On the Feast of St. Joseph, 2018, a new Apostolic Exhortation was given to the Church by Pope Francis. Gaudete et exsultate (GE) Without going through the document line by line (which is, incidentally a great idea as it is very readable, practical and not a theological ” treatise” in any way. (GE 3) The large print, 40 page text be summarized by a verse said to have been inspired by the teaching of St. John Paul II:
“We need saints without cassocks, without veils – we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies, that listen to music, that hang out with their friends. We need saints that place God in first place ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints that look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things. We need saints – saints for the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time. We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change. We need saints to live in the world, to sanctifythe world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. we need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.” (Sources “We Need Saints”)
I think the most important thing we need to recognize is that all of us are being called and challenged to reject the “dull and mediocre” and to fearlessly open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit and to be formed in our faith and to live it with concrete authenticity free from anxiety, anger and fear. (GE 159) In doing this we cannot expect perfection of ourselves or others but rather the gradual transformation of our lives as we pray and act as followers of Jesus Christ. This is the process of theosis which we as Eastern Christians hold fast to– “God became man so that we might become like God”. It is the power of God working in our lives which through us, body, soul and spirit, transforming us more closely to the likeness of Christ. Pope Francis give concrete examples of living the Christian life–loving our spouse, working with and serving others with joy, and reaching out to the poor and suffering. It is these decisions and actions which are outward expression of our personal prayer, reading of holy scripture and worship which for us the central component is active participation in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and on Holy Days at minimum. He also recognizes certain pitfalls on the path to holiness not the least of which are pride, judgement of others and failure to recognize that we must engage in battle with the devil himself one who is inimical to our quest for holiness. Although this battle is a reality for those who are trying to follow Christ it is a source of joy as we rely on Christ for our sure victory (GE 160).
Above all one of the things that stands out for me in this call to holiness is the fact that we cannot achieve this quest alone. We are to live an grow in “community”. That may be the community of friends, the community of marriage and family life, religious community and for everyone certainly it is in the community of the church. In a world that is obsessed with individual freedom and personal choice this need for community, this call to be part of the living Body of Christ, is something that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, We must lovingly invite to this banquet of “holy communion’ the spiritual but not religious “nones” and “dones”. (These are people, perhaps even members of our own families, who see no need for Church and are leaving or who have never really experienced what the Church can be, yet who hunger and thirst for authentic relationships.) We need each other’s love and support whether we know it or not. We as human beings also need the certain guidance of our Mother Church, as it is here we find the truth that has been revealed to Gods people throughout the ages. We need to work together, we need to eat and drink together (both spiritual food and drink–the Eucharist–as well as food for our bodies.)
Pope Francis says“The common life, whether in the family, the parish, the religious community or any any other is made up of small everyday things. This was true of the holy community formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which reflected in an exemplary way the beauty of the Trinitarian communion. It was also true of the life that Jesus shared with his disciples and with ordinary people.”(GE 143) This is not about just going through pious, religious motions, although prayer and worship are the natural response to the God who created all things and who quite literally loved us enough to die for us. Pope Francis tells us that if “…we realize that God exists, we cannot help but worship him, at times in quiet wonder and praise him in festive song.” (GE155) As we repeatedly affirm in the Divine Liturgy we “…commend ourselves, each other, and our whole life to Christ our God.” We as humans need to continually remind ourselves and affirm that we love and follow Christ and the teachings of the Church He established in every moment of our lives. We also affirm that in our relationships we are committed to helping each other on the path towards heaven always looking to the good of others. Together we commit to reach out with love and truth to a broken and wounded world.
Some might argue that this loving community is not their experience of Church. I am guessing that Pope Francis would agree. After all he did not get to be Pope by working outside this often “imperfect family” we call the Church. However, I think that is precisely the point. He is looking for us to make the change by being impassioned to seek after holiness in our own lives and in that way to change the culture of communities we belong to. It is easy to get discouraged as we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to our faith and as we belong to Church communities that seem to be less than the ‘vibrant parishes’ they are called to be. But this, this is a breath of fresh air that makes me personally encouraged and renewed. Young or old, wherever we are, we can do this, through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, together! Thank you for these words of encouragement Pope Francis.
O Holy Theotokos, Mother of God, pray for us and for the Church that we might become missionary disciples who pursue holiness with fearless abandon. Like you, help us to say ‘yes’ to God and to allow the Holy Spirit to work within us. Help us to present our bodies as a ” living and holy sacrifice, [acceptable to God..” Rom. 12:1. Help us to be open to the Holy Spirit who wants to transform us and help us to create vibrant ‘domestic churches’ in our homes and loving communities in our parishes. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.