Pope Francis Points Us to Holiness: Key Quotes from Guadete et Exsultate (part 1)
MAY 1, 2018 BY FR MATTHEW P. SCHNEIDER, LC
Pope Francis has produced an excellent document on the Christian call to holiness called Gaudete et Exsultate. Here are the most important passages with minimal commentary for those who don’t have time to read it all or those who want a refresher. These quotes got too long so I split in into 2 articles to be published one day after the next. Here’s part 1, including chapters 1-3. Part 2 if you want to jump ahead. (The numbers after each quote are the paragraph numbers in case you want to examine a point in more depth.)
Pope Francis’ Goal: “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.” 2
Chapter 1: The [Universal] Call to Holiness
This chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate gives a basic outline of holiness.
The saints in heaven have a certain unity with us: “The saints now in God’s presence preserve their bonds of love and communion with us.” 4
We are all called to holiness but that holiness can be achieved in simple everyday ways.
- “I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant.” 7
- “The most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions.” [those who prayed] 8
Saints give us examples but we should see their virtue not copy each detail. “We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.” 11
Again, everyone can be a saint… “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.” 14
“Holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.” 15
Jesus gives us the strength to be holy. “When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: ‘Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.’” 15
“When Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân was imprisoned, he refused to waste time waiting for the day he would be set free. Instead, he chose ‘to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.’” 17
“We are capable of loving with the Lord’s unconditional love, because the risen Lord shares his powerful life with our fragile lives.” 18
The whole Trinity makes us holy: “The measure of our holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on his.” 21, Benedict XVI, Catechesis, General Audience of April 13, 2011
The kingdom matters: all Christians are called to build it. “ Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of that kingdom.” 25
The intention with which we do acts matters. “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness. We are challenged to show our commitment in such a way that everything we do has evangelical meaning and identifies us all the more with Jesus Christ.” 28 – Note: this is a non-medical sense of anxiety so if you have clinical anxiety don’t feel like that is an obstacle to holiness.
Holiness leads to fruit in ministry/apostolate. “To the extent that each Christian grows in holiness, he or she will bear greater fruit for our world.” 33
Chapter 2: Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness [Gnosticism and Pelagianism]
This chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate offers a critique of two errors that are be present in some people’s thoughts on holiness.
Gnosticism tends towards a certain intellectual elitism. “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] 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.” 37
“Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect.” 40
“When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road.” 41 (This refers to pride of thinking you know every answer not arguing there isn’t a right answer.)
Pelagianism: “The same power that the gnostics attributed to the intellect, others now began to attribute to the human will, to personal effort.” 47
We can’t save ourselves and opposition to this pervades Pelagian thinking. “Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, ‘ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.’” 49, Evangelii Gaudium 94
On the other side, God can save us. “The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative.” 52
Grace isn’t instantaneous but slowly works from inside. “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.” 56
Chapter 3: In the Light of the Master [the Beatitudes]
Pope Francis points out the importance of the Beatitudes as a focal point of Christina life. “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. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.” 63
This chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate is the most beautiful of the exhortation. However, it is a meditation on the Beatitudes, which I assume you have already studied, so quotes are a little sparser.
What really matters isn’t wealth but love. “Wealth ensures nothing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-satisfied that we leave no room for God’s word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life.” 68
Blessed are the merciful: “Mercy has two aspects. It involves giving, helping and serving others, but it also includes forgiveness and understanding.” 80
Acts of mercy in action: “Giving and forgiving means reproducing in our lives some small measure of God’s perfection, which gives and forgives superabundantly.” 81
“Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.” 86
Gossip is a form of violence, violence to the heart: “The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace. Such people are really the enemies of peace; in no way are they ‘blessed.’” 87
We need to be ready to be persecuted as the beatitudes instruct us. “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.” 90
“If we truly start out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified.” 96, John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte
“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. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and many others.” 100
“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. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.” 101. This is the flipside of John Paul II who would emphasize you can help the poor, sick, etc. without trying to end abortion – as Catholics, we are both-and.
“We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms. It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others.” 104.