Rejoice and Be Glad: Our Common Vocation to Holy Beatitude

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is adorned with many inspiring works of art, including the dramatic relief sculpture, “The Universal Call to Holiness,” which depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary and people of all backgrounds and walks of life being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Holiness is also the central theme of Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, (“Rejoice and Be Glad”).  This document is not intended to be a complex treatise, but an effort to encourage people to seek holiness in practical ways.

Some may think that holiness is reserved for the clergy or religious who devote their lives to ministry and prayer, for canonized saints known for their sanctity, or for those who give the supreme witness of martyrdom.  But Pope Francis says all people are called to be holy. Instead of emphasizing saints immortalized in paintings, mosaics or sculptures, he writes about the saints next door – “These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones. . . . Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings, they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 3).

In that light, this pastor of souls emphasizes that we need not be superheroes to be holy, which might discourage us from even trying.  Rather, through simple things we can all do, we can grow in holiness. We do this “by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves,” he writes (Id., 14).

Christians, the Holy Father adds, should see their lives as a mission to unite themselves to Jesus through prayer and acts of charity that help build his kingdom of love, justice and peace. “Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received,” he urges. “Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world” (Id., 23).

Guided by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis says that we can live holy lives in a particular way by taking to heart the Beatitudes, which are “like a Christian’s identity card” (Id., 63).  Echoing Jesus’ words and life, he teaches that we can be holy by being poor in spirit, by being meek and humble, by being clean of heart, by being merciful, by comforting the sorrowful, by working for justice, by sowing peace, and by following the Gospel even when facing challenges (Id., 63-94).

By reflecting in ourselves this life of Christ, we will experience what the pope used as the title of his invitation to holiness – the words of Jesus in teaching the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).