Pope Francis’ third Apostolic Exhortation titled “Gaudete et Exsultate” was released a few days ago. The guiding thread of joy remains the unifying element of Pope Francis’ Magisterium, eliciting Christians’ rejoice in the encounter with the Resurrected Lord, in those who found in Him the secret of a full, accomplished and serene life. “Gaudete et Exsultate” , that somewhat echoes the Vatican II statement on the universal call to holiness, identifies in holiness the horizon of the faithful. The first highlight of the document is the assertion that holiness is present in “the patience of God’s people”, in people who lead an ordinary daily life made of simple things that represent the backbone of everyone’s existence.
We need to recognize the saints next door:
in the holiness “present 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.” (n. 7). Thus it is not a holiness for few selected heroes or for exceptional persons. In fact it’s the ordinary way of living out Christian life. There is no other Christian way of living beyond this demanding, passionate realm. The only Christian lifestyle is one projected towards holiness. The manifestation of holiness in daily life must not be sought in ecstasy or in extraordinary phenomena at times ascribed therein, but in those who live out the Beatitudes as their identifying trait, who live according to “the great criterion” found in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: concrete acts of mercy towards the poor. By “living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do”, we reflect the face of the Lord (n. 63). Those faithful to the word of Jesus and who thus live by their self-giving are holy and live out true Beatitudes. However, Pope Francis guards us against the temptation of considering the Beatitudes just as poetic words: in fact they go against the flow and push us towards another way of living.
The “great criterion” translates the Beatitudes into concrete action, especially the act of mercy.
98 gives a concrete example, highlighting the benchmark that distinguishes Christian life from one that is not Christian. “If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night (n.98) I can view him or her as an obstacle in my path or as a human being with a dignity identical to my own, infinitely loved by the Father. That is what it is to be a Christian!, because Pope Francis says, “we cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in the world.” For holiness is self-giving exemplified by our Lord Jesus Christ, hence we cannot stand idly or be indifferent to the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Living out holiness requires having fulfilled unity of life encompassing the contemplation of the face of Jesus and the concrete act of mercy, living out the act of caring for our neighbour that is rooted in the mystery of the Risen Lord.
The Exhortation is not meant to be a treatise on holiness but as tool to seek forms of holiness for our present times.
The five features proposed in the fourth chapter underline a set of dangers and limitations present in contemporary culture: “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” (n. 111). These must be faced with inner strength that enables us to endure hostility as well as our aggressive and selfish inclinations; with joy and sense of humour; with parrhesia, boldness, an impulse to evangelize; with the willingness to undertake the path in the community and finally, with prayer. Thus the Christian faithful will experience the joy that the world will take away.