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Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God calls all Christians to be saints -- not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness.

"Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy," the pope wrote in "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), his apostolic exhortation on "the call to holiness in today's world."

Pope Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the Vatican released it April 9.

Much of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the individual reading it. "With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you," he wrote near the beginning.

Saying he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of each Christian and which requires a personal response given one's state in life, talents and circumstances.

"We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer," he wrote. But "that is not the case."

"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," he said.

He wrote about "the saints next door" and said he likes "to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: 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."

Pope Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of hell.

"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," the pope wrote in his exhortation. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable" to the devil's temptations.

"The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice," he wrote. "When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities."

The path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in prayer, in sacrifice and in service to others.

Being part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. "I do not believe in holiness without prayer," he said, "even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotion."

"The holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures," he said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is tired, prays the rosary and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind word.

The title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says "rejoice and be glad" to those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.

The line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, "Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy": living simply, putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble, mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for justice and seeking peace with all.

The example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he said, but no one else's path can be duplicated exactly.

Each person, he said, needs "to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity."

The exhortation ends with a section on "discernment," which is a gift to be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection, reading Scripture and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.

"A sincere daily 'examination of conscience'" will help, he said, because holiness involves striving each day for "all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day's responsibilities and commitments."

Pope Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others' company and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And, "needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness."

Being holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always frustrated and surly, something is not right.

"The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness," he said. "The apostles of Christ were not like that."

In fact, the pope said, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."

The exhortation included many of Pope Francis' familiar refrains about attitudes that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and being quick to judge others for not following them.

Holiness "is not about swooning in mystic rapture," he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor and the sick.

Holiness is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.

"Our defense 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," the pope wrote. "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...."

And, he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a "secondary issue" when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.

"That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian," he said.

Pope Francis' exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially when commenting anonymously.

"It is striking at times," he said, that "in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying."

Saints, on the other hand, "do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others."

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Printed copies of "Rejoice and Be Glad" can be ordered from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at: http://store.usccb.org/rejoice-and-be-glad-p/7-599.htm

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

EPISODE #141EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT: ACTION FOR LIFE

On today’s broadcast, Deacon Steve welcomes back his longtime friend, Kathleen Eaton-Bravo of Obria Clinics. Kathleen has been a champion...

Don't be afraid of shame, open hearts to God's mercy, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Feeling ashamed of one's sins does not mean wallowing in guilt, rather it is the gateway all men and women can use to experience firsthand God's tender mercy and forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

Christians should be grateful for shame because it "means that we do not accept evil, and that is good," the pope said April 8 at an outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday.

"Shame is a secret invitation of the soul that needs the Lord to overcome evil," the pope said. "The tragedy is when we are no longer ashamed of anything. Do not be afraid of being ashamed! Let us pass from shame to forgiveness!"

Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated every year on the Sunday after Easter, was added to the universal church calendar by St. John Paul II in 2000. The Polish pope was a longtime devotee of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalksa, whom he beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

As Pope Francis celebrated the Mass, a painting of Jesus inspired by St. Faustina's visions was near the altar. The image, perched on top a bed of white roses, depicts Jesus with one hand raised in blessing and the other pointing to his heart emanating red and white light.

As the sounds of the Sistine choir filled the air, Pope Francis stood and bowed reverently in front of the painting before incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. John which recalled the apostle Thomas' disbelief at Christ's resurrection.

Despite Thomas' initial lack of faith, Pope Francis said, Christians should learn from his example and not be content with hearing from others that Jesus is alive.

"A God who is risen but remains distant does not fill our lives; an aloof God does not attract us, however just and holy he may be. No, we too need to 'see God,' to touch him with our hands and to know that he is risen for us," the pope said.

Like Thomas and the disciples, he explained, Christian men and women can only understand the depth of God's love by "gazing upon" Jesus' wounds.

Although "we can consider ourselves Christians, call ourselves Christians and speak about the many beautiful values of faith," he said, "we need to see Jesus by touching his love. Only thus can we go to the heart of the faith and, like the disciples, find peace and joy beyond all doubt."

There are several "closed doors" that must be opened in order to experience this love and to understand that God's mercy "is not simply one of his qualities among others, but the very beating of his heart," Pope Francis said.

The first step, he said, is seeking and accepting God's forgiveness which is often difficult because "we are tempted to do what the disciples did in the Gospel: to barricade ourselves behind closed doors."

"They did it out of fear, yet we too can be afraid, ashamed to open our hearts and confess our sins," the pope said. "May the Lord grant us the grace to understand shame, to see it not as a closed door, but as the first step toward an encounter."

Another closed door is remaining resigned to one's sins, he said, so "in discouragement, we give up on mercy."

Through the sacrament of reconciliation, Christians are reminded that "it isn't true that everything remains the way it was," and absolution allows them "to go forward from forgiveness to forgiveness."

The final door, Pope Francis said, is the actual sin that is "only closed on one side, our own," because God "never chooses to abandon us; we are the ones who keep him out."

However, he added, confession allows for God to work his wonders and "we discover that the very sin that kept us apart from the Lord becomes the place where we encounter him."

"There the God who is wounded by love comes to meet our wounds. He makes our wretched wounds like his own glorious wounds. Because he is mercy and works wonders in our wretchedness," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.