a “secondary
issue” when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.

“That
a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but
not a Christian,” he said.

Pope
Francis’ exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness
demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially
when commenting anonymously.

“It
is striking at times,” he said, that “in claiming to uphold the other
commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false
witness or lying.”

Saints,
on the other hand, “do not waste energy complaining about the failings of
others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and
sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others.”


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Printed
copies of “Rejoice and Be Glad” can be ordered from the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops at:
http://store.usccb.org/rejoice-and-be-glad-p/7-599.htm

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