Returning to Gaudete et Exsultate

I thought it would be worthwhile to return to Pope Francis’ wonderful Apostolic Exhortation On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World—Gaudete et Exsultate, because this should be the goal of each one of us, as well as for the whole Church: holiness means the happiness that comes from union with God that reaches its fulfillment in heaven. Thus the title: Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and be Glad. But holiness requires total self-giving love:

“The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence… We see [this] expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’ (Genesis 17:1)… My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love’ (Ephesians 1:4)” (Gaudete et Exsultate nn.1-2).

The Pope encourages us to look to the saints for examples, both Old and New Testament saints in the Bible (ibid. n. 3-4) or to ancient or recently canonized saints (ibid. n.5). But the Pope also talks about “the Saints Next Door”:

“Nor need we think only of those already beatified and canonized. The Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people, for ‘it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them…’ (Lumen Gentium 9)

I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’ (from Joseph Malegue).

Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people… As [Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross] writes: ‘The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed’ (Gaudete et Exsultate nn. 6-8).

Through these inspiring examples, God is calling

“personally, to you: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:44; cf. 1 Peter 1:16). The Second Vatican Council stated this clearly: Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect’ (Lumen Gentium 11)… ‘Each in his or her own way’ the Council says… The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness” (Gaudete et Exsultate nn. 10-11).

This should excite each one of us, to know that we don’t need to be a bishop, priest, or religious nun or brother (ibid. 14), since all the baptized are called to holiness (ibid. 15). This is the central teaching of the Vatican II and of St. Josemaría, who was its precursor. Let us take this call to heart.

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.