By Being Holy, We Can “Rejoice and Be Glad”
Like the first disciples, today’s Christians are called to walk with Jesus in their everyday lives on a path to holiness ultimately leading to heaven, emphasizes Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate, (“Rejoice and Be Glad”). While we venerate saints in our prayers, reflect on their lives and are inspired by them, he reminds us that we too are called to be saints, and he offers us insights on that daily and lifelong journey to encounter Jesus and share his love and mercy.
This journey to holiness has both outward and inward dimensions, notes the Holy Father. He points in particular to how Jesus says that the great criterion for judgment will be on how we live lives of mercy (Gaudete et Exsultate, 95-109; Matthew 25:31-46). For example, in how we respond in faith and charity to the poor, forgotten and marginalized, support just policies and defend human life in all its stages as people of faith in the public square.
Pope Francis also offers offer signs of holiness in today’s world: Perseverance, patience and meekness help us endure life’s ups and downs, its challenges and disappointments, he says, and by acting with humility rather than judgment, we offer a witness of our faith to those around us (Gaudete et Exsultate, 112-21). Because of the new life and hope given to us by the Risen Christ, a measure of joy even in hard times is also a sign of a holy life, the pontiff adds (Id., 122-28). Holiness also requires boldness and passion, he writes, pointing to how the Holy Spirit stirred the Apostles to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News, which we can do by our own passionate and enthusiastic witness (Id., 129-39). Moreover, growth in holiness happens in community, side by side with others, he counsels (Id., 140-46).
Certainly the path to holiness should be fortified by a life of prayer and habitual openness to the transcendent, affirms Pope Francis (Id., 147-57). In a related way, being holy requires vigilance and discernment, which is a grace from God that helps us find the meaning and purpose of our lives and also to distinguish the good from the bad (Id., 159-77). This attitude of discernment means being prepared to listen with the realization that “the Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment,” the pope notes (Id., 171).
The Lord asks everything of us – “be perfect” he says – but what he asks he also gives us the power to do and be, and he asks this of us because he wants to bring our lives to fulfillment, offering us “true life [and] the happiness for which we were created,” rather than our settling for “a bland and mediocre existence” (Id., 1). Truly, by embarking on this path of holiness, we can experience the words of Jesus that Pope Francis used as the title for his exhortation: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).