Gaudete et Exsultate
Holiness: A Living Mission
When New Year’s Day is approaching, we look back on the year that is about to end. What kind of a year has it been for me? How well have I lived it? What changes should I make in my life in order to do better next year? People make resolutions that they hope will help them improve their lives over the coming year.
In the same way, when Ash Wednesday is approaching, Catholics sense an invitation to look at their current lives from a spiritual perspective. How faithful have I been to the teaching and example of Christ? Where am I failing? What changes should I make in order to do better during Lent and beyond? Catholics give up things for Lent. Some may take on some new activity. They hope that these changes will help them turn from sin and walk more closely with Christ.
We can all stand to give something up for Lent, and beyond. However, if we are too focused on just giving up something, we may be tempted to think that being good or holy is merely about not sinning. Holiness is understood only negatively. We can forget that holiness is not merely the absence of sin. To be holy means to be a living mission planned by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reflect and embody a certain aspect of the Gospel. It means being united to the death and resurrection of Christ, so that it is Christ who loves in us. It means dying to anything that resists the love of Christ in us so that His joy might be in us, that our joy might be complete, and that our holiness might become contagious.
Living the Call to Holiness
Holiness implies a certain vulnerability. Christ calls each of us to give up our illusions of self-sufficiency, our need for absolute security, and our desire to be superior to others if we are to embody He who embraced the radical vulnerability of the cross. We believe that Christ is present in everyone we meet and that no one, while that person lives, is beyond the reach of grace.
How does one practice such a life of holiness? What does it look like?
In the third chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis offers us an answer. He tells us that, even if we can find a good number of theories as to what holiness is,
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. So, if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?” The answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.
Signs of Holiness in Today's World
In this third article on Gaudete et Exsultate, we look at the final two chapters in this exhortation. Here, Pope Francis tells us that he does not intend to develop a complete description of the Christian life of holiness. He chooses to speak of five signs of holiness or “five great expressions of love for God and neighbor” that are of “particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture.”
The first of these signs is a “solid grounding in the God who loves and sustains us,” an inner strength that enables us to persevere even to the point of enduring hostility and failings on the part of others. It is a patient constancy in doing good, a faithful accompaniment of others even in their own anxieties and distress. It is a refusal to allow anger to take root and a desire to seek the peace that only Christ can give. This is especially relevant in the verbal violence so prevalent in our internet culture, among other places. As the Holy Father points out, even in Catholic media, defamation and slander can become commonplace – to our shame. It is also a humility that is ready to endure humiliations for the sake of the Gospel, in the way of Christ who also suffered humiliation for us.