Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Rejoice and be glad...

On Monday this week a new apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis was published. It is called Gaudete et Exsultate - Rejoice and be glad. It's subject is 'The call to holiness in today's world.' You can read the full document here.

The Pope starts by setting out what he does and doesn't intend to do:
What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. 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. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love”.
The first chapter is entitled 'The call to holiness.' It draws our attention to the encouragement and company of the saints, both those who have been canonised and the holy people whom the Pope describes as "the Saints next door". The universal call to holiness is stressed: the Lord's call is for all of us. Our mission on earth is a 'path of holiness' and is found in activity for the building of God's kingdom and in 'moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God.' The chapter ends with the assurance that answering the call to holiness will make us 'more alive, more human.'
Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint”.
The second chapter focuses on what the Holy Father calls 'Two subtle enemies of holiness.' This may be the most difficult section for us to grasp. The first enemy is described as 'contemporary Gnosticism'. Quoting his previous apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says:
Gnosticism presumes “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings”.
The next paragraph develops the theme and quotes from one of the Pope's sermons at Mass:
Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity. “Gnostics” do not understand this, because they judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. They think of the intellect as separate from the flesh, and thus become incapable of touching Christ’s suffering flesh in others, locked up as they are in an encyclopaedia of abstractions. In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people”.
The section warning against Gnosticism ends with wisdom from one of the great intellects of Christian history:
Saint Bonaventure, on the other hand, pointed out that true Christian wisdom can never be separated from mercy towards our neighbour: “The greatest possible wisdom is to share fruitfully what we have to give… Even as mercy is the companion of wisdom, avarice is its enemy”. “There are activities that, united to contemplation, do not prevent the latter, but rather facilitate it, such as works of mercy and devotion”.
Pelagian is a heresy against which the great  St Augustine fought in the early fifth century. The British monk, Pelagius, played down the necessity of God's grace, and taught that we can lead a good and holy life by our own efforts. Pope Francis says this error is common in our own days. Quoting words of St Thérèse of Lisieux, he contrasts this with the attitude of the saints, :
The saints avoided putting trust in their own works: “In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you empty-handed, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justices have stains in your sight”.
I find this paragraph particularly helpful in this sometimes difficult chapter:
 Only on the basis of God’s gift, freely accepted and humbly received, can we cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation. We must first belong to God, offering ourselves to him who was there first, and entrusting to him our abilities, our efforts, our struggle against evil and our creativity, so that his free gift may grow and develop within us: “I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). For that matter, the Church has always taught that charity alone makes growth in the life of grace possible, for “if I do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

To be continued....