|Gaudete et Exsultate|
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What is God's plan for my life?
Why am I here?
What is God's plan for my life?
Into a world which may well be returning to age-old questions, Holy Father Francis has delivered an apostolic exhortation that is sure to inspire: "The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence" (n. 1).
Gaudete et Exsultate is as readable as it is challenging. It focuses on a theme which has marked Francis' entire papacy, namely, the universal call to holiness and to mission: "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" (n. 3).
Pope Francis has structured this text around these five major themes, which pose a number of personal challenges:
- The Call to Holiness: "A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness....Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel" (n. 19).
Jesus' dying and rising provides the fundamental dynamic of the Christian life. In addition to embracing this fundamental reality of life, the Holy Father also calls me to reproduce in my daily life various aspects of Jesus' earthly life--"his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways he showed his self-sacrificing love" (GE, n. 20). Indeed, Pope Francis wants me to identify which aspect of Jesus' earthly life most clearly marks my life today, so that I might see the entirety of my life as a mission (n. 23).
- Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness: Christians need to resist both contemporary Gnosticism and contemporary Pelagianism, "two forms of doctrinal or disciplinary security that give rise 'to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying" (n. 35). It can never be all about my ideas, nor can it be all about my efforts.
Pope Francis challenges me to reflect on how these temptations might be present in my life so that I might be authentically concerned with: "the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God's very image is found" (n. 61).
- In the Light of the Master: Pope Francis offers this simple summary of what it means to be holy: "The Beatitudes are like a Christian's identity card....In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives" (n. 63).
After sharing a powerful meditation on each of the Beatitudes (nn. 67-94), the Holy Father comments on "the one clear criterion on which we will be judged"--feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners from Matthew 25 (n. 95). Holy Father Francis challenges me to examine my daily decisions in light of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy--and to make changes accordingly.
- Signs of Holiness in Today's World: To counter-act the anxiety, negativity, self-contentment, individualism, and "fake" spirituality which has nothing to do with God, Pope Francis highlights five great expressions of love for God and neighbor (ch. 4). I will find myself rejoicing and being glad to the extent that I am growing in these areas:* Perseverance, patience and meekness
* Joy and a sense of humor
* Boldness and passion
* Living in community
* Living in constant prayer
Pope Francis invites me to think and act in terms of these concrete categories for Christian discipleship, rather than living by a vague sense of "trying to be a good person."
- Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment: The final section provides a spiritual wake-up call, for one and all--"We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil (n. 159)."
Pope Francis is emphatically advising that I commit to a sincere daily "examination of conscience" in light of this spiritual warfare (n. 169), to embrace the grace of discerning "the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real purpose of my life, which nobody knows better than he" (n. 170).
In sum, Jesus Christ continues to speak through his Church, and his answers to life's timeless questions are the same yesterday, today and forever: "Who am I," but a saint in the making?! "Why am I here," if not to say yes to the call to holiness?! "What's God's plan for my life," but to let the grace of my baptism "bear fruit in a path of holiness" (n. 15)?!
Come, Holy Spirit, bear in us fruit that will remain--
P.S. If you are looking for a simple way to enter more deeply into conversation with Pope Francis regarding what holiness looks like in your daily life, consider subscribing to receive the document in a one-paragraph-per-day format.