Archbishop's Message

Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exultate of the Holy Father Francis on the call to Holiness in Today’s World

Here is a very brief summary of the latest Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis called Gaudete et Exultate to give you just a taste so that you can read and enjoy the simple truths about holiness which the Pope so lucidly explains.
Pope Francis released this exhortation on March 19, 2018. It is not a formal treatise on holiness but proposals, in fact re-proposal of practical ways of achieving holiness with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. It is an exhortation not to settle down to a life of mediocrity but to achieve holiness in the circumstances of our ordinary lives. Holiness is not a dimension apart from the life we live every day, but lived in an extraordinary way and it is made beautiful by the grace of God and the action of the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism. It means living the present moment filling it to the brim with love. Another point about holiness is that one cannot achieve it alone. Christian holiness is not separate from the commitment to human history. Individualism and feigned self-sufficiency do not lead to true life. We need others; we need to feel that our life is included in that of the people of God, on whom the Spirit of God pours his holiness. Growth in faith is possible in the complex fabric of interpersonal relationship in human community.

This exhortation is divided into five chapters :

1. Call to holiness
2. Gnosticism and Pelagianism
3. Holiness and beatitudes
4. Signs of holiness in today's world
5. Spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment

1. Call to holiness :

Chapter one affirms the teaching of Lumen Gentium that the call to holiness is universal and it is incompatible with individualism, dogmatism and sectarianism. It is a call to live everyday in holiness rather than practice an ascetic and mystical Christianity. This chapter is a meditation on 'next door holiness' or on "middle class sainthood" a phrase borrowed by Pope from the French Novelist Joseph Malegue. Middle class does not mean mediocre but available to everyone. This exhortation gives us a realistic and unromantic view of the life of a saint. "Not every saint was completely faithful to the Gospel and not everything that he/she did was authentic or perfect. We need to see their lives in their totality and notice the reflection of Christ that emerges when the totality of the person emerges". These saints encourage and accompany us in our journey through life and they include our mothers or grandmothers or other relatives. They patiently raised their children, worked hard to support their families or cared for the sick. And there are the elderly religious who are holy because they never lost their smiles. The consecrated become holy by living their life of commitment with joy and the married by the love and care for their husband or wives; those who are employed by the their labour carried out with integrity and skill; the teachers by instructing their wards with patience, grandparents by teaching the little ones patiently how to follow Jesus, and those in authority by their work for the common good renouncing personal gain. Thus person in any state of life can be holy or be a saint. On the other hand anything done out of anxiety or pride will not lead one to holiness. Some are afraid to be holy; the Pope insists that holiness does not take away one's vitality, exuberance or joy.

2. Gnosticism and Pelagianism :

Chapter two speaks of Gnosticism and Pelagianism. These are two heresies from the early church yet continue to plague us seducing people with deceptive ideas. They are subtle enemies of holiness. Gnosticism is a theory that despises the body, physical needs and community and focus on knowledge. It says that what matters most is what you know and not charity or good works. It asserts that we can make faith completely comprehensible. It promises interior salvation. Pelagianism, on the other hand, asserts that salvation depends on human effort, that people can save themselves by being strong and self-disciplined, by keeping the law, punctilious observation of liturgy, doctrine, etc. The proponents of this philosophy do not feel the need of God's grace. It does away with humility and sets one above others and thus undermining the health of ecclesial community. Church teaches that salvation flows from personal encounter with Jesus Christ which in turn leads one to incorporation in the church. Jesus did not show us the way to encounter God but the path we can walk obedient to his words and imitating his example. Close relationship with him is essential for holiness for he is the source from which holiness springs, and the goal of holiness is the transformation of history into the kingdom of God.

3. Holiness and beatitudes :

In chapter three we find Jesus indicating that holiness means following the beatitudes. The beatitudes constitute the identity of a Christian. Here the Pope explores the mystical and active dimensions of Christianity. The first one stresses the personal and interior union with Jesus while the other stresses the social dimension. Individualism and feigned self-sufficiency do not lead to true life. We need others; we need to feel that our life is included in that of the people of God on whom the Spirit of God pours his holiness. Those who trust in wealth leave no room for God in their lives, so also are those who run after fleeting happiness or engage in gossip. Growth in faith is possible in the complex fabric of interpersonal relationship in human community caring for the innocent, unborn, abandoned and vulnerable. They know how to bear with those who annoy them with their behavior. Christian holiness is not separate from the commitment to human history or environment. Saints were formidable revolutionaries and were determined to wager themselves completely to the mission entrusted to them by the Father.

4. Signs of holiness in today's world :

The fourth chapter speaks of the signs of holiness. It includes perseverance, patience, meekness, joy and a sense of humour, boldness and passion, involvement with the community and constant prayer. Holiness is manifested in every sphere of our life. It means being aware of false witness, vilifying others, unguarded tongue, etc. It includes seeking moments of solitude and silence away from life's feverish pace. It is the basis of the inner unification under God's gaze. Holiness does not make one less human since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God's grace

5. Spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment :

The fifth chapter is on Spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment. The devil mentioned 15 times in this exhortation. It is more than a myth. Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength to withstand temptation and proclaim the Gospel. We need to place ourselves in silence and in prayer before the Lord with an attitude of total openness and be prepared to listen to the Lord, to others and to the reality itself that challenges us in new ways. Then we gain the freedom to set aside our own partial and insufficient ideas, and our usual habits and ways of seeing things. Pope asks Christians to discern and not to omit a dialogue with God through daily examination of conscience to understand one's own life and welcome God's call. Discernment is necessary because we, especially the youth, are "immersed in a culture of zapping wherein one can easily become prey to every passing trend". Pope asks us to whisper now and then a "Hail Mary" to help us understand to what is happening in our own lives.

The apostolic Exhortation does not present the Church as an island of grace conspicuously surrounded by a sea of sinfulness. Holiness is to be understood in terms of a community. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. Pope reminds that holiness is the concern of every member of the Church.

+Archbishop John Moolachira
Guwahati Archdiocese