A new document shows every Christian the path to incarnated holiness in today's context, "with its risks, its challenges and its opportunities".
TEXT - Giovanni Tridente, Rome
In the fifth year of his pontificate, Pope Francis has delivered to the Church a new apostolic exhortationThe third, on the call to holiness in the contemporary world. An agile and concrete document that seeks to respond to the many limitations of today's culture. Gaudete et exsultate
The third apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis presents itself as a somewhat atypical document, being the first - after a long time - to deal with a theme that has not been discussed previously in the course of a Synod of Bishops. This had happened, instead, for Evangelii gaudium (Synod on evangelization, convoked by Benedict XVI in 2012), for Amoris laetitia (Synods on the family in 2014 and 2015) and for the four exhortations of the Pope emeritus (Eucharist, Word of God, Africa, Middle East).
It is true that with Francis the exhortations have abandoned the title "post-synodal" also when they were the fruit of the bishops' assemblies, as if to underline the conviction that it is not a question of something administrative or bureaucratic (a sort of summary of the assembly), but of the synthesis of a true movement of the Holy Spirit, which calls upon the whole Church in her mission at the service of mankind.
Another aspect that stands out in this further initiative of the Pope is the continuity of the concept of "joy" with the other exhortations ("gaudium", "laetitia"), typical of the preaching and vocabulary of the Argentine Pontiff since his election. His invitations to not have a sad, frowning face are frequent, because the Love of God that saves does not admit "sadness".
And now a curiosity: the document bears the date of March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the day on which the Holy Father began his episcopal ministry in 2013. But it is also the same day on which, two years ago, Francis published Amoris laetitia, an exhortation that has undoubtedly had greater resonance than the first and this one.
But it must be said that this concomitance fits well with the essence of the document, given that on a careful reading it seems as if the Pope wants to propose a balance sheet of his first five years of pontificate, calling for a verification of what he had already proposed to the universal Church with Evangelii gaudium.
The current context
The common denominator of all the documents is, in fact, the current context. While remaining unchanged in the doctrine that the Church has been transmitting for centuries and explicitly confirming it, Francis proposes concrete ways for the contemporary world so that every Christian can concretely incarnate his or her call to holiness. He thus places himself in continuity with the general task of evangelizing (first exhortation) and with that of showing the beauty of the Gospel of the family (second exhortation).
It is also noteworthy that, unlike other pontifical documents, this latest document was not presented to the press by a cardinal or an official of the Roman Curia, but by a simple bishop - Bishop De Donatis, recently appointed Vicar of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome - and two lay people, the journalist Gianni Valente and the educator Paola Bignardi, who has long been involved in the field of Catholic associations and is a former national president of Catholic Action.
For those who, during the various papal trips abroad, have followed the conversations that the Pope has held on each occasion with the local communities of his Jesuit confreres, will also note a certain familiarity with the contents proposed in Gaudium et exsultate. It is no coincidence that it was precisely Civiltà Cattolica, directed by the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro - who was present on all the pontifical trips and in charge of transcribing the dialogues with the Pope - who, at the very moment when the exhortation was made known to everyone else, published a detailed analysis of it, presenting its "roots, structure and meaning", thus demonstrating that he had long been familiar with its genesis.
Basically, the document is not too long, and it was certainly not conceived, as Pope Francis himself writes in the introduction, as a treatise on holiness with definitions or analyses. Rather, it is like a father's caress, which seeks to stimulate in everyone the desire to exercise holiness. A spur, in short, so that the world can change its face and experience the joy that comes from the Lord.
Saints next door
Its 177 points are organized in 5 chapters. The first aspect to highlight is that of the "saints next door", the "middle class of holiness", images that Francis uses to explain that it is a universal call for everyone and a path that, despite the difficulties it encounters, is absolutely practicable. The important thing is not to be afraid to experience it.
The second chapter presents the two masked enemies of holiness, which are a reproposition in our time of Gnosticism and Pelagianism. That is, those attitudes that, on the one hand, seek to reduce Christian teaching "to a cold and hard logic that seeks to dominate everything" and, on the other hand, want to make people believe that man can be saved by works alone, without the life of grace.
The remedy is presented in the third part, where, read in the light of contemporary history, the beatitudes contained in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which the Pope has already defined on other occasions as "the Christian's identity card," are unpacked. Poor of heart, meek and humble, knowing how to mourn with others, being on the side of justice, looking and acting with mercy, keeping one's heart clean from whatever stains it, sowing peace in our surroundings, accepting even the most subtle persecutions, all "this is holiness," writes Francis.
In the following chapter, the Pope highlights five great manifestations of love of God and neighbor, combating the risks and limits that today's culture brings with it.
Endurance, patience and meekness against nervous and violent anxiety "that disperses and weakens us"; joy and a sense of humor against negativity and sadness; audacity and fervor to overcome "comfortable, consumerist and selfish acedia"; community life as a barrier against individualism and so many forms of false spirituality; constant prayer.
The protagonist of the last chapter is the devil, whom the Holy Father has repeatedly referred to as a constant danger in the life of the Christian. And he writes expressly about Satan -also silencing false speculations that had appeared in some media in this regard-: "so let us not think that he is a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure or an idea", because this is only a deception that leads us to reduce our defenses. On the contrary, we must fight, and do so constantly with "the powerful weapons that the Lord gives us": prayer, meditation of the Word, Mass, Eucharistic adoration, confession, works of charity, community life and missionary commitment.
To know what comes from the Holy Spirit and what comes, instead, from the spirit of evil, the only way, says the Pope, is discernment, which is also a gift to ask for and which is nourished by the same "weapons" of prayer and the sacraments.
The conclusion, obviously, is reserved for Mary, she who "has lived the beatitudes like no other", "holy among the saints, the most blessed", who shows the way to holiness and accompanies her children.
All that remains is to read this precious document and assimilate it, little by little, for everyday life.