Papa Francesco has done it again! At the beginning of his sixth year as our Pope, Francis has offered believers, and indeed the world, grist for spiritual growth.
This, the fifth of his documents, is an apostolic exhortation on holiness. Entitled Gaudete and Exultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), Pope Francis invites believers “to be holy by living our lives with love and by being witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (14).
In 135, Francis soars as he tells the reader about the essential connection between love of God and love of neighbor..."God is eternal newness and impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where women and men, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek answers to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! God is fearless, always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, God himself becomes a fringe. So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find Him there. Indeed, He is already there. Jesus is already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their troubles and in their profound desolation. He is already there.”
At the same time, Francis doesn’t dismiss our need for prayer. “I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions” (147). But he continually goes back to the indispensable need to serve others. “We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following ethical norms. It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others” (104).
In Chapter five, Francis writes about some virtues he believes to be important for us to practice in our lives if we are to be holy: “perseverance amid life’s ups and downs to endure hostility, betrayal and failings on the part of others,” (112), humility, boldness and apostolic courage.
He also tells the reader that community is necessary for holiness, contrary to our contemporary culture that advocates being apart. “Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things” (134).
“Growth in holiness,” Pope Francis continues, “is a journey in community, side by side with others” (141). “Each community is called to create a God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord” (142).
“Do not be afraid of holiness,” Pope Francis says. “It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind for you when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self” (32).
~Sister Joan Sobala