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Be Human, Be Holy

Be Human, Be Holy

Gaudete et Exsultate that was released on April 9 has five chapters dealing with different dimensions of Holiness. Call to holiness is not a new theme in the Catholic Church and it is reflected all through the Bible. Hence Pope Francis makes clear in the introductory part the purpose of his 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”.

The first chapter “ The Call to Holiness” explains the meaning of Holiness. Pope says that all are called to holiness, although some are presented in the church as examples through beatification. These canonized saints encourage and accompany us. He reminds believers that “the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love’” and that “the call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. According to Pope Francis, “Holiness is 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”. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. Holiness is not limited to the Catholics alone.

Pope Francis tells clearly that the path to holiness needed not and should not be the same for all. Each one has to attain holiness ‘in his or her own way’ and not by copying others. “Each believer discerns 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”. Pope Francis has something to say about the holiness of women. “I would stress too that the “genius of woman” is seen in feminine styles of holiness, which are an essential means of reflecting God’s holiness in this world. To be holy one need not to become a bishop, a priest or a religious and withdraw from the ordinary affairs of life. One has to become holy by living out his/her commitment with joy’ and turning to God in every situation. Holiness consists in doing small things with fidelity and positive attitude and “accomplishing ordinary actions in an extraordinary way”.

Pope has given a simple technique to choose the path of holiness. One has to ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from him/her at every moment of life and in every decision he/she must make. All activities needed for our mission are means for holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission.

In Chapter two, Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness, Pope Francis speaks about “false forms of holiness that can lead us astray: Gnosticism and Pelagianism.

The first is Gnosticism from the Greek word  gnosis, to know. Gnosticism is the old heresy that says that what matters most is what you know. No need to be charitable or do good works. All you need is the correct  intellectual approach. Today Gnosticism tempts people to think that they can make the faith “entirely comprehensible” and leads them to want to force others to adopt their way of thinking. “When somebody has an answer for every question,” says Francis, “it’s a sign that they are not on the right path.” In other words, being a know-it-all is not going to save one.

The second thing to avoid is  Pelagianism named for Pelagius, the fifth-century theologian associated with this idea. Pelagianism says that we can take care of our salvation through our own efforts. Pelagians trust in their own powers, don’t feel like they need God’s grace and act superior to others because they observe certain rules.

Today’s Pelagians often have, the pope says, “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, punctilious concern for the church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige.” It’s a real danger to holiness because it robs us of humility, sets us over others, and leaves little room for grace.

Chapter 4, In the Light of the Master, explains the implications of the beatitudes for the followers of Jesus to become holy. Francis writes, “Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the beatitudes,” which are “the Christian’s identity card.” He asserts that “If anyone asks: what must one do to be a good Christian?” then “the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.”

·       Being poor of heart

·       Reacting with meekness and humility

·       Knowing how to mourn with others

·       Hungering and thirsting for righteousness

·       Seeing and acting with mercy. Mercy has two aspects. It involves giving, helping and serving others; but it also includes forgiveness and understanding.

·       Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love

·       Sowing peace all around us. We need to be artisans of peace; for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill.

·       Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems.

Pope Francis also says that Jesus expands on “blessed are the merciful” in chapter 25 of Matthew, which speaks about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and visiting the imprisoned. This call, Francis says, “offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged.” While speaking about mercy Pope Francis also says that holiness means working for “the restoration of just social and economic systems, so there could no longer be exclusion”.

In this chapter Pope Francis seems to offer a response to his critics by highlighting two ideological errors of contemporary believers. He points first to the error of separating the demands of Matthew 25 from “personal relationship with the Lord, from openness to his grace.” By doing so, he says, they reduce Christianity to “a sort of N.G.O. stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Teresa of Calcutta and many others” for whom “mental prayer, the love of God and the reading of the Gospel in no way detracted from their passionate and effective commitment to their neighbours.”

Pope Francis next addresses a “harmful ideological error” that is found in “those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”

Pope Francis has emphatically said, “Our worship becomes pleasing to God when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters”. Similarly, the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy. Neither worship and prayer alone, nor following certain ethical norms, are enough to give glory to God, the pontiff wrote, because even though “the primacy belongs to our relationship with God,” we cannot forget “that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others.”

Pope Francis has pointed out that there should be balance between our concern for the unborn and our commitment to the people who are suffering. The Pope  emphasizes that “our defence 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 and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.” “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, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection,” he writes.

Pope Francis highlights as a part of his vision of holiness the issue of migrants, whose plight he has sought to elevate to global attention perhaps more than any other issue. “We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue,” he said. “Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.” “That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” he continued, adding that welcoming the stranger at the door was fundamental to the faith. “This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.”

The fourth chapter explains the Signs of Holiness in Today’s World.  Pope Francis has highlighted five great expressions of love for God and neighbour in this chapter. They are 1) Perseverance, Patience and Meekness 2) Joy and Sense of Humour 3) Boldness and Passion 4) In Community and 5) In Constant Prayer.

·       While dealing about Perseverance Pope says that it emanates from the deep faith “If God is for us, who is against us?” Persons with holiness are able to face any adverse situation in life. 

·       “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour”. The real joy comes from giving than receiving. Consumerism can offer occasional and passing pleasure and not joy.

·       Boldness and Passion emerges from “an impulse to evangelize and leave a mark in this world”. Complacency is the greatest enemy of passion. “Complacency is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things, that there is nothing we can do, because this is the way things have always been and yet we always manage to survive”.

·        Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others.

·       Finally, though it may seem obvious, we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration.

Chapter five, Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment deals with enemies one has to face in his/her spiritual journey. Although Pope does not speak anything about hell, he emphasizes the presence of devil, the enemy.  “Hence, 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”. Pope proposes discernment as the most important means to face the enemy. Some of the means proposed are “faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, and missionary outreach”.

Through Gaudete et Exultate Pope Francis has reiterated some of his core convictions like primacy of mercy in Christian life, concern for the migrants and justice to the destitute and the oppressed and above all holiness is nothing but following Jesus by practising his teachings. At the same time he also tried to respond his critics, especially those who hold on to certain outdated dogmatic positions and laws.

“Contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few,” the pope writes. “This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour.”

“This may well be a subtle form of Pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures,” Francis said. “It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt.”

In the course of the document, Francis also delivers a full frontal critique of a form of Catholic pro-life activism that becomes focused on the abortion issue at the exclusion of other matters, such as immigration.


(Published on 16th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 16)