Fifth in a series
I continue to be amazed as I re-read Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad.” It is as though the Holy Father somehow has read my mind and decided to deal with several topics that have been on my mind for years. Re-reading the text, I get the feeling that Pope Francis is speaking directly to me.
I have long thought that some people are afraid of holiness. I guess I should include myself in that group. We seem to fear that holiness involves the shrinking of humanity, a denial of everything that we hold dear about being human. Of course, the opposite is the truth. Holiness is the fulfillment of humanity, the enriching of what is most wonderful about being human. Holiness can sharpen our conscience so that it is more attuned to the deepest moral meanings and to our will as it expands our capacity to love.
Pope Francis writes the following:
“Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. 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.”
Depending on God is not a denial of our freedom and responsibility but rather a commitment that increases our freedom and helps us to be more responsible. Every experience of being loved can liberate us, whether the love comes from a spouse or a close friend. The experience can seem like magic or, even better, like a miracle. Their love seems to touch us at the deepest level of ourselves and even, in some way, to create us. If the love we receive from a human person can liberate us, how liberating will our openness and receptivity to God’s love be? The experience can enable us to perform actions we would be incapable of doing except for the experience of being loved by God.
Pope Francis writes the following:
“To the extent that each Christian grows in holiness he or she will bear greater fruit for our world.
“Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of Leon Bloy, when all is said and done, ‘the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.’”
Bloy, a deeply committed Catholic, wrote the novel, “The Woman Who Was Poor.” When Jacques Maritain and his wife, Raissa, converted to Catholicism, Bloy was their godfather.
Pointing out that when a person grows in holiness he or she can have a special impact on our world is an insight typical of the Holy Father’s vision that rejects any unhealthy individualism. In the spirituality that Pope Francis presents, the term “person” is a “we” term. There is no narrow or truncated notion of person in the pope’s writings. What is so wonderful is that by stressing that we co-exist with other persons Pope Francis deepens the notion of person. The indispensable role that each person plays in building God’s kingdom is a role that is related to other persons, who are also playing indispensable roles. None of us is unrelated to other human persons, even in our spiritual journeys. Pope Francis seems to have a profound faith in the communion of saints. Everyone is related!
I love that the pope encourages us to set our sights higher. We must never allow a false humility to prevent us from making the gift to others that each of us can give and is called to give. There is no such reality as an unimportant person or a person who does not have a gift to offer for the building of God’s kingdom. If there is anyone reading this column who has an inferiority complex, I urge that person to transcend it. Every one of us is important in God’s plant to redeem the world and the gift of each of us is unique and irreplaceable. There are no substitutes for the absolutely unique gift that each person is called to make.
Whenever the encounter between our weakness and God’s grace happens, we can become stronger.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.