By Father Robert Lauder
Second in a series
I imagine anyone who has read the first column in this series based on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), realizes that I am very enthusiastic about the pope’s comments on holiness. It seems to me that every time I re-read some section of the exhortation, I am either informed or inspired or both. It seems to me the exhortation is filled with wisdom. Probably I am also delighted to see in print ideas about holiness that I believed even before I read the document. It is encouraging to think that I am on the same page as the Holy Father!
Indicating that we should be inspired by the signs of holiness that God shows us in the humblest of people, those who share in Christ’s prophetic ministry, especially through lives filled with faith and charity, Pope Francis quotes St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Before she converted to Catholicism and entered the convent, Sister was a distinguished philosopher, considered an outstanding scholar in phenomenology. Pope Francis quotes the following from her writing:
“The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.”
It is encouraging to think of Sister’s words because they contrast so strongly with daily news of wars and violent crimes. If Sister is correct, and I think she is, in her portrayal of mystical life that no history book ever reports then we can live with hope and not be discouraged.
Noting that holiness is the most attractive face of the Church, Pope Francis points out that holiness can be found outside the Catholic Church. I think that this is one of the most important messages that the pope presents in “Rejoice and Be Glad.” We have come a long way in understanding the goodness of people who are not Catholic. While more needs to be done ecumenically, much has been accomplished. When I was in grammar school and perhaps even in high school, I would have wondered if I was committing a sin just by entering a church that was not a Catholic Church.
Pope Francis refers to St. John Paul’s reminder that the shedding of blood as a witness to Christ has happened not only among Catholics but also among Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants. Pope Francis also refers to the statement that St. John Paul made during the Great Jubilee Year of 2000 when he pointed out that the martyrs are “a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division.” I am reminded of St. John XXIII identifying himself to people of the Jewish faith with the statement “I am Joseph, your brother” and also his statement to Christians who were not Catholic: “What unites us is greater than what divides us.”
Pope Francis writes the following:
“….With this Exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us. The call that he also addresses, personally, to you: ‘Be holy, for I am holy (Lev 11”44; cf. 1 Pet 1: 16). …
“…We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern 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 (cf. 1 Cor 12:7) rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of being witness. Indeed when the great mystic, St. John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them ‘In his or her own way.’ For God’s life is communicated ‘to some in one way and to others in another.’”
During his pontificate Francis has issued some marvelous documents. Though Rejoice and Be Glad Is lengthy, I hope that will not discourage people from reading and discussing it.
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.