Navigating the Faith: Gaudete et Exultate: Living Out Our Faith

by Fr. Mark Watson

As a young adult I spent much time figuring out the meaning of holiness. My understanding of this virtue has evolved over the years. Thus, I enjoyed reading the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exultate, (Rejoice and Be Glad), which has helped me better understand this central virtue of our Christian faith.

Universal Call to Holiness: The pope states that all Christians are called to be saints. “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 (GE, 14).” People live out this holiness in small ways, as when they decide to not gossip, when parents listen to their children, when families pray the rosary and when we say a nice word to the poor.

Holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection. It comes in constantly dying and rising with Christ. We are to identify with Christ and his will. Identifying with Christ in this way involves a commitment to build with him the kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. (GE, 25)

Enemies of Holiness: The pope discusses two subtle enemies of holiness. The first enemy is called Contemporary Gnosticism. By Contemporary Gnosticism he refers to those whose faith is focused on the understanding of knowledge. A person’s spiritual 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 (GE, 37).” These Christians try to control God through their intellect.

A second enemy of holiness is Contemporary Pelagianism. In the history of the Church, the Pelagianists believed that Christians could earn salvation through their own efforts rather than through relying on the mercy of God. Contemporary Pelagianists “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.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94) Instead we should understand that none of us are perfect and we all need God’s grace to live faithfully. Our focus in life should be to live in love and to passionately communicate “the beauty and joy of the Gospel and seek out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.” (Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 95)

The pope states that in the beatitudes, Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy. In the beatitudes we are given a portrait of Jesus and our daily lives are to reflect his life. Each beatitude teaches us who is truly happy and holy.

The Beatitudes and Matthew: The beatitudes call us to a “radiant interior freedom” (GE, 69) in which we accept God’s will for us. Holiness is characterized in the beatitudes in the following ways: Holiness is dealing with others with a sense of meekness and humility. Holiness is suffering with others and reaching out to them in their suffering. Holiness is working for justice even if we do not see the fruit of our labor. Holiness is giving, helping and serving others as well as forgiving and understanding them. Holiness is freely living out love with our whole heart. Holiness is building peace in our relationships, our communities and in our world. And finally, holiness is accepting “daily the path of the Gospel even though it may cause us problems…” (GE, 94).

The pope then offers Matthew 25:31-46 as a second Gospel passage that is central to the meaning of holiness. Matthew 25:31-46 expands on the beatitude which calls one to be merciful. This scene calls us to care for those who are most in need. We are to not separate caring for those in need from our personal spiritual lives. We are to recognize, protect and cherish the dignity of all human beings. In short mercy is central to holiness.

Signs of Holiness: My favorite chapter is that in which the pope discusses the Signs of Holiness in today’s world. He sees these signs of holiness as being important given certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture. The pope invites us to live out the following Signs of Holiness: 1) Perseverance, Patience and Meekness; 2) Joy and a Sense of Humor; 3) Boldness and Passion; 4) Living Holiness in Community; and 5) Living in Constant Prayer.

Discernment: The pope ends the document by calling us to prayerful discernment. Discernment refers to figuring out God’s will for us. We are called to listen to the Lord through Scripture, the Magisterium of the Church, others and reality itself. This discernment is to help us recognize and “better accomplish the mission entrusted to us in our baptism (GE, 174).”

May Gaudete et Exultate assist us in better living out the holiness to which God has called us. •

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