Pope Francis’ third apostolic exhortation is titled Gaudete et exsultate – “rejoice and be glad”. In the exhortation, Pope Francis’ goal is to re-purpose the call to holiness as something practical for today’s world.
In chapter four of the exhortation, ‘Signs of Holiness in Today’s World’, Pope Francis describes signs and spiritual attitudes that are, in his opinion, necessary if we want to live the life Christ calls us to as a Christian people.
“I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well,” Pope Francis clarifies. “Here I will speak only of certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful.”
So just what are Pope Francis’ five marks of holiness in today’s world? Here’s a look at each of the signs and what they mean for those of us striving towards Heaven:
1. Inner strength from the Lord
“The first of these great signs is solid grounding in the God who loves and sustains us,” Pope Francis writes. “This source of inner strength enables us to persevere amid life’s ups and downs, but also to endure hostility, betrayal and failings on the part of others. . . such inner strength makes it possible for us, in our fast-paced, noisy and aggressive world, to give a witness of holiness through patience and constancy in doing good. It is a sign of the fidelity born of love, for those who put their faith in God can also be faithful to others. They do not desert others in bad times; they accompany them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction.
2. A joyful sense of humor
Sainthood and holiness is not about being timid, sad, or dreary. Instead, a sign of holiness is from souls who “radiate a positive and joyful spirit.”
“Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor,” Pope Francis writes. You can almost imagine him chuckling as he penned this section of the latest apostolic exhortation. He goes on to give examples of saints who lived a life of holy humor, saying: “We see this clearly, for example, in Saint Thomas More, Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Philip Neri. Ill humor is no sign of holiness. . . We receive so much from the Lord for our enjoyment, that sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. We can get so caught up in ourselves that we are unable to recognize God’s gifts.”
3. Passionate boldness
Holiness is full of a bold desire to evangelize and make a difference in today’s world. Pope Francis urges his readers to look to the ultimate example of passionate living – Jesus Christ.
“Look at Jesus,” Pope Francis writes. “His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite. His compassion made him go out actively to preach and to send others on a mission of healing and liberation. Let us acknowledge our weakness, but allow Jesus to lay hold of it and send us too on mission. We are weak, yet we hold a treasure that can enlarge us and make those who receive it better and happier. Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission.”
We’re not meant to live apart from others, separated from those we love. In isolation, it can be difficult to combat temptations, and the devil can sneak his way into our hearts. The holy antidote to the loneliness the world is experiencing today is community.
“Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you'”, Pope Francis writes.
5. Constant prayer
Pope Francis’ last sign of holiness in today’s world is a state of constant prayer.
“Though it may seem obvious, we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration,” he writes. “The saints are distinguished by a spirit of prayer and a need for communion with God. They find an exclusive concern with this world to be narrow and stifling, and, amid their own concerns and commitments, they long for God, losing themselves in praise and contemplation of the Lord. I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions.”
Want to read more of Pope Francis’ thoughts on holiness?
You can find Gaudete et exulstate in its entirety online at the Vatican’s website!