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Rejoice and Be Glad Exhortation
By Bev McDonald
On the 9th of April this year, which was also the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis released his third Apostolic letter - Rejoice and be glad - (Gaudete et exsultate) and it addresses the theme of holiness which picks up from the 2nd Vatican Council which spoke of the universal call to holiness of every single person. It is a theme that has run through Pope Francis' entire pontificate, and he often mentions it to encourage us to practice Christian perfection "in the little things of everyday life." During a general audience in 2014 he said the church is full of everyday saints. These hidden saints among us, fulfil their duty in their "ordinary daily routine." They are "fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, citizens. Let us thank the Lord for these Christian saints who live in hidden holiness."
So you get a sense that Pope Francis is not talking only about beatified, canonical saints like Mother Teresa or St Mary McKillop, but is in fact talking about the call to sainthood for every single one of us.
This document is written in a personal tone, to try and remove our "fear of holiness". Some of us think that it's far too big, far too high up for us to even try to attain and yet it is the way that God calls every one of us.
He says in Chapter 2 "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. For the Lord has chosen each one of us "to be holy and blameless before him in love" (Eph 1:4).
One of the documents that I read as a summary, broke the exhortation down into some key words and I'll share just a few of them.
The Beatitudes(n.63): "Nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus' words and seeing his way of teaching the truth. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are like a Christian's identity card." I found that quite challenging.
He speaks of Mary in Paragraph (176): "I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. … Our conversation with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us."
Persecution is mentioned in Paragraphs (n.92-93): "Whatever weariness and pain we may experience in living the commandment of love and following the way of justice, the cross remains the source of our growth and holiness."
Joy(n.122 and 126): "Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. … Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humour." It struck me because it was one of the themes Fr Colin, our Founder, would speak about – this sense of being people of humour and of joy.
Silence(n.149, 150 and 151): Speaks of "Trust-filled prayer as a response of a heart, open to encountering God face to face, where all is peaceful, and the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence. In that silence, we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us. … Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord's presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you are able to bask in his gaze?"
Eucharist(n.157): He speaks of the importance of the Eucharist: "In the Eucharist the one true God receives the greatest worship the world can give him, for it is Christ himself who is offered. The Scriptures lead us to the Eucharist where the written word comes alive, for there the Living Word is truly present."
Testimony(n.138): "We are inspired to act by the example of all those religious, priests and laity who devote themselves to proclamation and to serving others with great faithfulness, often at the risk of their lives and certainly at the risk of their comfort. Their testimony reminds us that, more than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life."
Humility(n.118, 119 and 120): "Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. …If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, then you're not humble, and you are not on the path to holiness. … Humiliations helps you resemble Jesus." He says, "I am not speaking only about martyrdom, but about … daily humiliations."
The Poor(n.96 and 97): "In this call to recognize him in the poor and the suffering, we see revealed the very heart of Christ, his deepest feelings and choices, which every saint seeks to imitate. Given these uncompromising demands of Jesus (to help those most in need), it is my duty as Pope to ask Christians to acknowledge and accept them, in a spirit of genuine openness. In other words, without any "ifs or buts" that could lessen the force of these words."
He talks about Migrants (n.102 and 103): "We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, … is a lesser issue. The only proper attitude (for a Christian) is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours, who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him? This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad."
Simplicity(n.108): "Hedonism, (the love of luxury) and consumerism can prove our downfall, for when we are obsessed with our own pleasure, we end up being all too concerned about ourselves and our rights. Then we will find it hard to feel and show any real concern for those in need, unless we are able to cultivate a certain simplicity of life, resisting the feverish demands of our consumer society."
And Then finally, Missionary boldness(n.129, 130 and 131): "Holiness is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. (The Lord) bids us spend our lives in his service. We are weak, yet we hold a treasure that can enlarge us and make those who receive it better and happier. Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission."
So, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, citizens let us thank the Lord for all of these Christians who live in hidden holiness and I encourage you to get hold of this Document (Gaudete et Exsultate) on the internet or in the book shops, and read it. We have given you a link in your newsletter to access it, reflect on it, and pray about it together.