POPE Francis has released a new apostolic letter to each and every Christian – a down-to-earth call to holiness in the midst of our everyday lives.
Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and be glad”), subtitled “On the call to holiness in today’s world” is Pope Francis’ third apostolic exhortation, after Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) in 2013, and Amoris Laetitia, (The Joy of Love) in 2016.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke of the call to all the faithful to be missionary disciples; Gaudete et Exsultate is about the mission at the heart of that call, which is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ.
“He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” Pope Francis wrote.
“Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23).
“My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”
Pope Francis called Catholics to make time for prayer, to frequent the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, to do a daily examination of conscience, and to read the Gospel regularly.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has described Gaudete et Exsultate as “a real gift”.
“He (Pope Francis) has a remarkable ability to say deep things simply, and he does it here,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Another plus is that it’s not a very long document.”
The 44-page apostolic exhortation has an entire chapter about two ancient heresies – Gnosticism and Pelagianism – ways of seeking salvation not through the power of Christ but through the power of ideas or human effort.
Pope Francis warned people to beware of beautiful ideas that seemed to explain everything in a complex logical system, or of an excessive emphasis on rules and methods.
The key point, he wrote, was that we are saved – we become holy – not by our own sophisticated ideas or strong efforts but by being constantly open to the assistance God offered us, in our weakness.
Gossip also got a mention as a form of violence that destroyed communities, and Pope Francis cited social media as a modern way to easily spread false information.
Somebody who was on the road to holiness, he wrote, refrained from engaging in and repeating gossip.
He also exhorted boldness, an impulse to evangelise and to leave a mark in this world, even if this meant being persecuted.
“Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission,” he wrote.
“Jesus himself warns us that the path he proposes goes against the flow, even making us challenge society by the way we live and, as a result, becoming a nuisance.
“He reminds us how many people have been, and still are, persecuted simply because they struggle for justice, because they take seriously their commitment to God and to others.
“Unless we wish to sink into an obscure mediocrity, let us not long for an easy life, for ‘whoever would save his life will lose it’ (Matthew 16:25).
Pope Francis warned that ideologies struck at the heart of the Gospel.
“I regret that ideologies lead us at times to two harmful errors. On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace,” Pope Francis wrote.
“Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of St Francis of Assisi, St Vincent de Paul, St Teresa of Calcutta, and many others.
“The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist.”
Pope Francis warned that any journey towards holiness involved a struggle with the devil.
“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,” he wrote.
“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. Jesus himself celebrates our victories”.
Archbishop Coleridge said Pope Francis’ apostolic letter offered a “keen insight into what we call ‘the discernment of spirits’, the process by which we distinguish the promptings of God from the promptings of evil in a world which can be very confusing”.
“We can’t be truly holy unless we acquire the discerning heart, and this again, the Pope says, is not just for some but for everyone,” the Archbishop said.
“As a companion to help us on the journey of the plenary council, this new apostolic letter is a real gift.”