gaudete et exsultate

Rejoice and be glad | reflections from fr steve rice

Published in parish communications on April 15, 2018

Last Monday Pope Francis published a new apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world. He entitled the exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). For some time at St Timothy’s we have talked about holiness. It’s been preached, written, and talked about, so I was delighted to see Pope Francis use the platform of an apostolic exhortation to address the issue with Christians all over the world. I pray that other Christian leaders, including those in our tradition, will follow the Pope’s lead and address personal holiness more and more. The exhortation is an easy read and not terribly long, just under 50 pages. I was able to read it all in one sitting at the neighborhood Starbucks. I did, however, use up an entire highlighter! The language is direct and even a little folksy with examples from everyday life. A quick Google search will lead you to full text on the Vatican’s website. As a preview of the entire document, I’m sharing some excerpts that did not escape my highlighter (the numbers indicate the paragraph in the text). It will take a couple of weeks or more to share all of the highlights and I encourage everyone to find some time to read and reflect on the whole document.
From Chapters 1 & 2
1. (God) wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.
6. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. 
7. (Holiness is often) found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness.”
9. Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church.
11. “Each in his or her own way” the (Second Vatican) Council says. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. The most important thing is that each believer discern his or her down path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (1 Cor 12.7) rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them.
14. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church...Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. 
15. Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation.
20. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life.
23. You, too, need to see the entirety of your life as mission.
27. We can forget that “life does not have a mission, but is a mission.”
28. Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.
32. 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.

Published in parish communications on April 22, 2018

Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness
Pope Francis identifies gnosticism and pelagianism as two forms of false holiness that can lead Christians astray. Far from being new concepts, gnosticism and pelagianism are well known heresies that plagued the early Church. Quickly defined, gnosticism is a heresy that claims there is a special knowledge or gnosis that enlightened ones possess which saves them. Pelagianism is a heresy that addresses the opposite end of the spectrum and says that we can will - or work - ourselves into righteousness. In plain terms, modern gnosticism is expressed when we believe we know, on our own, what God thinks and wants and that our own experience is all we need to live for God. Pelagianism, on the other hand, is expressed when we downplay or ignore our need for salvation, the reality of sin, and our dependence on grace. It is often expressed with, “I’m a good person and I do good work,” independent from an active faith in Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis on Gnosticism (numbers refer to paragraphs in the document)
37. Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity. (Gnostics) In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people.” (emphasis mine)
39. A healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel is one thing. It is another to reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything.
40. Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect. Thus, perhaps without even realizing it, this ideology feeds on itself and becomes even more myopic. 
41. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road.

On Pelagianism
49. When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added.
50. Grace, precisely because it builds on nature, does not make us superhuman at once. That kind of thinking would show too much confidence in our own abilities.
53. The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit, or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace: “Even the desire to cleansed comes about in us through the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit.”
56. We must first belong to God, offering ourselves to him who was there first, and entrusting to him our abilities, our efforts, our struggle against evil and our creativity, so that his free gift may grow and develop within us.
57. Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centered and elitist complacency, bereft of true love.

Published in parish communications on April 29, 2018.

In Chapter 3, Pope Francis uses the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) as the guide Jesus himself gave for a life oriented toward holiness.

Chapter 3: In the Light of the Master
63. There can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness, with various explanations and distinctions. Such reflection may be useful, but nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus’ words and seeing his way of teaching the truth. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.
67. The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our security in life.
68. Wealth ensures nothing.
69. This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what Saint Ignatius of Loyola calls “holy indifference”, which brings us to a radiant interior freedom: “We need to train ourselves to be indifferent in our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden; so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest”.
70. Being poor of heart: this is holiness.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
72. If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux tells us that “perfect charity consists in putting up with others’ mistakes, and not being scandalized by their faults”.
74. Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
75. The world tells us exactly the opposite: entertainment, pleasure, diversion and escape make for the good life. The worldly person ignores problems of sickness or sorrow in the family or all around him; he averts his gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed. But the cross can never be absent.
76. Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.