Today, at noon Rome time, Pope Francis released Gaudete et Exulsate, a new exhortation on the universal call to holiness. In it, he reminds us that holiness is not just for priests or nuns or those who have led a virtually sinless life. Living a life of holiness is a call we should all respond to, regardless of our past and our state in life.
We at Where Peter Is are in the process of reading and discussing this exhortation, and we will be providing our own reflections in the near future. In the meantime, here are some interesting commentaries that might fuel your own reading of the document.
The Jesuit Post offers an overview of the entire exhortation, chapter by chapter.
Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl gives his thoughts here.
Josh McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter begins his analysis with a focus on the requirement of serving others for those who strive to become holy:
Christians cannot quest for holiness with prayer alone but must strive to serve those most in need, particularly migrants “who risk their lives to offer a future to their children,” Pope Francis says in a new major teaching document.
In an often-poetic 98-page apostolic exhortation focused on how Christians can be holy in today’s world, the pontiff says the most basic teaching handed on by Jesus is to help others, “without any ‘ifs or buts.'”
At the heart of the new papal letter, titled Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) and released April 9, is a reflection on the great criterion Jesus said will be used at the final judgment: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
“Given these uncompromising demands of Jesus, it is my duty to ask Christians to acknowledge and accept them in a spirit of genuine openness, sine glossa,” the pontiff states at one point in the letter. “Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands.”
Providing the example of someone who encounters a homeless person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, the pope states: “I can view him or her as an annoyance … or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own.”
“That is what it is to be a Christian!” Francis exclaims. “Can holiness somehow be understood apart from this lively recognition of the dignity of each human being?”
Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, writing in La Civilta Cattolica offers a lengthy analysis of the exhortation. In one section, he discusses holiness in light of the Communion of Saints and the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us and assist us on our journey:
Francis brings us to understand how holiness is not the fruit of isolation: it is lived in the living body of the people of God. In a text published in 1982, Fr. Bergoglio wrote: “We have been created for holiness in a holy body: that of our holy mother Church.” And he succinctly states that holiness “is the visit of God to his body.” In this exhortation he writes: “No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people (GE 6).
So we are surround by a “a great cloud of witnesses” who impel us “to advance constantly toward the goal” (GE 3). The pope’s words in Evangelii Gaudium (EG) resound here. There he had written of a “‘mystique’ of living together,” of a “mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage” (EG 87).
This experience of people concerns not only those we have next to us, but is based on a living tradition that includes those who have preceded us.
Writing for Crux, Inés San Martín suggests that Francis addresses two controversies that have come to dominate discussion about Church affairs in recent weeks: Francis’s beliefs about the existence of hell, and the criticism of Amoris Laetitia, his 2016 exhortation on Marriage and the Family:
“With the release of his new apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate on Monday, and almost without trying, the pontiff addressed both points.
- While Francis doesn’t deal with Hell, he makes clear he obviously believes in a Devil and takes his malign influence seriously, saying the Devil is not ‘a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea.’
- Francis is also well aware of his critics over the merciful line expressed in Amoris, in a moment in which the document just marked the second anniversary of its release on Sunday, and he takes a dim view of what’s driving them.
‘Contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few,’ the pope writes. ‘This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savor.’
‘This may well be a subtle form of Pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures,’ Francis said. ‘It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt.’”
Offering further commentary on Francis’s beliefs about Satan and hell, Dave Armstrong notes that in the document, Satan is referenced no less than 24 times. Despite that fact, he’s not convinced it will make a difference for determined critics of the Holy Father:
“Now, of course, the more extreme pope-bashers have a ready explanation for this. They simply say that he doesn’t sincerely believe what is expressed in these utterances. Their purpose is merely to fool folks into believing that he is an orthodox Catholic, so he can deceive more people than otherwise. Mix a little truth in with the supposed relentless modernism and anti-traditionalism . . .
In this way, whenever he says orthodox stuff that someone like me then cites, it has no bearing on his personal beliefs, because it’s all a deception, a deliberate lie, duplicitous, devious, jesuitical . . . See how it works? He doesn’t really believe these things (wink wink). I have seen this mentality actually expressed. This conspiratorial, tin-foil hat mentality exists out there right now.”
JD Flynn of Catholic News Agency wrote a positive reflection on the exhortation, including a request for all Catholics, even those who have been critical of Francis, to read the exhortation with an open mind. Excerpts:
“Gaudete et exsultate was certainly written with love: whatever one thinks of Pope Francis, there is ample evidence that he loves the Church, and he loves her members. It ought to be read in love as well. But before the document was even released, a predictable fractioning of the Lord’s body foretold the way the exhortation would likely be read: through the lenses of suspicion and criticism that have characterized much of the debate about Pope Francis.” …
“The document is meant to call us sinners to repentance and conversion. To call the lukewarm- most of us- to holiness. Not all parts are relevant to all Catholics; it fails to mention some patterns of sinfulness altogether. It is written by a fellow sinner, and the author’s humanity, foibles and all, show through the text. But it’s written in love. Which means that we should receive it by examining our own hearts, to find the places where the exhortation exhorts us.”
Fr. James Martin, SJ, had his top five takeaways in America magazine. Here’s one of them:
4. Be kind
“Gaudete et Exsultate is filled with Pope Francis’ trademark practical advice for living a life of holiness. For example, don’t gossip, stop judging and, most important, stop being cruel.
That goes for online actions, too. Francis’ comments on this topic are memorable. Online, he writes, “defamation and slander can become commonplace…since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, as people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.… In claiming to uphold other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying and ruthlessly vilifying others.”
To be holy, be kind.”
Michael R. Heinlein of OSV Newsweekly offered his analysis as well. Here he speaks about how Francis treats the role of discernment in living a life of holiness:
“In answering our own call to be holy, we must employ discernment, the pope says. He describes discernment as ‘a gift which we must implore’ and ‘seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel’ (No. 166). The pope says that discernment especially is needed today more than ever because ‘contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good’ (No. 167). Discernment also will help us to know when we are truly following the will of God, as opposed to the ways of the world or falling prey to the devil — against whom the pope strongly cautions and urges vigilance. (This section is particular noteworthy given the uproar during Holy Week when the editor of an Italian newspaper claimed that the Holy Father, in a personal conversation, denied the existence of hell.)”
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.