By Father Francis Sunil Rosario
IN THE CONTEMPORARY crisis of faith, Pope Francis speaks to all of humanity through his latest apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”). It is his understanding of holiness, based on Ignatian spirituality. It furthers the principle he holds so dear to his ideology, that reality is greater than ideas.
He returns to his stand on the preferential option for the poor and marginalized to address some vital issues of the day that affect our life within the community and in the global context: The world facing degradation of humanity produced by empty lifestyles, hedonistic attitude, consumerist individualism and the refusal to see God in the poor and the marginalized.
In this 22,000-word document, the Church’s millennia-long call to holiness in the faithful has been re-issued. The pope says, it is “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”
The Holy Father goes on to say, “The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities … a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love.”
For him, the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation are means to attain holiness in life. These sacraments are the necessary predicates for the mission and community to which “Gaudete et Exsultate” forcefully calls 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.”
His third apostolic exhortation – after “Evangelii Gaudium” in 2013 and “Amoris Laetitia” in 2015 – is not a theological treatise about holiness, but a faith-filled ground for promoting the desire for holiness. He reminds us that holiness is not about individual moral perfection or the approval of others, but it is incarnational, doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Holiness needs times of quiet, solitude and silence, but “it is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others.” His idea of a “field hospital” – where the wounded need care and attention through pastoral programs and action plans – is to make holiness a way of life.
The overall aim of this exhortation is to invite the people of goodwill to embrace holiness as a way of life. “The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life. … He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” he writes.
According to Pope Francis, “Holiness is a practical life-long process grounded in the mysticism of incarnation. Community is both the laboratory and the flower of a way of life that runs through every moment of every day. Prayer is precious because it nourishes a daily commitment to love and that special benefit of deep prayer that St. Ignatius identified as discernment, the intelligence of the heart.”
It is a Christo-centric mysticism. In “Laudato Si’” Pope Francis combines the mysticism of creation with a challenging social and economic commentary.
In “Gaudete et Exsultate,” he cautions against the enemies of holiness. He identifies Gnosticism and Pelagianism as two heretical viruses that exist in the Church. He calls Gnosticism an absolutized religious intellectualism, a feature of clericalism he often criticises, and describes Pelagianism as a self-satisfied blindness to the ever-pre-emptive role of grace.
He is against ‘fake holiness’ that corrupts our understanding of true holiness. His program of holiness applies to every individual who has strong desire to live this life according to the Beatitudes and Jesus’ words in Matthew, Chapter 25, that refer to welcoming the stranger. He sees meekness as a counter-cultural virtue against the viruses that tend to corrupt our souls.
For him, the refugee crisis and issues of migrants are a higher priority in the practical program of holiness in today’s world rather than bioethical issues. He warns against Christianity becoming “a sort of NGO stripped of luminous mysticism.” Finding Christ within ourselves allows us to welcome Him in everyone. The luminous mysticism was so evident in the lives of the saints.
The greatest spiritual challenge for Catholics today is how to practice an authentic spirituality, even in the midst of divisions, and to find deep spiritual resources that may help overcome those divisions.
Father Francis Sunil Rosario is a parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew Church, Elmhurst.