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James Martin, S.J.April 09, 2018
 Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating Mass marking the feast of Divine Mercy in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)  Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating Mass marking the feast of Divine Mercy in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Rejoice and be glad!” is what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount. It’s also the title of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation on holiness in everyday life. Why should we “rejoice and be glad”? Because God, as Francis reminds us, calls us all to be saints. But how can we respond to that call?

Well, here are five takeaways from Francis’ new and very practical exhortation.

1. Holiness means being yourself

Pope Francis offers us many examples of holy lives throughout this document: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Carmelite who found holiness in doing small tasks; St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit founder who sought to find God in all things; St. Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians who was renowned for his sense of humor.

The saints pray for us and give us examples of how to live, but we are not meant to be cookie-cutter versions of them. We are meant to be ourselves, and each believer is meant to “discern his or her our own path” and “bring out the very best of themselves.” As Thomas Merton said, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.”

2. Everyday life can lead to holiness

You do not need to be a bishop, a priest or a member of a religious order to be holy. Everyone is called to be a saint, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us—a mother or a father, a student or an attorney, a teacher or a janitor. “Saints next door,” Francis calls them. All we need to do is to “live our lives in love” and “bear witness” to God in all we do.

That also doesn’t have to mean big, dramatic actions. Francis offers examples of everyday sanctity, like a loving parent raising a child; as well as “small gestures” and sacrifices that one can make, like deciding not to pass on gossip. If you can see your own life as a “mission,” then you soon realize that you can simply be loving and kind to move towards holiness.

You also do not have to be “swooning in mystic rapture” to be a saint or walking around with “lowered eyes.” Nor do you have to withdraw from other people. On the other hand, you do not want to be caught up in the “rat race” of rushing from one thing to another. A balance between action and contemplation is essential.

3. Two tendencies to avoid: Gnosticism and Pelagianism

Pope Francis may send people racing to either dictionaries or their theology textbooks when asks us to avoid two dangers in the spiritual life.

The first is Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnosis, to know. Gnosticism is the old heresy that says that what matters most is what you know. No need to be charitable or do good works. All you need is the correct intellectual approach. Today Gnosticism tempts people to think that they can make the faith “entirely comprehensible” and leads them to want to force others to adopt their way of thinking. “When somebody has an answer for every question,” says Francis, “it’s a sign that they are not on the right path.” In other words, being a know-it-all is not going to save you.

The second thing to avoid is Pelagianism, named for Pelagius, the fifth-century theologian associated with this idea. Pelagianism says that we can take care of our salvation through our own efforts. Pelagians trust in their own powers, don’t feel like they need God’s grace and act superior to others because they observe certain rules.

Today’s Pelagians often have, the pope says, “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, punctilious concern for the church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige.” It’s a real danger to holiness because it robs us of humility, sets us over others, and leaves little room for grace.

4. Be kind

“Gaudete et Exsulatate” is filled with Pope Francis’ trademark practical advice for living a life of holiness. For example, don’t gossip, stop judging and, most important, stop being cruel.

That goes for online actions, too. Francis’ comments on this topic are memorable. Online, he writes, “defamation and slander can become commonplace…since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, as people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.… In claiming to uphold other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying and ruthlessly vilifying others.”

To be holy, be kind.

5. The Beatitudes are a roadmap for holiness

As you might guess from the document’s title, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ list of “blessed ares,” are central to this exhortation. The Beatitudes are not only what Jesus means by holiness, they are also a portrait of our Lord himself. So we’re called to be poor in spirit, meek, peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.

But let me focus on one beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful.” Pope Francis says mercy, one of the central themes of his papacy, has two aspects: helping and serving others but also forgiving and understanding. Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who plot revenge!”

And what is Pope Francis’ overall summary of holiness? It’s based on the Beatitudes: “Seeing and acting with mercy.”

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Luis Gutierrez
6 years ago

About having "punctilious concern for the church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige." I abhor patriarchal liturgies and the supporting patriarchal doctrines that are utterly destroying the credibility of the church. It is hard to "rejoice and be glad" when witnessing displays of masculine hegemony every time I go to Mass. Let us pray that the church will be merciful and let go of ecclesiastical patriarchy.

Christopher Lochner
6 years ago

Try not to be TOO angry. I understand. The views expressed by Pope Francis are very nice indeed. They are firmly based on Scripture. The problem is in putting them to practice, as it always has been and is true for all of us. I've had the misfortune of encountering religious who were sinning routinely (theft is still a sin); all was swept under the rug. Showing Mercy to those who deny their sins while continuing them is very difficult indeed. And remember, woman are capable of just as much evil as men. Usually, a desire for power starts the ball of evil rolling. Anyway, Bless you, Luis.

Lisa Weber
6 years ago

"Gaudete et Exsultate" is a readable, accessible document. It is another reason to be grateful for a pope who is so pastoral in his approach.

Patrick Robinson
6 years ago

"Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate...equally sacred...are the lives of the poor." The Holy Father beautifully reaffirms that all lives are sacred. If this is used to attack pro-lifers for not protecting the sacred lives of the poor, the same critique applies to pro-choicers for not protecting the sacred lives of the unborn. Both the poor and the unborn deserve our clear, firm and passionate defense.

Tim Donovan
6 years ago

A writer in Our Sunday Visitor weekly newspaper (April 9, 2018) summed up Pope Francis ' exhortation "Rejoice and Be Glad" as exhibiting holiness in simple, everyday respects, beginning with innocent unborn human beings but then extending in a " seamless garment" to include human life after birth as well, especially people who are most vulnerable in society today. Sadly, the Washington Post (April 9, 2018) strongly implied that Pope Francis has downplayed the importance of defending the right to life of the innocent unborn, when he did no such thing. Although I'm certainly an imperfect Catholic, I believe I understand the Pope's call to see holiness in everyday life, from the unborn to those in the margins of our culture: the poor, the infirm, migrants, victims of human trafficking, and the whole of humanity. It's not a matter of choosing which ones of the human race should be protected; all people deserve our care, beginning with the unborn and extending throughout life.

Dionys Murphy
6 years ago

"If this is used to attack pro-lifers for not protecting the sacred lives of the poor, the same critique applies to pro-choicers for not protecting the sacred lives of the unborn" - I keep seeing the same exhortation across the internet. The suggestion that what he is 'really saying' is that those who are against the death penalty or who care about the lives of immigrants need to be as vocal about pro-life issues within abortion. However, the directionality of that argument failes. Pope Francis was *clear* in his criticism about who he was talking about. He was specifically offering a critique of those who are vehemently pro-life in the sphere of abortion but obsess about legalisms and self-image and fall short regarding their regard of the human being who is "the other." Stop trying to turn it around as a critique of 'pro-choicers' and own the critique and see how you can grow from it.

Rhett Segall
6 years ago

Presently there are 894,000 legal abortions each year in the U.S., and approximately 40,000,000 abortions world wide each year. If there were 894,000 American soldiers dying in battle each year where would our focus be? If the battle scene imagined played out, i.e. a war with American soldiers dying in the amount mentioned, (and the Pope underscores the metaphors of "The Church Militant" and "battle" in his exhortation) and a parent's child was sick, said parent would certainly attend to the child while recognizing the enormity of the social devastation and do all in his/her power to alleviate the killing. Christians have to focus on both according to what is possible for them in their situation. The parent can definitely help his/her child; stopping the massive killings will be harder. We have to do both as best we can.

Carl Kuss
6 years ago

Such a wonderful passage. Thanks for calling attention to itl.

Michael Ward
5 years 11 months ago

"Holiness is being myself." True enough at one level and false as hell on another. Otherwise what's to be said about "repenting" AND "believing" that the Kingdom is at hand.

Of course, we all need to find our own way to holiness, which includes as shedding the "false self" Merton himself put it. For all of us Christs comes to us as we are but DOES NOT LEAVE US THERE. Thank God for that!! Holiness is a matter of living "fully alive" as our "true selves", and not as the selfish projected ego puff job we so often make of ourselves. That's part of me too...and it needs to "decrease" so He can increase in me.

The paradigm for all of us is the woman caught in adultery, infidelity to the promise. He tells her...I love you. Stop going where you were going, doing what you were doing. No more of that. Go the other way. Its the way home.

It is not loving NOT to say this to me, remind me. And we're all in the same boat and need to hear it. Even Fr. Martin.

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