Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation in which he aims to “repropose” the universal call to holiness – which he says is the mission of life for every person.
Published April 9, Gaudete et exsultate, or “Rejoice and be glad,” is Francis’ third apostolic exhortation. It is subtitled “On the call to holiness in the contemporary world.”
The 44-page exhortation explains that holiness is the mission of every Christian, and gives practical advice for living out the call to holiness in ordinary, daily life, encouraging the practice of the Beatitudes and performing works of mercy.
Francis mentioned the holiness “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 neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’”
Francis said that all Catholics that, like the saints, “need to see the entirety of your life as a mission,” and explained that this is accomplished by listening to God in prayer and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in each moment and decision.
“A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness,” he stated, explaining that this path has its “fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him.”
Using the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Francis wrote that “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.” As a result, the measure of our holiness stems not from our own achievement, but “from the stature that Christ achieves in us.”
Therefore, Pope Francis said, to walk the path of holiness requires prayer and contemplation alongside action; the two cannot be separated.
The pope also touched on what he calls the “two enemies of holiness” – modern versions of the heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism, saying that these lead to “false forms of holiness.”
In the modern form of Gnosticism, Francis said, one believes that faith is purely subjective, and that the intellect is the supreme form of perfection, not charity.
This can lead Catholics to think that “because we know something, or are able to explain it in certain terms, we are already saints,” he said, when really, “what we think we know should always motivate us to respond more fully to God’s love.”
In contemporary Pelagianism, he said the common error is to believe that it is by our own effort that we achieve sanctity, forgetting that everything in fact “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy (Rom. 9:16).”
The pope explained that “the Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative,” and that even our cooperation with the gift of divine grace is itself “a prior gift of that same grace.”
Some may be asked, through God’s grace, for grand gestures of holiness – as can be seen in the lives of many of the saints, Francis said – but many people are called to live the mission of holiness in a more ordinary way, and in the context of their vocation.
However large or small one’s call seems, Francis said that acts of charity are always undertaken “by God’s grace,” not as people “sufficient unto ourselves, but rather ‘as good stewards of the manifold grace of God’ (1 Peter 4:10),” he said.
The pope offered several practical recommendations for living out these “small gestures.” In addition to the frequent reception of the sacraments and attendance at Mass, he said that in the Beatitudes Jesus explains “with great simplicity what it means to be holy.”
He also said that a way to practice holiness is through the works of mercy, though he warned that to think good works can be separated from a personal relationship with God and openness to grace is to make Christianity into “a sort of NGO.”