July 6, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Pope Francis reminds us that each of us is called to be holy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“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”
(Pope Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” #32).

This week begins a five-column series on the call to holiness in today’s world using the recent apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”). In the words of the Holy Father, “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” (#2).

Pope Francis does not provide us with a “treatise containing definitions and distinctions” or even a “discussion of the various means of sanctification” (#2). Instead, he offers signs of holiness taken from the experience of great saints, but more immediately, from the lives of ordinary people.

“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 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’ ” (#7).

Pope Francis is famous for coining phrases—such as “the smell of the sheep,” or the Church as a “field hospital,” or the Eucharist as “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” His new phrase, “the middle class of holiness,” is equally powerful. It underscores the fact that none of us, except Mary, is perfect in holiness.

All of us, including many of the saints, struggle to become the person God intends us to be. For inspiration, we look to all the holy men and women that the Church has canonized as saints. But practically speaking, we are more likely to find encouragement from the example of those who are closest to our own lived experience. “These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones,” the pope says. “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).

Pope Francis tells us that we become holy not by what we think, believe or say, but by what we do. “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,” the pope says. “We are called to become contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission” (#26).

Our mission as baptized Christians is to follow Jesus, to live as he did, “reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self‑sacrificing love” (#20). If we imitate Christ in our words and actions, we will grow in holiness. We will become more whole, more complete.

“Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel,” the pope teaches. “Not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person” (#22).

Growth in holiness is, or should be, our overall meaning as a person. It is our mission in life—to let Christ increase in us as we ourselves decrease. We should not be afraid of the call to holiness or of the spiritual journey that it requires. “Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace” (#34).

Jesus walks with us—every step of the way. His Spirit guides us and gives us courage.

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).

Each of us is called to be holy, to be loved and liberated by God, to be faithful to our deepest self. †

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