Pope Francis’ third apostolic exhortation was published today, and it’s all about practical ways to holiness. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis encouraged all people today to embrace the call to holiness in today’s modern world.
But this apostolic exhortation isn’t just about understanding what holiness means. Instead, Pope Francis’ goal with this apostolic exhortation was to re-propose the call to holiness. “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,” Pope Francis wrote in the first few paragraphs of the apostolic exhortation. “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”
This apostolic exhortation is full of practical, beautiful wisdom. Everyone should read Gaudete et exsultate – but, to get you started, here are seven things that Pope Francis wants you to know about your call to holiness:
1. Holiness is next door
When we think of the saints, Pope Francis encourages Catholics not just to think of those who have been beatified and canonized by the Church. Instead, he asks his readers to turn their attention to the men and women who live next door to us.
“I like 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 explained. “In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness 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'”.
2. Holiness is attractive
Pope Francis wrote that the most beautiful, attractive thing about the Catholic Church is holiness. “Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church,” he wrote. But he went on to explain that, even outside the Catholic Church, in different situations, the Holy Spirit gives people signs of His presence. “Saint John Paul II reminded us that ‘the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants’. In the moving ecumenical commemoration held in the Colosseum during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, he stated that the martyrs are ‘a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division'”.
3. Holiness is possible (and unique)
When we look at the examples of the saints, sometimes we can grow intimidated. But Pope Francis said that the examples of holiness in our life aren’t there to intimidate us. Instead, they are meant to be admired, but not copied exactly. Each one of us has a unique and attainable way to grow in holiness.
“We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us,” Pope Francis explained. “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts.”
4. Holiness is for you
Holiness isn’t something that just bishops, priests, or religious are called to. “We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer,” Pope Francis wrote. But that’s not the case. Instead, everyone is called to holiness, regardless of their state in life.
Pope Francis went on to give incredibly practical examples, writing: “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. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”
5. Holiness makes us more human
Holiness isn’t something that makes us stuffy and uptight. Pope Francis encouraged his readers to not be afraid of holiness. “It [holiness] will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy,” he wrote. “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. To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognize our great dignity.”
Pope Francis gave beautiful examples of those who have lived full, relateable lives of holiness. He mentioned Saint Bakhita and her profound understanding of the heart of God. He also mentioned the bishops of West Africa, who are incredible examples of living out the New Evangelization.
6. Holiness has enemies
The devil puts many distractions to holiness along our path. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis mentions two subtle enemies of holiness directly: gnosticism and pelagianism. These two enemies are particularly dangerous because of their ability to masquerade as the truth. “In our times too, many Christians, perhaps without realizing it, can be seduced by these deceptive ideas, which reflect an anthropocentric immanentism disguised as Catholic truth,” Pope Francis wrote.
Gnosticism, a belief that knowledge is the way to salvation, leads into the dangerous heresy of pelagianism. Pelagianism realizes that knowledge isn’t the way to salvation. Instead, it encourages believers to think that the human will, personal effort, is the key to salvation. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis reiterates what the Catholic Church has always taught about salvation. He wrote, “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.”
7. Holiness means going against the flow
Pope Francis encouraged Christians to take another look at the Beatitudes in Scripture. There we’ll find the answer to the question ‘What does it mean to be a good Christian?’ Christ gave us a clear path to pursue holiness, and advised us how to be ‘blessed’, or ‘holy’.
But Christ’s words are harder to follow than they seem, Pope Francis warned. “Although Jesus’ words may strike us as poetic, they clearly run counter to the way things are usually done in our world,” he wrote. “Even if we find Jesus’ message attractive, the world pushes us towards another way of living. The Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite. We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride.”
Want more on holiness?
If you want to read Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation in its entirety, you can check it out over at the Vatican’s website.