by Ricardo da Silva SJ
Earlier this week Pope Francis issued his third Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate – meaning “Rejoice and Be Glad”. Exhortations are letters written to us, people of faith, that address aspects in our lives that the pope wishes to highlight. They motivate and encourage us but also challenge us. In this particular letter, we are reminded of a call already given by Vatican II – that we are all called to holiness. It is short and easy-to-read and is given to inspire us in our quest for holiness today.
Here are three ideas from the document that I’d like to share with you.
- Prayer and (or) Service. Pope Francis is emphatic that both are of utmost importance. He affirms this saying: “[T]he ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others” (104), and “I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions” (147). Here the pope clearly shows that he is a Jesuit. For Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, it was not possible to separate prayer from service or vice-versa. He invited us to be aware of God’s presence throughout our day in all the people and the places we would find ourselves and in so doing to become contemplatives in action.
- Our mission as holy people. The pope increasingly calls us to question a church too focussed on itself, with “an obsession with the law, [and] a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige” (57), while almost oblivious or unfazed by the real and pressing needs of “the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” (101)
- Living a life of prayerful service. At the end of the document, the pope speaks of “discernment” suggesting that this is the essential skill we need to learn and develop if we are to truly lead lives of holiness. It’s about listening to the still voice of God that speaks to us, the voice that brings us lasting peace and joy, and guides us in finding that which is the greatest will of God for our lives. “The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment. Yet we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations” (171).
Take time over the next few weeks to read the document for yourself. In reading, I hope that you will find the way to begin (or continue) your own road to holiness.
P.S. After reading Pope Francis’ letter to us, I was inspired to write a personal reflection. You can read my reflections on the Spotlight.Africa website. You can also find the full text of Gaudete et Exsultate there.