Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has written another beautiful Apostolic Exhortation to the Church entitled “Gaudete et exsultate”—Rejoice and be Glad. The title is taken from the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, specifically in the final “ninth” beatitude, which is addressed directly to the disciples, regarding the reward that awaits them and all who bear persecution for the sake of the Gospel.
The document is divided into five chapters and concludes by presenting Mary as a model of holiness. Chapter one is, “The Call to Holiness” in which the Holy Father gives saints as models. He quotes the letter to the Hebrews and encourages us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (12:1). It speaks of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon and others (cf. 11:1-12:3). Above all, it invites us to realize that “a great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) impels us to advance constantly towards the goal of perfection. These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). The Holy Father says that their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings, they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord. They still guide us, and each of us can say: “Surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God … I do not have to carry alone what, in truth, I could never carry alone. All the saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me.”
In chapter two, the Holy Father talks about two false forms of holiness that can lead us astray: Gnosticism and Pelagianism. They are two heresies from early Christian times, yet they continue to plague us. Gnosticism claims that humans are inherently bad; only God is good. This is false because we are created in the image of God, and our goodness is not measured by how much we know, but the depth of our charity. Pelagianism, on the other hand, is the denial of original sin and a belief that we can achieve perfection without God’s aid. Gnosticism places intelligence above mystery and grace while Pelagianism places human will above God’s mercy. Both promote trust in human power and lack the humility to recognize the fact that God is in control.
Chapter three discusses the Light of the Master, Jesus Christ. The Holy Father says that there can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness, with various explanations and distinctions. Such reflection may be useful, but 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. 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 to do in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect on in our daily lives.
Chapter four deals with the signs of holiness in today’s world. The Holy Father mentions a few signs or spiritual attitudes that are necessary if we are to understand the way of life to which the Lord calls us. In chapter four, the Holy Father speaks of the power of prayer and the Sacraments: the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well. Our holiness of life, the Holy Father says, must lead us to love God and our neighbor. He also reminds us of the negativity and sullenness that can hinder our relationships and spiritual journey.
Chapter five deals with spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment. The Holy Father says that Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives. 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. But the Holy Father says that it is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil. Jesus himself celebrates our victories, and He rejoiced when His disciples made progress in preaching the Gospel and overcoming the opposition of the evil one: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18).
The Holy Father concludes the documents by invoking 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.
“Gaudete et exsultate” is a powerful document and much needed for the modern world. It is a great guide to holiness. This brief summary provides an outline and a thinking point. However, in order to understand and get the richness of it, I encourage you to read it. It is available online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html.