Reflecting on Gaudete et Exsultate

Pope Francis has a message for us: Do not be afraid of holiness,” he encourages. “It will take away none of your energy, vitality, or joy.” In short, answering the universal call to holiness costs you very little.

Do yourself a favor this Easter season (yes, we are still in the Easter season), and read Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), which was published today by the Vatican and signed by Pope Francis on the feast of St. Joseph on March 19. This new apostolic exhortation invites the faithful to consider the universal call to holiness and challenges us against being “enemies of holiness” by the way we live and treat others.

In this document, Pope Francis is talking to us – even writing in the second person to make sure you and I understand that this message is for those who read it. “We are called to be holy by living our loves and love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.” By doing this, Pope Francis says, we can become the “saints next door” – the middle-class moms and dads trying to raise faith-filled children, the types of people to whom others can look to for an example of Christian living.

Contrary to recent news reports, Pope Francis clearly states that the devil is real (and powerful) and offers advice on how to counter the power of evil and the “poison” the devil delivers to our world. Letting down our guard, Pope Francis warns, lets the devil in and allows the poison to spread.

There is much to enjoy in this exhortation and I encourage you to read it. It will take some time to work through and there will be moments of surprise. I dare say that Pope Francis’ critics will take issue with his elevation of immigration issues to an equal footing with bioethical concerns. But those critics would be better served reading the document and not just a review. We cannot, as a Church, sing songs like All Are Welcome without understanding the implications of the words we sing. We cannot, Pope Francis challenges, be content being against abortion (though he is clear our defense of the unborn must be “clear, firm and passionate”) and yet not care for children once they are outside the womb.

The section on discernment is a great read for those who want to learn more about spiritual practices that can lead to holiness. For those who love the Beatitudes, read Pope Francis’ comments on how that wonderful chapter in Matthew are the “identity card” for every Catholic. For those who, like me, struggle with saying twice what I should, pay attention to Pope Francis admonition that holiness never includes talking about our friends and neighbors.

Rejoice and be glad. Perfection is not required. Holiness is not only possible. It is necessary.

By: Patrick Donovan, Executive Director of The Leadership Institute