On this past Monday, April 9, 2018, Pope Francis issues his third apostolic exhortation titled, “Gaudete et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” The Holy Father explains in the second paragraph why he wrote the new document.
What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4).
Among the many insights Pope Francis gives in the document is a meditation on the works of mercy. In particular, the Holy Father wrote, “if we seek the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged. ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’ (vv. 35-36).”
He goes on to write, “In this call to recognize him in the poor and the suffering, we see revealed the very heart of Christ, his deepest feelings and choices, which every saint seeks to imitate.”
Pope Francis then makes the bold exhortation, “Given these uncompromising demands of Jesus, it is my duty to ask Christians to acknowledge and accept them in a spirit of genuine openness, sine glossa. In other words, without any ‘ifs or buts’ that could lessen their force. Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands, for mercy is ‘the beating heart of the Gospel.'”
This is very challenging, yet it cuts to the heart of our own mission as well as members of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. As the documents guiding the recreation of the PWPN further explain.
We are invited to make our own the Father’s loving gaze upon humanity and to act with the Heart of Jesus Christ. We are sent out to the margins of human life in different ways, together with his Son. We are sent to the places where men and women are suffering injustice, to help heal and support the brokenhearted.
What Pope Francis proposes in Gaudete et Exsultate, is what we strive to live on a daily basis.
At the same time, the Holy Father points out that we must not follow certain ideologies that can lead us into error. He wrote, “On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and many others.”
For Pope Francis, “The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”
Above all things, we must walk together with Jesus, in an intimate friendship where our prayer drives us to see all people with his eyes. We must seek to unite our hearts with his, encountering the many challenges facing humanity with both prayer and action.
It is a “Way of the Heart” that we must follow, becoming missionaries in our everyday lives.
Pope Francis has given us a great gift with this exhortation, one that dives deeper into a spirituality that brings us closer to the heart of Christ.