Pope Francis, in his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), discusses the Universal Call to Holiness in today’s world, and focuses especially on “middle class holiness”–that is, “holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence” (7). Gaudete et Exsultate reminds us that holiness is not for the future, not for the past, not for the sinless; holiness is for every time, every moment, every person. It is about seeking God’s will in all things, at all times, and finding the courage to do it. Holiness is for you and it is for me. Indeed, that is something to rejoice and be glad about!
Here are some of the top tweetable moments that Pope Francis shares in this document:
1. 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 (14).
To be holy is not to be perfect, nor does it mean being a priest or a religious, rather, it is about living our life with love and bearing witness to Christ in everything we do — especially the small things. More importantly, we should not fear holiness! When we live our lives for Jesus, we will find the deepest sense of joy and peace.
2. When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better” (15).
How many times do we despair in our shortcomings, our mistakes, our failures, our sin? How often do we let that despair push us further from Christ, rather than running towards Him? God does not expect us to be perfect, but He does expect us to get back up when we fall and turn back towards Him.
3. “Anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness” (28).
This is so simple, but such a good reminder. Have you ever gone out of your way to do something good so others around you would think more highly of you? Or because you want to portray a certain image of yourself? All of those motivations are selfish. God wants us to pray, to serve, and to love out of love for Him–not because we are overly scrupulous and prideful. Holiness is not a status, it is a way of life.
4. “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self (32).”
When I first read this, I thought of St. John Paul II and what he said in his address to the young people on World Youth Day 2000: “It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you.” When we live a life recklessly abandoned for Jesus, we begin down a path of holiness. That path leads us to authenticity, truth, and joy. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?
5. “A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness. He or she is consoled, not by the world but by Jesus. Such persons are unafraid to share in the suffering of others” (76).
Our world today tries to avoid suffering at all costs, we find ways to escape pain by seeking “entertainment, pleasure, diversion” (75). We’d rather cover up and hide our pain than allow space for mourning. But as Christians we must bear our crosses with courage and grace, “the cross can never be absent” (75). When we embrace our cross, rather than flee from it, we are “capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness” because we are being “consoled, not by the world but by Jesus” (76). This enables them to be present in the suffering of others.
6. “Giving and forgiving means reproducing in our lives some small measure of God’s perfection, which gives and forgives superabundantly” (81).
Mercy is about helping and forgiving others, especially in the faces of situations that are difficult. We are reminded to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful because “[t]he yardstick we use for understanding and forgiving others will measure the forgiveness we receive. The yardstick we use for giving will measure what we receive” (81). Because we have been forgiven, we must forgive; “seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness” (82).
7. “The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace” (87).
I honestly think if we could all stop gossiping and spreading anger and hate, we’d be well on our way to world peace. God seeks to give us a heart that is “simple, pure and undefiled, for a heart capable of love admits nothing that might harm, weaken or endanger that love” (83). To guard our heart, we can’t let bitterness or hatred take root; we cannot not give in to gossip, slander, and false witness. To truly make peace, we must “build peace and friendships in society” (88). Often this requires us to embrace “those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or simply uninterested” (89).
8. “Jesus himself warns us that the path he proposes goes against the flow, even making us challenge society by the way we live and, as a result, becoming a nuisance” (90).
Christianity goes against the flow, it is counter-cultural. People might not like what we say, or think, or do and we have to be ok with that. Our time on this earth is temporary, we should live our lives with the hope of our eternal home in heaven.
9. “Our defence 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 and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development” (101).
We have to protect the unborn, we absolutely have to. We can’t be lukewarm about this issue (like I once was) because once a single human’s life is disposable, all life becomes disposable. But we have to care about everyone else after they are born, too. So keep reading!
10. “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, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection” (101).
Yes! Every person’s life matters! We need to protect ALL human life, inside the womb and outside the womb. It is wrong to ignore injustice, to turn our eyes away from people who are suffering, while we live for the latest consumer goods.
11. “God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe” (135).
God’s plans are always more magnificent than our own. Who would have thought that the Son of God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, would have been born into complete poverty, in a manger? Not only that, He came to us in the most vulnerable state — an infant. God is not afraid of the fringes of society, so unafraid that that is what He became.
12. “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” (135).
Because God became the fringe, we must dare to go there. And when we go there we will find that He is there. Who are the people in your world that are on the fringe? It doesn’t just have to be in the poor, addicted, the homeless. Look around your school, your family even. Who is on the fringe? Who is suffering? Who is alone? Who is forgotten? Who would you rather ignore than be associated with? Find them. Then dare to go there.
13. “True enough, we need to open the door of our hearts to Jesus, who stands and knocks. Sometimes I wonder, though, if perhaps Jesus is already inside us and knocking on the door for us to let him escape from our stale self-centredness” (136).
I love this. Yes, we have to let Jesus in and allow Him to dwell in our hearts. When we allow Him to dwell in our hearts we give Him permission to transform our cold, stony hearts into hearts of empathy and love. That is the first step. But then we must let that love pour forward. We need to die to our selfish ways and have the courage to share Jesus’ love and mercy with others. Have you let Jesus in? Will you also let Him out?
14. “Though it may seem obvious, we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration” (147).
Holiness cannot be attained without a consistent prayer life. Our prayer can be in the form of reading Scripture, petitions, and song. While our whole life should be a prayer, we must also find time to spend quiet moments alone with God. In a world that is filled with so much noise, that silence allows us to pause, listen, and “discern… the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us” (150). This life of prayer is especially sustained by reception of the Eucharist, in which we receive Jesus himself.
15. “When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult” (175).
This is one of the last things Pope Francis writes. Turn your whole life over to him, even the parts you are afraid to surrender, even the corners of your heart you don’t want him to see. The path to holiness is made up of daily acts of love, daily acts of surrender, daily moments of prayer. Do not be afraid to be holy!
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