Pope: even in today's world we are all called to try to be saints

Francis’ apostolic exhortation is called "Gaudete et exultate" (Rejoice and be glad). A journey made difficult by "risks" of modern culture, such as nervous and violent anxiety, consumerism, individualism and "many forms of false spirituality devoid of an encounter with God". The devil is "something more than a myth". In fact, to be a good Christian "is clear: We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Beatitudes".


Vatican City (AsiaNews) - To remind our era that the call to holiness is the reason why we were created: "the Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence": This is how Pope Francis explains the reason for his latest apostolic exhortation "Gaudete et exultate" (Rejoice and be glad), published today.

In the 44 pages of the document it is stated that holiness is a "call" that concerns everyone, and saints are not only those canonized and known, but also those "next door", unknown to all, but not to God. " 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 labouring 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 (# 14).”

But it is a call that today finds obstacles in currents of thought such as modern Gnosticism, which "claim reduce Jesus’ teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything". To "a doctrine without mystery". Or Pelagianism. "Christians who 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-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment. (No. 57) ".

In fact, to be a good Christian "is clear: We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Beatitudes".

Instead "unfortunately sometimes ideologies lead us to two harmful errors. On the one hand, that of transforming "Christianity into a kind of NGO", depriving it of its "luminous spirituality" (No. 100), "from its personal relationship with the Lord".  It is also harmful and wrong to be wary of the social commitment of others, considering it something superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged (No. 101)".

"To accept the way of the Gospel every day even though it causes us problems, this is holiness". "I Here I think of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who asked which actions of ours are noblest, which external works best show our love for God. Thomas answered unhesitatingly that they are the works of mercy towards our neighbour,  even more than our acts of worship (No. 106) ". "Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy. Saint Teresa of Calcutta clearly realized this: “Yes, I have many human faults and failures… But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world; he bears our sins, our troubles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others”(No. 107)".

The Pope then writes that " hey are five great expressions of love for God and neighbour that I consider of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture. There we see a sense of anxiety, sometimes violent, that distracts and debilitates; negativity and sullenness; the self-content bred by consumerism; individualism; and all those forms of ersatz spirituality – having nothing to do with God – that dominate the current religious marketplace (No. 111) ".

"The first of these great signs is solid grounding in the God who loves and sustains us. 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. “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31): this is the source of the peace found in the saints(n.112) ".

The second characteristic is "joy and sense of humor". "The saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17), for “the necessary result of the love of charity is joy"(No. 122)".

"Holiness is also parrhesía: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). “I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). These words enable us to go forth and serve with the same courage that the Holy Spirit stirred up in the Apostles, impelling them to proclaim Jesus Christ. (n.129)".

Sanctification, then, "is a community journey, to be done two by two. This is reflected in some holy communities ". Among them, Francis also remembers St. Paul Miki and fellow martyrs in Japan, St. Andrew Taegon and 35 fellow martyrs in Korea and the Trappist monks of Tibhirine (Algeria), " who prepared as a community for martyrdom. In many holy marriages too, each spouse becomes a means used by Christ for the sanctification of the other. Living or working alongside others is surely a path of spiritual growth. Saint John of the Cross told one of his followers: “You are living with others in order to be fashioned and tried (No. 141) ".

"Finally, though it may seem obvious, we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration. 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 (No. 147)".

Pope Francis at this point, however, recalls that "the Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives. (No. 158) ". e are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil. Jesus himself celebrates our victories.(No. 159) ". But the enemy is "something more than a myth". " We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force(No. 160) ". The devil is not "we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities (No. 161) ".

In this constant struggle " or this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach (No. 162) ".

And to know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it derives from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil, " The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment. (No. 166) ". And "We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives. God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us. He does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfilment. Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God (175) ".

"I hope - concludes Francis - that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us." (FP)