Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Rejoice and be glad... 4

This continues and concludes my series on the Pope's recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today's world. You can read my previous posts here here, and here.

After  I completed my previous post, it struck me how the reflection on the face of Christ in the final quotation highlights something which is very important both to Pope Francis and to our own bishop. Pope Francis' proclamation of the Jubilee of Mercy was entitled 'Misericordiae Vultus', the face of mercy. Bishop Patrick's episcopal motto is 'Quaerite Christi Vultum', Seek the face of Christ.

The final chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate deals with another subject to which the Holy Father constantly returns in his teaching. It is entitled Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment. The Pope makes the reality of spiritual evil clear and explicit:
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. Jesus himself celebrates our victories. 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).
We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force..... He is present in the very first pages of the Scriptures, which end with God’s victory over the devil......
Our response to evil necessitates combat and vigilance. We need to be both alert and trustful. We must avoid what the Pope calls "Spiritual Corruption" which "is worse than the fall of a sinner, for it is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness."

Combating evil requires above all, discernment. The Pope's thorough treatment of this subject surely reflects his formation as a Jesuit and his experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius:
How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.
I find the final paragraph on discernment both challenging and encouraging:
When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives. God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us. He does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfilment. Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The Pope's call to holiness in today's world ends:
 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. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”
It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.
I hope these four reflections have given you some insight into this document and might encourage you to read the whole thing here. However, if you would prefer a very brief peep into the Pope's thought, here is a series of three tweets from Cardinal Nichols: