I really intended to focus on something else, and hopefully I’ll get back to it at some point, but Pope Francis went and released a new document, an apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness, and I can’t just ignore it.
An apostolic exhortation is a teaching document, which is to say it isn’t intended to introduce new doctrine for the church, but to help believers apply the tenets of the faith in the contemporary world.
One of the cool things Francis does in this document is name-drop saints – people recognized by the Catholic Church as having demonstrated what holiness can look like. I’m going to list the ones he mentions here so I can come back and research them.
Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Saint John of the Cross (4)
Saint Hildegard of Bingen,
Saint Catherine of Siena,
Saint Teresa of Avila (2)
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (2)
Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân
Saint Ignatius of Loyola (3)
Saint Josephine Bakhita
Saint Francis of Assisi (3)
Saint Anthony of Padua
Saint Augustine (2)
Saint John Chrysostom
Saint Basil the Great
Saint Thomas Aquinas (2)
Saint John Paul II (2)
Saint Vincent de Paul (2)
Saint Teresa of Calcutta (2)
Saint Benedict (2)
Saint Faustina Kowalska
Saint Thomas More,
Saint Philip Neri
Blessed Paul VI
the seven holy founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary,
the seven blessed sisters of the first monastery of the Visitation in Madrid,
the Japanese martyrs Saint Paul Miki and companions,
the Korean martyrs Saint Andrew Taegon and companions,
the South American martyrs Saint Roque González, Saint Alonso Rodríguez and companions.
the Trappists of Tibhirine, Algeria
And for now, I’m just going to drop my favorite quotes from Gaudete et Exsultate here so I can find them later.
My modest goal is to repropose 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” (Eph 1:4). (2)
Referring to Hebrews 12:1’s “great could of witnesses”, he says:
These witnesses may include our own mothers,
grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). 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. (3)
We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. (6)
7. 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 neighbours,
those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of
Saint John Paul II reminded us that “the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding
of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants”. (9)
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 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not
meant for them. (11)
12. Within these various forms, I would stress too that the “genius of woman” is seen in feminine
styles of holiness, which are an essential means of reflecting God’s holiness in this world. Indeed,
in times when women tended to be most ignored or overlooked, the Holy Spirit raised up saints
whose attractiveness produced new spiritual vigour and important reforms in the Church.
We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by
bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the
consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by
loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a
living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are
you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are
you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal
16. This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example:
a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts.
But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness.
Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even
though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that
brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she
takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto
the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.
Every saint is a message which the Holy Spirit
takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people. (21)
You too need to see the entirety of your life as a
mission. Try to do so by listening to God in prayer and recognizing the signs that he gives you.
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. Allow the
Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world. (23)
24. May you come to realize what that word is, the message of Jesus that God wants to speak to
the world by your life. Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit, so that
this can happen, lest you fail in your precious mission. The Lord will bring it to fulfilment despite
your mistakes and missteps, provided that you do not abandon the path of love but remain ever
open to his supernatural grace, which purifies and enlightens.
26. It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet
while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. Everything can be accepted and
integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be
contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously
carrying out our proper mission.
27. Could the Holy Spirit urge us to carry out a mission and then ask us to abandon it, or not fully
engage in it, so as to preserve our inner peace? Yet there are times when we are tempted to
relegate pastoral engagement or commitment in the world to second place, as if these were
“distractions” along the path to growth in holiness and interior peace. We can forget that “life does
not have a mission, but is a mission”.
28. Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead
29. This does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God.
Quite the contrary. The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an
endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are
overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures and by an increasing din, filled not by joy but
rather by the discontent of those whose lives have lost meaning. How can we fail to realize the
need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt
dialogue with God? Finding that space may prove painful but it is always fruitful. Sooner or later,
we have to face our true selves and let the Lord enter. This may not happen unless “we see
ourselves staring into the abyss of a frightful temptation, or have the dizzying sensation of
standing on the precipice of utter despair, or find ourselves completely alone and abandoned”.
In such situations, we find the deepest motivation for living fully our commitment to our work.
30. The same distractions that are omnipresent in today’s world also make us tend to absolutize
our free time, so that we can give ourselves over completely to the devices that provide us with
entertainment or ephemeral pleasures. As a result, we come to resent our mission, our
commitment grows slack, and our generous and ready spirit of service begins to flag. This
denatures our spiritual experience. Can any spiritual fervour be sound when it dwells alongside
sloth in evangelization or in service to others?
31. We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal
life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing
love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to
growth in holiness.
32. Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the
contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be
faithful to your deepest self.
34. Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God.
Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less
human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the
words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a
37. Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a
person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the
depth of their charity.
41. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right
road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their
own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We
are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of
that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to
control God’s transcendence.
42. Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of
every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed
certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it
devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there.
50. Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents
grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential
good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth.
57. Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the
worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist
complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected
ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political
advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about
the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help
and personal fulfilment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than
letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about
communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense
crowds that thirst for Christ.
58. Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a
museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians
give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to
be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle
form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can
affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an
intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt.
61. In other words, amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing
two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two more formulas or two
more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so
many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenceless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps
of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art. For “what endures, what has value in
life, what riches do not disappear? Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbour. These two riches do not disappear!”
89. It is not easy to “make” this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but embraces even
those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or
simply uninterested. It is hard work; it calls for great openness of mind and heart, since it is not
about creating “a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority”, or a
project “by a few for the few”. Nor can it attempt to ignore or disregard conflict; instead, it must
“face conflict head on, resolve it and make it a link in the chain of a new process”. We need to
be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and
98. If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an
annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out,
or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see
in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the
Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a
Christian! Can holiness somehow be understood apart from this lively recognition of the dignity of each human being?
Our defence of the innocent unborn,
for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life,
which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of
development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, 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.
We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel,
spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar,
living their entire lives in abject poverty. (101)
102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the
situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue
compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a
thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the
shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.
115. Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the
various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped,
defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the
good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be
said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their
own discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other
commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying,
and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all
things ablaze (cf. Jas 3:6).
117. It is not good when we look down on others like heartless judges, lording it over them and
always trying to teach them lessons. That is itself a subtle form of violence. Saint John of the
Cross proposed a different path: “Always prefer to be taught by all, rather than to desire teaching
even the least of all”. And he added advice on how to keep the devil at bay: “Rejoice in the
good of others as if it were your own, and desire that they be given precedence over you in all
things; this you should do wholeheartedly. You will thereby overcome evil with good, banish the
devil, and possess a happy heart. Try to practise this all the more with those who least attract you.
Realize that if you do not train yourself in this way, you will not attain real charity or make any
progress in it”.
144. Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details.
The little detail that wine was running out at a party.
The little detail that one sheep was missing.
The little detail of noticing the widow who offered her two small coins.
The little detail of having spare oil for the lamps, should the bridegroom delay.
The little detail of asking the disciples how many loaves of bread they had.
The little detail of having a fire burning and a fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at
145. A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one
another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is
present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan.
167. The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life
offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid
and good. All of us, but especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping. We can
navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three
virtual scenarios. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.